How to help a child who’s afraid of many things

fly asks: My 11-year-old son has always gotten very anxious for, for example, going to school first day, taking exams, or participating in tournaments – he really gets scared, and sometimes he gets sick. How can I help him?

Hi fly –



I’m so sorry for you and your son – living in such fear (or watching your child in it) is clearly a miserable experience.  Now, it’s very normal for a child to be frightened of any of the things you mention – the first day of school, exams, or tournaments – but it sounds like his fear is enormous.


Now, does this go away?  For example, many children (and adults!) are intimidated by facing new experiences.  But did your son develop a better attitude about going to school after that bad first one?  And similarly, has he gotten better at handling tests or sports events over time?  If so, what you can do is to point all these improvements out to him, so that he realizes that he doesn’t need to panic so much.  Again, nervousness at these times is totally normal and expected, but if someone doesn’t know how to handle that fear, it gets much larger, and the person panics out of fear that the fear won’t end!  If that’s your son, then helping him realize that he can control his fear and keep it from escalating so high.


But if that’s not the case, if your son is staying afraid of these things, then he must be experiencing a great fear of something he’s not mentioning.  See if he will tell you what it is that he’s terrified of.  But if he won’t, or can’t, tell you, I really recommend you find a child therapist who can work with him on both anxiety reduction and finding out what’s underneath that fear.


Now, if you set him up with one, will he be nervous, maybe even frightened, about going to that first session?  Absolutely!  So be sure you find a friendly and warm one, who will convince your son that their job isn’t to “fix” him, but just to make him happier.


Good Luck with It,




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