Every parent wants to keep their child safe from harm, and it’s not unusual for that concern to become worry and often times panic because of the daily news stories of horrific acts and tragic events. They can make you want to keep your children inside with the doors locked, never letting anyone else near your kids. However sheltering your children from any and all life events in the name of safety isn’t necessary or practical. This extreme worry can greatly affect the child, causing fear, stranger anxiety and social problems for the child. There is, however, a way to balance the worry parents have for the safety of their child with the positive social development of that child.
Understand the child’s temperament
Some children are outgoing by nature and some are reserved and shy. It is easy to see when a child is on the extreme ends of this temperament spectrum, but it is more difficult to see when a child is somewhere close to the middle. It is important for parents and caregivers to be sensitive to their child’s emotions and reactions to strangers, as well as to be cautious of their own reactions around unfamiliar people.
Wait for the child to evaluate her feelings
It is very easy for parents to over react when their child falls or gets hurt. Instead of always instantly running to the child’s side when she falls or bumps something, parents should wait and observe what her reaction to the accident is. Often times when a child falls it takes her a minute to figure out for herself how she feels about the situation. Waiting for her reaction will help her to evaluate her own pain instead of relying on your assumptions about her pain or fear. When and if she determines that she is hurt physically or emotionally from the accident, parents should help the children work out those hurts with hugs, kisses and words of love.
Model cautious concern of strangers for your child
Parents that are overly afraid of strangers often transfer these fears to their children. If a child is scolded every time she reaches out of her comfort zone to talk to someone new because her parents are anxious about what might happen, the child is going to become terrified of anyone she does not know. When this happens that fear can transfer to her teachers and even other children. Instead of reprimanding a child for being social, teach her to embrace the social skills needed to meet new people without mistaking that person for a trusted friend. Encourage her to talk to people that she does not know, but remind her that she should always have her caregiver’s permission before she goes anywhere with anyone. Remind her to never accept gifts from people unless she has asked the adult in charge if it is ok. Explain that if she is ever uncomfortable for any reason she needs to tell someone she trusts.
Always trust the child’s instinct
Children have a sense for when they are uncomfortable in a situation. Often times when a child suddenly becomes shy around another person, parents can become embarrassed that the child is not responding in the expected way. The parent may then begin to push and convince their child to answer the question or be more social. However, the child is simply being shy because she wants to assess the new person for herself. This is a habit that parents should welcome and encourage because it means that when the parent is not around, the child still has a discerning mind that will help her to judge who she should trust and who she should not trust. When parents push a child into acting toward a new or unfamiliar person in a way that the child is uncomfortable with, parents are teaching that child to not trust her own instincts.
Don’t be afraid to tell the child the truth in words she can understand
Parents want to protect their child from unwarranted emotional pain. They often worry that sharing details of an event will cause the child to fixate on the situation or have bad dreams. There is a part of this that is true, and for some hyper sensitive children giving negative details can cause nightmares and obsession. However, a child is usually sensitive to her parent’s emotions. If there is something that is bothering her parents, she will often overhear things that concern her. Even if she never hears a word spoken, she can still feel the stress in the home. When parents avoid sharing the reason they are upset, the child is likely to worry about it more, and she may even think there is something that she has done wrong. All these mixed emotions and confusion may cause her to react with negativity and display needy behaviors. It is a much better option to open up and share with the child the reason the parent is concerned without giving too many confusing and scary details. Keep it simple and let the child know that you are worried, but that it is ok to be a little worried about things. Whatever happens, she will always be loved and cared for.
The world can be a very scary place. Children, especially children with a timid temperament, need help navigating the ups and downs of life. They need help finding balance between caution and fun, fear and excitement, sensitivity and eagerness. Parents and caregivers need to help children find that balance without stifling the creativity and social skills needed to live a healthy and successful life.