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Our Favourite Ways of Helping Your Child Manage Their Fear of Animals

As they grow up, most children will face situations that they find scary or overwhelming. We've looked at what you can do to help your child if they develop a fear of animals

 

While many children might beg their parents for a pet, it's also quite common for kids to develop a fear of animals. Young children are hardwired to be scared of things that are unknown or unpredictable, so it's understandable that animals can create fearful reactions. According to the Dogs Trust, a third of all children in the UK are scared of dogs. Surprisingly this is a bigger number than those who are scared of snakes, which is only 20%.

A child's fear might manifest itself in different ways: becoming paralysed when the animal is near, breathing heavily or trembling, avoiding the animal at all costs, or crying and screaming.

While a fear of animals might be caused by a number of factors, from bad experiences in the past to simply being unfamiliar with them, it's important that parents and carers help children manage their fear. If their fear becomes an issue that affects everyday life, or if you can't go to the playground or visit certain people's houses, it's important to take steps to manage it.

Ways to help your child with their fear of animals

1. Be understanding

An animal that seems small and innocuous to you might seem very large and unpredictable to a child. This is especially true of dogs, as they can often be the size of a child and can be intimidating if one is not used to being around animals. Empathise by telling your child that you understand how they feel.

2. Talk with your child about their fear

Help your child manage their fear of animalsTalk to your child: Why are they scared of the animal? What are they afraid might happen? If your child is able to express what exactly they are afraid of, it could help you find a way to deal with their particular fear. If their fear has been triggered by an unpleasant event, it might help to talk about it, and explain that animals are different just like humans, and that just because one dog is bad that doesn't mean that they all are.

3. Explain

Talk to your child about how animals see the world differently to humans. Explain that running away from a dog might encourage it to run after you, or it might make it think that you want to play. If you encounter an animal that your child is afraid of when you're out in public, walk past it calmly. Show that you are not afraid, but don't force your child to go near the animal if they don't want to.

4. Make a plan

Make a plan for how you can expose your child to the animal without triggering their fear. It could be reading picture books about it, watching films containing it, or buying cuddly toys and use them to role-play the situations that your child is afraid of. Make sure the animal is portrayed in a positive light, as friendly, playful and not scary, and always talk about it in a positive way. Avoid stories and movies that have scary animals in them. When you think your child is feeling more secure, you can introduce them to an animal that you know is well trained and won't do anything unpredictable. Take small steps, and make sure you don't rush your child before they are ready.

5. Be patient

Help you child deal with their fear of animals

Hopefully as your child gets older and more experienced with animals, and with your help and understanding, they will learn to manage their fear. While most children grow out of their fear of animals as they get older, some don't. In that case it's important to accept that everyone has things they are afraid of - the most important thing is that we learn to manage our fears so that they don't impede on our everyday lives.

If your child's fear is very severe, has a big impact on their lives or has become a phobia, you may want to consider talking to their GP or receive help from a psychologist.

 
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