Helping My Daughter Overcome Her Fear of New Situations

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When my daughter was in preschool, every morning was a tearful goodbye due to her separation anxiety.  Nowadays, she is well-adjusted seven-year-old with confident and sassy demeanor.  But once in a while, when faced with a new situation, she will still become extremely anxious.  Anxious to the point of being completely helpless in controlling her fears.  These are moments where I question my abilities to guide her through her troubles.  Moments that if I screw up, she might grow up to be paralyzed when faced with change.  Thankfully, we’ve successfully navigated through these situations so far.


In the spring, my daughter asked that we find a new summer day camp because she didn’t like the one that she and her older brother attended for the last three years. She was very insistent that we find someplace new. So I searched online and printed a brochure for a day camp that was held at a nearby private school. It was more expensive, but it included tennis and swimming lessons, and offered a variety of specialized sports, academic and nature camps. Everyone in our family thought the program looked excellent and we whole-heartedly signed up both children with their complete blessing.

But when the end of the school year came, my daughter completely changed her tune. She no longer wanted to go to the new camp. She absolutely refused to go. She screamed and pleaded with us to let her stay home. In cases where it is possible to opt out, we may have heeded her demands. But this was a situation we couldn’t back out of since there were no viable alternatives and thousands of dollars were already spent. And it was a situation where she really needed learn to overcome her fears. You can’t go through life avoiding every situation that you’re not comfortable with.

Several days before camp started, I sat down with my daughter.  She was crying uncontrollably over the fact that she didn’t want to go to the new camp.  I can tell you that the followings tactics did NOT work:  saying the new camp was her idea in the first place and saying that we already spent the big bucks and couldn’t get it back.  Yes, those were lame desperate attempts to appeal to reason that an adult may respond to, but certainly not an upset child.  So I had to dig deep to reach her inconsolable soul.

I was finally able to reach her by explaining that in all her life, we’ve never asked her to try anything that was completely terrible.  For the new camp, I asked her to trust me, to trust the fact that we choose this summer camp because it wasn’t a horrible place where they locked up children all day.  And then I told her that we wouldn’t force her to go to camp all summer if she absolutely hated it.  I reminded her that in many instances, she has had control over her fate.  For any sport or activity that we asked her to try, she always had the option to quit after the first season.  She tried soccer, didn’t like it despite being quite good and having her wonderful mom (me) as coach, and we quit the following season.  She started piano lessons when she was too young, became completely frustrated and unhappy, so we stopped and tried again successfully the next year.  And she’s even had the option to refuse sports such as T-ball, lacrosse or basketball. 

After I had gained my daughter’s trust through all the examples of how she had control over her fate, I asked her to just take the new camp one day at a time.  I asked her to put on a brave face for the first day and try it out.  I promised her that the whole family would be there to drop her off on the first day.  If she still didn’t like it after a week, I told her that we would look into getting out of the rest of the summer.  She managed to put on her brave face on the first few days of camp, and by the end of the first week, she was having the time of her life.  All her original fears had disappeared.

My daughter still has apprehension in new situations, including what I thought would be an easy transition to second grade.  But hopefully with our guidance, she will gain confidence and learn that new situations may be scary, but trying them out may yield great rewards.

Contributing editor Angela blogs about her family at mommy bytes.


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