Q: How should a parent help a child cope with his/her fear of the dark, bad dreams, clowns and strangers?
Generally mild fears and simple phobias can be ignored if they are not affecting the life of the child to a huge extent. They are usually a passing phase and the child will slowly get better as he matures. Parents should remain calm and not be frustrated with these. Most importantly, do not be punitive and start calling the child names, as this will cause further low self esteem.
Q: How can a parent help the child get over the fear?
If for some reasons, the child's fear and phobia is affecting his life, he can be gradually exposed to the feared object. Parents can start by telling positive stories of these feared objects. For eg. adventures in the dark or a friendly helpful clown. They can also share their own experiences with their fears when they were young. Subsequently they can increase the degree of exposure slowly. If serious, it is best to get professional guidance.
Q: Are there any "don'ts" when trying to help a child get over the fear?
i) Don't push the child, give him time.
ii) Don't criticise the child as this makes him more fearful.
iii) Don't bother with the fear or phobia, if it is not really affecting the child's life.
iv) Don't ignore working on your own anxiety and fears, as the child may have learnt it from the parents.
Q: What's the likelihood of the fear being brought over to the child's adulthood?
Most children have fears as they continue to have magical thinking and believe in their fantasies, for eg. monsters. However, as we grow older, we lose these magical thinking and the fears mostly go away as well.