The Anxiety Wormhole: Dealing with Childhood Fear and Anxiety

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While most children experience typical childhood fears that they eventually outgrow, some kids are plagued by unreasonable fears resulting in mounting childhood fear and anxiety which can lead to obsessive compulsive behaviors.  My kiddo falls into the second category. Throughout L’s childhood we have exposed him to the things and situations that scare him in order to gently desensitize him and free him from the fears and anxiety that restrict his experiences. The Anxiety Wormhole: Dealing with Childhood Fear and Anxiety

The Anxiety Wormhole: Dealing with Childhood Fear and Anxiety

As he’s gotten older his fear factor has decreased but it is ever present. The other day I got a call from his science teacher warning me that L had had an emotional day at school. Turns out that they had a special guest, The Worm Guy, who brought along a worm colony for the kids to interact with. I knew that L wasn’t a big fan of worms, but I had no idea that it was a legit fear.  When I picked him up from school that day he told me he’d had the WORST DAY EVER.  He told me he felt pressured by everyone to touch the worms, but that he was just too afraid and felt like a big baby for not trying.

Dealing With Fear And Anxiety

While my first instinct was to tell him that there was nothing to be afraid of, I also knew that this wasn’t the time to dispel his fear. I needed to deal with the anxiety first so that later we could calmly work on conquering the fear.  I pulled over and grabbed his little hands and kissed them.  I told him I loved him and that I was really sorry that he’d had a bad day.  I told him I understood how uncomfortable it must’ve felt to be pressured by everyone.  He was relieved by my validation and broke into tears.  He needed to cry, he needed to purge all of the emotions that he’d kept at bay while in the presence of his school family, but I am his safe place, so he cried.  He let it all go and we went on to have a nice day.

Time to Talk it Out

That was Friday.  On Saturday night I asked him if we could talk about the worm situation. We talked at length about his fear and fears in general, it was clear to me that on a logical level he understood that there was nothing to be afraid of but that’s the thing….phobias are rarely ruled by logic…..

Finding a Solution for Fighting Fears and Phobias

I suggested we build a Worm Box for his pet chickens, he liked that idea very much, so on Sunday morning, we spent a good amount of time reading about worms and watching a YouTube video on how to build and care for a worm colony.
Surprisingly we already had everything we needed (except the worms) to build the worm box and it became a fun family endeavor.
The construction of the box was all fun and games, but when it was time to put the worms into their new deluxe condominium L totally froze.

Going Down the Anxiety Wormhole

I had no idea how intense this fear was until that moment.  Initially, I thought that he would be able to handle the worms with support from my husband and I, but it was clear to me that I was going to have to break this down into achievable wins.  I suggested he put on Gardening Gloves which he did, but he was still terrified to put his hand into the bucket of worms for the transfer.  He asked if I could put the worms in his hand so he wouldn’t have to reach into the worm bucket. I did, but I told him that we could do it that way with four worms and that the fifth worm he had to grab himself.  He did not like this one bit but he did it. It was super stressful for him and I felt quite bad for engineering this uncomfortable experience but I know that teaching him to confront his fears will help him build confidence so that in the future he will have the tools to deal with phobia and anxiety in a healthy way.
 Fighting the childhood fear and anxiety of touching worms

There is No Easy Fix for Fears and Phobias

Phobias and childhood fears and anxiety take time to overcome, there is no quick or easy fix.  We will be working on this for as long as it takes but I am confident that he will overcome this just as he’s overcome so many other fears.
On a sidenote, building the worm colony was tons of fun and full of incidental learning.

 The Anxiety Wormhole: Dealing with Childhood Fear and Anxiety

Tips For Helping Your with Their Childhood Fear and Anxiety

  • Stay Calm. Anxiety is contagious. It’s hard to see our children unhappy but it is important to exude that you feel calm and in control. That will help your child feel safe.
  • Wait to give advice or solutions for the problem. No one really wants to hear about what they should be doing when they are upset.
  • Be comforting and let them have the time and space to calm down.
  • Once they have calmed down it is time to “talk it out”. Listen to what they have to say. Is there an event that sparked the fear, is it sensory, or is it a fear that seems to come out of nowhere? Defining the origin of the fear will help lead you to the best way to help.
  • If there was an event that sparked the problem, then talking about that can help. For example, Krishna is afraid of dogs. When you talk about it, you discover that he was at a friend’s house and their dog snapped at him. That is a concrete reason to be fearful. You can come up with solutions together that help your child feel equipped to deal with that if it ever would happen again.
  • If it is sensory there may be a different solution. I worked with a preschooler who would freak out during art time. He was worried that the art project would involve touching paint or paste. We found that an easy solution was to have a paper towel next to him just in case he wanted to wipe his hands.
  • Some fears just can’t be explained and those fears can turn into phobias, like L’s fear of worms. That is when is time for gentle exposure to the fear.
  • When you are confronting a fear go slow, break it down into small steps. Like L’s worm project. First, he was comforted. Then he talked about it. Then he touched the worms with gloves on. Next time he will try to touch the worm with bare hands and finally, we hope that he will pick up the worms and feed them to his chickens.

11 Comments



  1. YeS!!! Staying calm is always a must when dealing with anyone with anxiety issues!

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    1. I just had that conversation with a mom. Her husband wanted to try being (fake) angry to get his boy to stop. I had to explain why that won’t work.

      Reply

  2. That must have been a really difficult fear to conquer. I always had a huge fear of spiders. I finally got over it as an adult working at a zoo and having to handle the tarntula!!! Yikes, but I’m still here to talk about it. 🙂

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  3. I have an anxious kiddo, too, and unfortunately, it’s gotten a little worse over time. He is very good at making mountains out of molehills. Great suggestions here! I’ll have to try some of them out.

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  4. so many good tips here! we haven’t really had to deal with anxiety yet, but i’m sure it’s coming, so i’m definitely filing these away (aka pinning this!).

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  5. Such great advice – it’s so easy to jump to solutions, but giving our little ones time and space to work through things with us can be so so important!

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    1. Thank you. Trust me, if I had a magic wand that could fix all his problems I would be very tempted to use it but since I don’t we will have to work on overcoming his fears. 🙂

      Reply

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