25 Phrases to Help Comfort and Calm a Scared Child
When you're little, the world can be a scary place. Where adults see closet doors and fireworks, children can see gateways for monsters and loud, scary noises exploding above them. Helping children deal with these fears can feel daunting, but it doesn't have to. "Not all scary moments are created equal and not all children respond to fear in similar ways," Dr. Allison Lobel, clinical psychologist and director of child and adolescent services for the Wellington Counseling Group, told POPSUGAR. "It's important to attend to changes in a child's behavior with curiosity and cautious concern. Some children may shut down and display a more paralyzed response to fear or even difficulty separating from a caregiver. Other children may display more overt signs of distress via crying, physically acting out, problems regulating emotions, and difficulty concentrating, to name a few signs."
Seeing your child experience any kind of fear can make any parent feel lost, but it's important for parents to do their research and have knowledge about what to do. "Fears can quickly elicit a sense of helplessness — for both children and parents alike — so having options on how to respond to the fear/anxiety can strengthen much-needed opportunities to experience agency and effectiveness around the situation," explained Dr. Lobel.
For starters, parents should honor their child's fear. "Fear and anxiety can be isolating experiences at times, so connecting with a child through understanding and empathy can help the child feel less alone, and ultimately more able and willing to engage in coping resources," Dr. Lobel said.
Keep reading for 25 phrases to help calm a scared child.
"I get scared, too."
Even though they think we're magical adults who never get scared, it's important to let them know that we also have fears. I do this with my son, and it validates his feelings and lets him know that he can open up to me.
"Tell me how you feel."
Dr. Lobel encourages parents to "take the time to pause what you are doing and listen to your child describe his/her fear." By asking children to describe how they feel, it can help them rationalize their experiences. This also helps you know exactly what they're going through.
"It's not easy to face your fears."
Asking children to be brave requires them to summon a lot of strength. I do this with my son, and it helps him recognize his own power.
"Let me show you how to be brave."
"Do collaborate with your child on how to address the fear," Dr. Lobel explains. "Talk about strategies and write or draw out plans together." This tactic doesn't diminish their feelings, but instead gives them example of how to fight back against their fears.
"You can do this."
I always try to remind my son that he's more powerful and brave than he may think. Children know they're small in the world, and it's our job to make sure that they feel big and empowered.
"Want to hear a joke?"
Getting my son to laugh can help separate him from his fears. Laughter really is the best medicine.
"Everything will be OK."
For most things that children are scared of, whether it's a monster under the bed or a thunder clapping in the night, letting them know that everything will be OK is a great start. It's simple and comforting, and my son always feels better when I reassure him.
"Imagine you're a cloud."
One thing I try and do when my son gets scared is distract him by getting him to imagine something relaxing, like being on a cloud or sitting at the beach. This can help kids not focus so much on the problem and come down from the adrenaline their body is pushing out thanks to being scared.
"Tell me about something that makes you happy."
Get them to think about things in their life that make them happy. Listing things out loud helps my son think about something other than whatever he's scared of.
"Can you pretend that you're slowly blowing up a balloon?"
Taking long and slow deep breaths helps my son relax in stressful or scary situations. Pretending to blow up a balloon can also help him feel silly.
"Do you want a hug?"
This simple act can speak volumes. The comforting embrace of a loved one can do so much more than any words, and this has worked for my son numerous times.
"Who are your favorite people?"
Another list example, get them to think about all the people they like, and ask them to say what they like about them. When I've done this for my son, he quickly gets lost in coming up with a great list that his fear melts away.
"I'm proud of you."
Kids need to know their loved ones are proud of them, especially when they find themselves in a vulnerable moment. I try and recognize my son's accomplishments, no matter how small, as often as I can.
"Remember, you are brave."
Even the bravest kids can use a reminder every now and again. Let them know that you see their strength. This simple reminder almost always makes my son feel better.
"What would Black Panther do right now?"
This is a favorite for my son. Marvel super heroes (or their favorite animal) can help inspire kids to be brave. They don't need to have super powers to push through fear.
"Here's a magic spell to make everything better."
A little pretend can be helpful. Like the "monster spray" to ward off monsters under the bed, children have the power of their imaginations to make everything better. Whenever I've tried to let my son take charge of his fears with his imagination, he really runs with it!
"What can I do to help you feel safe?"
Ask them directly what they need from you. "This kind of sentiment communicates to a child that 1.) you're attending to their big feelings, 2.) reassures a child the parental role is to love, protect, and problem-solve, and 3.) offers the child an opportunity to hear about potential problem-solving strategies," Dr. Lobel explains. Maybe they just need a hug or for you to remove the thing that's scaring them, but get them to start thinking of how to solve the problem.
"What can you do that will make you feel safe?"
I sometimes like to try and let my son be part of his own solution. Sometimes kids may be able to solve their own problems, which will make them feel powerful.
"Can we sing a favorite song together?"
Like telling a joke, singing songs can be very comforting for my son. It's distracting and helps remind them of a time when they weren't scared.
"It's OK to be scared."
"Avoid minimizing and shaming your child about their fears," Dr. Lobel continues. "Don't tell your child that something is silly, ridiculous, or crazy. Fear and anxiety are not pleasant emotional experiences, and if your child could talk themselves out feeling scared, they would." Validate their feelings. Everyone gets scared and they need to know that it's OK to be scared every now and again.
"Let's see if we can make this a little less scary together."
Prompt them to approach what they're fearful of by letting them know you're going to tackle it together. And keep the line of communication open. "Continue to be open to revisit discussions about the fear with your child," Dr. Lobel advises. "One or two conversations does not mean that a child has progressed past feeling anxious or fearful."
"Can we think of 10 things that make you happy?"
Listing things that make my son happy to encourage the brain to relax has been a great strategy. The memory of happy things will help them focus on something other than what is scaring them.
"What are you looking forward to tomorrow?"
Thinking about the future can be a huge tool when combating fear. Having my son think about the fun art project he's working on, or all the friends he gets to play with the next day is helpful.
"I will protect you."
For the really big scaries, children need to know that parents will do everything they can to protect them, even if it's just from an imaginary monster. When my son is reminded that I'm always going to protect him, he usually immediately relaxes.
"You are loved."
Love is a powerful emotion. Love releases oxytocin, lowering anxiety and cortisol, which gets released when fear sets in. Saying this simple yet powerful phrase to my son always provides a sense of calm and comfort.