Question: Ever since my siz-year-old son went through an earthquake education program earlier this year he has been very worried about earthquakes. It is getting to the point that he talks about it every day, he won’t sleep alone and he wants to know how earthquake-proof every building we go into is.
We have tried reassuring him, and have had him help us make an earthquake kit in the hopes that this would settle him down. Nothing seems to be helping, though, and his fear is getting worse. What else can we do about this problem?
Answer: It is clear from your letter that your son has become quite anxious about the possibility of an earthquake. What isn’t clear is exactly what aspect of earthquakes he is worried about.
To come up with a plan to help him address his anxiety it will be important to understand what he is specifically afraid of; for example, he may be afraid of being hurt, he may be afraid of being separated from you, or he may be afraid of being trapped in a building that was not properly built. A conversation with him about the thoughts that he has about earthquakes will help you understand what he is worrying about.
Once you know more about the specifics of your son’s fears you can choose strategies for helping him. These strategies generally need to focus on lessening his sense of danger and increasing his confidence in his own ability to cope with both the possibility of an earthquake (and the aspect of earthquakes that he fears) and his ability to cope with fear itself.
Since I don’t know what your son is specifically afraid of it is hard for me to suggest strategies for reducing his sense of danger. Your idea to have him help with an earthquake kit was a good one and will have helped if his fear has to do with being without food or water.
If it is something else, you will want to come up with something that directly addresses his fear. If possible make your strategies playful and fun. Humour helps decrease the sense of danger and encourages both of you to be creative as you work on solving this problem.
In terms of helping your son build confidence in his ability to cope, there are a few things that I can suggest. One is to remember with him other times that he has been afraid and has gotten through it.
Try to figure out how he did that and talk about how he could apply what he was able to do in the past to this situation. Or you can read stories about fears such as Sleep Tight Mrs. Ming by Sharon Jennings. You can also make up stories and have your son involved in thinking up solutions for characters in the stories who are afraid of something.
Another angle on building confidence is to help your son learn to contain his worrying so that it is not bothering him all day long. Some ideas for this include making a set time each day to talk to you about his fears, helping him draw a picture about his fears and then folding it up and putting it away, or making a worry box.
Worry boxes have a hole in the top and the child deposits a paper with the worry drawn or written on it whenever the worries are bothering him. At a set time the box is opened and a parent or other involved adult looks at the worries with the child.
It is very likely that, as you work on this with your son, his fears will subside. If they get worse and/or begin to include other things you may want to consider seeing a counselor who works with children and anxiety.
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