Hurricanes and earthquakes and destroying countries and terrorism and more hurricanes... Yipes! Today we're offering a few ideas for helping kids handle some of those fears.
Talk of destruction and suffering are all around us, and inescapably all around our children. It's scary! Add to that all the things that might be lurking in the dark or under our beds - any time we cannot see something, or do not understand how it works or why it happens, or find ourselves in a new situation we cannot predict, we may feel fear or anxiety - at any age.
Use Dramatic Play
We like to use dramatic play to help children cope with fears that are unlikely to occur (what if aliens attack?), and talking and games to handle fears that are more in the sphere of possibility (what if a hurricane comes to get us?)
We act out what might happen, with a silly or happy twist.
One of our favorite books to introduce this particular dramatic play activity is Ed Emberly's Go Away Big Green Monster. Monsters aren't so scary when you think of them as a collection of silly pieces instead of one big creature.
We like to have kids draw something they are fearful of, and then we work together as a group to figure out a way we could make that fear feel less scary.
From Scary to Silly
One child was afraid of giant dinosaurs with sharp teeth. We mentioned that dinosaurs were not around anymore, but we understand that the idea of them can be still scary.
What about the dinosaur is scary?
If your little ones worry, like another of our students, about being separated from their parents by a giant, you could imagine a way to get to the parents. Let’s pretend we’re on a tall mountain and mom is on another mountain. How can we get to her? Let’s build a bridge way up high! Or throw over a big rope! Then we all cross the bridge or swing over with the rope, out of the giant's reach. Or maybe offer the giant a cookie and make a new friend!
Does this provide a real-life actionable resolution to the situation? Welllll…. I know if I ran into a bear, I wouldn’t stop to try to put princess accessories on it. And if your child lives in an area that actually does have a lot of bears, you will probably want to treat this as a more realistic fear and talk about what to do if you encounter one. For instance...
Talk Through Fears Based on Real Things
For other real-life but unlikely possibilities like an earthquake, look up the facts, explain how it happens as simply as you can (try using paper as shifting tectonic plates, then let them play with the paper too) and that the chances of it happening where you live are very small. But that's not our focus today...
Which leads me to new experiences and unfamiliar situations.
Go ahead and put the scary parts on the list - we know fears lose some power over us just by verbalizing them!
Plus it gives us an opportunity to temper them with reality, and sandwich them with not-so-scary parts.
__We will read a fun book in the doctor's office
__We will get a shot that may or may not hurt a little.
__The shot will only hurt for a few seconds
__We will get a funny bandaid or a treat
Second Step: Tell 'em. aka Do the thing, and talk about it as you go, referencing your earlier discussions and what great predictions the child(ren) made. If you made a treasure hunt list, check off the items - or put an X in the box if you didn't experience them after all. Scary monsters at the doctor's office? No monsters here! X in that box!
Third Step: Tell 'em what you told 'em.
Follow-through is key! Be sure to go over the list afterwards, or the next day, as you recap and reflect on the experience. Were our predictions right? Was it REALLY as scary as you thought it would be? Hopefully that answer is NO!
To bring Bitty City Players' social-emotional awareness workshops to your community in the NYC area, get in touch!
Bitty City Players offers theater and science enrichment through after-school programs, in-school workshops, and events for ages 1-10 in NYC.
Learn more about the organization and our team here.