Help Your Gifted Child Calm Intense Fears

Little Girl Afraid of the Dark

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All children can experience fears, particularly at night, but a gifted child's fears can be quite intense. The fact that their fears are intense shouldn't come as a surprise because gifted kids are intense about nearly everything. Sometimes gifted children can become so fearful that it comes close to be debilitating.

Some Causes of Fears

Fears can be caused by a number of factors. Some fears are the result of traumatic experiences. These types of fears are beyond the scope of this article.

Although some of the strategies discussed here might be somewhat helpful, fears stemming from traumatic experiences may require professional treatment. Children who witness violence, for example, need to talk with a therapist or counselor.

More commonly, childhood fears may be the result of an active imagination. Gifted children who have emotional over-excitability and imaginational over-excitability can be especially susceptible to these fears and may feel them quite intensely.

Young children will imagine monsters in the closet and boogeymen under their beds. Moving shadows cast by curtains blowing in the breeze of an open window can make a child imagine an invisible creature flying into the room.

Even children old enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality can become fearful at times.

Older children develop social fears like the fear of speaking in front of groups. This kind of fear also can be the result of an active imagination. A child can imagine the worst thing that can happen, such as tripping on the way to the front of the class, making a mistake, or being laughed at.

How to Help Calm Fears

Telling a child their fears are unreasonable or simply saying, "Don't worry," won't help a child leave those fears behind. If it were that easy, few children would be fearful. Instead, give your child a variety of strategies to use to cope with their fears. Here are some things you can try to help calm them.

Use the Imagination

If a child's fears come from a vivid imagination, you can help your child learn to focus their imagination in positive ways. For example, a child who imagines monsters in the closet or boogeymen under the bed can use the same imagination to conjure up warriors or angels to come and chase off the monsters and boogeymen.

Work with your child to help them understand how to use that vivid imagination in positive ways.

Practice when your child is not afraid, such as during the day. Ask your child to talk about what they imagine is happening during those fearful moments.

Then ask your child to think of what could possibly happen to make that situation better. A child who is imagining monsters in the closet, for instance, might try imagining a knight who comes to do battle and chase off the monsters.

Your child may have a favorite hero or heroine and, if so, your child can call that hero to come and help vanquish the imaginary villains. Children who are capable of imagining scary events are capable of imagining positive outcomes of those events.

For kids who are Harry Potter fans, discuss the spell "Ridiculous." It's another way of focusing the imagination to ward off fears. Rather than conjuring up a hero to come to their aid, your child can imagine the monster and then imagine something that makes the monster funny.

Older children whose fears center more around public social situations rather than monsters at home also can use this strategy. A child who can imagine people laughing at them as they give a speech, for example, can learn to imagine people cheering.

In this case, it's a matter of positive thinking. Negative thinking leads to imagining negative outcomes, while positive thinking leads to imagining positive outcomes.

Regardless of how old a child is or what kind of fear they have, this strategy takes time to develop. Negative thinking and focusing on fears cannot be altered overnight.

Incorporate Props

Certain kinds of props can help fearful children cope with fears. For instance, choose a prop that can be used to alert the forces of good to help combat the monsters or other scary creatures. This prop can be a small bell or a stuffed animal that makes a noise when squeezed.

Ringing the bell or squeezing the animal serves as a call for help, but it's also a signal to the child to activate their imagination positively. This kind of prop works well in combination with using their imagination.

A spray bottle full of water is another prop you can use. Have your child keep this bottle handy at night when they usually become afraid.

Tell your child that the bottle is full of a magic potion that evaporates or frightens off monsters and other bad creatures. This strategy is most effective for younger children, although older children can use their imaginations to make this strategy useful.

For example, an older child might know fully well that the bottle is full of water and that there is no such thing as a magic potion, but you can explain that imaginary magic potion works just as well on imaginary fearsome creatures. Again, help your child learn to focus their imagination to create positive rather than negative situations.

Props can be just about anything that provides comfort to a child. Even a toy telephone can be used to summon the forces of good. It all depends on the child and what they find stimulates their imagination.

Older children can carry around lucky pennies or special charms you have provided. The prop itself isn't important. It's the focus that the prop provides that is important.

For instance, if the fear occurs primarily at night, some children may feel better with a night light. Other children may find the shadows caused by a night light just give their imagination more to feed on.

In these situations, your child may need more light. Having the lights out is not necessarily the best condition for kids with overactive imaginations.

If you worry that your child will get used to sleeping with the lights on, remind yourself that it's rare for kids to go away to college having to sleep with the lights on. What's important is that you help your kids manage their fears without stifling their imagination.

A Word From Verywell

Nothing's worse than watching a child struggle with fears. As a parent, you want to do what you can to alleviate their concerns, but it can be challenging when those fears seem irrational to you. Instead of getting hung up on the fact that your child's imagination is causing them to experience extreme fears, focus on what you can do to help.

Help your child harness that powerful imagination and put it to work for them, and soon their fears will be a thing of the past. If your child continues to struggle with fears, talk to your child's pediatrician. They can offer suggestions and identify any issues that may be causing the fears.

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  2. Lamont RT. The fears and anxieties of gifted learners: Tips for parents and educators. Gift Child Today. 2012;35(4):271-276. doi:10.1177/1076217512455479

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