Fear is a completely normal and important part of anyone's development, especially at a young age. It's that internal alarm that goes off whenever we sense potential danger and feel the need to protect ourselves. We adults have had years and years to master tricks to stand up to our own fears—now it's up to us, as parents, to teach our kids how to handle the intensity and stress of facing their own.
Being scared of loud noises is quite common in children, especially in early childhood. Most of the time, it can be traced back to a child not being fully aware of his or her surroundings, as well as an inability to identify the source of the strange noise. Usually, the feeling goes away by itself when a child is able to understand the origin and the reason for the sound.
It's also possible, however, that your child is hypersensitive to noise and is simply reacting accordingly, or that he or she fears loud noises because of an association with a traumatic event. For that reason, it’s important to find out exactly why your child is afraid of a particular sound, so you can help him or her manage the fear.
As child psychologist Stephanie Deslauriers explains: “Parents need to investigate the reasons behind their children’s fears, which may not always be so obvious. It might also be beneficial for parents to look inside themselves to see if their own reactions are not feeding their children’s fears.”
While it's true that being afraid of something is a normal disposition, you need to ensure that your reaction to your child's fear does not somehow confirm that there is, in fact, something to be afraid of.
“Sometimes, parents unwittingly feed their children’s fears by reacting excessively or offering attention and privileges to the children to calm them down,” Ms. Deslauriers says. It's important to learn how to react to your children's fears, and to understand the difference between a fear and phobia. “Parents may also try to minimize the situation to reassure their child, but that only makes the child feel misunderstood, which might increase the intensity of the reaction... That’s why it’s important to make sure we are using the right techniques to handle our kids’ fears and help them move forward.”
The best way to help your child
Asking questions and encouraging kids to express their emotions is a good start.
Children may have trouble putting the right words together when trying to manage their fears, so it’s a good idea to ask questions. Doing so helps foster a positive experience and shows that willingness to understand.
“As parents, we make sense of our reactions by using introspection, but children don’t have that capacity or the vocabulary to express what they feel, so it’s important for parents to help their child put their fears into words,” Ms. Deslauriers suggests. “Emotions are innate, but not management techniques, so parents must ensure that their children are well equipped for adult life.”
She also encourages kids to channel their fears through books, movies or games they enjoy, and suggests incorporating scary noises into those contexts, so that he or she can identify with a character and play out the scene. Her belief is that it will help kids find solutions within the comfort of situations they aren't as emotionally involved in, giving them more time to figure out what is happening around them.
Here are some other quick tips that you can use on the daily:
- Explain the difference between fear and caution to your children. Establish rules of caution they can use in stressful situations.
- Don’t force them to confront their fears. Desensitize them gradually by exposing them in increments and letting them practice the techniques you're teaching them.
- It’s important to encourage your child’s progress. It should go without saying that humiliation, criticism or punishment will only increase feelings of fear and shame.
- Reframe the scary sound into a different context, giving it a positive association.
- Teach your child relaxation techniques for stress.