Reassure children in times of fear

Published 9:34 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2018

By Nathan Rice

Melissa and her brother were playing to my left as we waited for the first streak of light across the night sky. I knew the loud sounds of fireworks scared her in the past, but she was growing older and was determined to enjoy the beauty of the show.

I stood with the crowd as the show started with the first explosion of light followed by a familiar boom. Melissa sprinted full speed towards me, slammed into my side and threw her arms around me. The first boom started the show and reignited her fear of the loud sounds.

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I comforted her, and we began talking about the different lights and colors that spread out before us. Her grip lessened, but the sounds intensified as the show continued. This caused her to once again hold on tight as she said, “It sounds like the buildings are going to collapse.” I assured her that the buildings were fine, and that it was only the sounds of the fireworks echoing off the buildings.

Eventually, she sat on the grass, keeping a grip on my leg. Her grip became looser and tighter based on the volume of the fireworks creating a unique 4D experience for me. The show came to an end, and she cheered with the rest of the crowd while declaring they were the best fireworks she had ever seen.

The loud boom of fireworks is just one of the many things that can scare children. They live in a big, scary world, and they are still learning the basics.

When children are afraid, we must be careful to never belittle them or dismiss their fears. Sometimes our desire to teach them how to face and conquer certain fears can lead us to say things in a gruff tone that aren’t helpful, such as, “You’re too old to be afraid of this,” or “Stop being such a scaredy-cat.”

The fear is real to them, no matter how strange or silly it may seem to us. It’s good to help them work through certain fears at the right time, but it’s never good for them to feel degraded because they are frightened.

Reassurance can go a long way when a child is afraid. A gentle reminder that I knew it was loud, but it was just noise from the fireworks, helped Melissa feel a little more at ease when the show first started. When the volume increased as the show continued, I was able to tell her that the buildings were not going to fall down. “These buildings have been here for a long time, and they have fireworks here often,” I told her. “I’ve watched fireworks here for many, many years and the buildings never move.” This assurance allowed her to turn her mind from falling buildings to a beautiful light display in the sky.

What children often need the most when they are afraid is simply for us to be there. Let them know that you are there and allow them to hold on tight. I didn’t make the fireworks quieter. Nor did I hold the buildings up. I just let her hold on tight.

There are times children will be afraid, and it’s our job to help them through those times. Let’s try to understand them instead of dismissing their fears. Reassure them the best you can and let them hold on tight as long as they need.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at