Let’s face it, at some point kids will have a fear of something, whether it’s a fear of the dark, or automatic flush toilets, it can be stressful for you and the kiddos. I was able to ask some of the leading experts in the field for some tips on helping your kids overcome their fears. Here’s what they had to say.

I specifically asked Dr. Deborah Gilboa (Dr. G) about my daughter’s fear of automatic flush toilets, which I think as parents is something we all face at some point. Here’s what she suggested, “One, education. Get online with your child and learn about automatic flushers: how they work, what they’re for, why they are SO loud! See if you can figure out how to beat the system – control when they flush. Then have her coach you to use one while she stands outside the stall. This might demystify the process. The other suggestion is more practical and quicker – stick a small roll of duct tape in your diaper bag.

Next time you’re in a bathroom with auto flush toilets, cover the sensor with the duct tape – it will shut off. It won’t cure her of her fear of the flusher but it will help her use public restrooms until she gets old enough to outgrow the fear!” A lot of you on the Multiples and More Facebook page also suggested either duct tape or post-it notes to put over the sensor.

Dr. Deanna Cole, a licensed psychologist using praise and encouragement to help your kiddos overcome fear; “Praise and encouragement go a long way in helping children cope with fears and challenges. Conquering what is difficult is a key element in building confidence, boosting self-esteem and increasing autonomy (doing things on their own). So verbally rewarding a child for their effort and success is crucial. Although them to slowly and cautiously approach the feared object or situation but it’s important that you help them follow through by mastering it. Help your child by encouraging small steps, offering encouragement along the way and by exuding confidence yourself. When they have successfully faced their fear, celebrate! Make a big deal about their success, reflect with them on what happened, and reinforce how pleased you are. When my 2-year-old son struggles with a fear and eventually overcomes it, I say to him, ‘that was really hard for you but you did it and I am so proud!'”.

Finally, Candi from Nannies4Hire.com took it one step further. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, landslides, massive wildfires, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions: these and other natural disasters are making the news with increasing frequency.

How can you help your kids cope with news of such disasters

1. Remain calm. Acknowledge your own feelings of grief or concern, but do not project that you are feeling panicked or upset. Your kids’ reactions will, in large part, mirror your own.

2. Don’t negate any feelings your kids have. If your kids are experiencing anxiety, don’t tell them that they shouldn’t feel anxiety: they have a right to feel however they feel. However, you can ask them what (specifically) is causing their anxiety, and you can address those specific concerns. For example, if your son says he is anxious about the tsunami hurting him, his family, and his friends, you can assure him that he, along with his family and friends, are not in the path of the tsunami. You can then explain where the tsunami is expected to hit.

3. Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, the nature of what has happened and what will likely happen next. If you don’t know, research the matter. This is a teaching moment. Help your kids understand tectonic plates, the earth’s mantle, air currents, etc. (Note: use terms that are age-appropriate.) Also, make sure to let your kids know if/how the disaster may affect them and those they know and love. For example, will the storm hit your town? Will it affect the town where Grandma lives?

4. Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, the aid that has come/will come from various governments and non-profit organizations. It is essential for kids to know that, when emergencies strike, humans and the organizations they form will come to the aid of those in need. Kids must have hope and faith in their fellow human beings.

5. Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, what governments and non-profit organizations are doing to prevent a recurrence of the natural disaster or to lessen the impact of subsequent natural disasters. For example, are dams to be built? Again, this speaks to the need to reaffirm hope and faith.

6. Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, the psychology and sociology of what has happened. If you don’t know, research the matter. This helps kids develop a basic understanding of human nature; it also fosters empathy.

7. Explain, in a manner that is age-appropriate and consistent with your family’s religion, the faith-based elements (if any) of what has happened. If prayer is a part of your faith, pray for those affected by the disaster, their friends and family, and their country.

8. Encourage your kids to ask questions about what has happened, what will happen, and why. Kids need to feel comfortable speaking
aloud the questions that may be haunting them.

9. Monitor your kids’ non-verbal communication. If your kids act unusually withdrawn, clingy, or fearful, you should follow-up with your kids. Ask them how they are feeling. If they are not forthcoming about their feelings, discuss how you perceive their actions (i.e., withdrawn, clingy, fearful, etc.). Tell your kids that you love them and are ready to discuss their feelings whenever they would like to share them with you.

10. Monitor your kids’ access to media. For example, if images of disaster victims is too difficult for your kids to view, then don’t watch the news in front of your kids.

11. Seek constructive activity. Can your kids donate a box of their outgrown clothing to a non-profit organization that will send that clothing to those in need in the disaster-struck area? Can your family host a lemonade stand to raise funds for the disaster-affected area? Often, people (kids and adults alike) can more easily reconcile themselves to a natural disaster if they feel that they can participate in constructive activity to make things better.

What are/were your kids afraid of? How did you help them get over it?