Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Advancements in Addressing Children's Fears: A Review and Recommendations

Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Advancements in Addressing Children's Fears: A Review and Recommendations

Article excerpt

More than a century of research confirms the need for professional counselors to remain current in their understanding and treatment of the fears of children and adolescents (Burnham, 2009; Hall, 1897; Jersild & Holmes, 1935). When discussing youths' fears, the literature includes the terms fear, anxiety and anxiety disorders. Fear is defined as a distressing emotion resulting from a real or perceived threat, and anxiety is the anticipation (i.e., fear) of a potential future threat (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). The terms fear and anxiety are often used interchangeably or in tandem in the literature as they appear to reflect similar underlying neurobiological processes. Anxiety disorders are included in the discussion because they are psychological disorders that are viewed as developmentally inappropriate or as reflecting pathological levels of fear and anxiety (APA, 2013; Klein, 2009).

While the content and severity of children's fears varies greatly, the evidence is clear that as society changes, approaches to treating children's fear and anxiety must be adapted (Burnham, 2009). Burnham (2009) concluded that contemporary fears of today's youth are influenced by global events (such as natural disasters, war and terrorism), societal changes, and television and media exposure. Stress and negative events contribute to heightened fear responses in children (Ollendick, Langley, Jones, & Kephart, 2001). Any stressful incidents that children experience have the potential to generate fear-related disorders (Robinson, Rotter, Robinson, Fey, & Vogel, 2004). Because of the ever-changing nature of society, it is essential for counselors to remain cognizant of the impact that current events might have on the children with whom they work, particularly in relation to their fears and coping mechanisms.

Current literature points to positive emotions and affect regulation as means of increasing resilience (Fredrickson, 2001; Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008; Hannesdottir & Ollendick, 2007). Resilience, or the ability to overcome adversity, is an essential component of coping with fears and anxiety effectively (Masten, 2001). The increase in adversities during the past decade, such as terrorist attacks, war, hurricanes and school shootings (Burnham, 2005, 2007, 2009), warrants a renewed focus on children's fears and the promotion of resilience (Burnham, 2009; Tugade, Fredrickson, & Barrett, 2004).

Fears, worries and other stressors (e.g., academic issues, conflict, change) are typical aspects of human development; however, children often do not learn effective or appropriate skills to help them cope with these challenges (Robinson et ah, 2004). Although children may develop coping mechanisms in the absence of direct instruction, these are often avoidant mechanisms that lead to poorer outcomes (Abei, Giger, Plattner, Metzke, & Steinhausen, 2013). Maladaptive fear responses can lead to the development of anxiety disorders (Kiel & Buss, 2014). Anxiety is the most prevalent childhood disorder and a strong predictor of adult psychopathology (Weems & Silverman, 2006). Thus, teaching children helpful ways to cope with fears can promote healthy development.

The need for developing effective coping skills in children is most evident during times of natural disasters and global crises (Burnham, 2009). During these periods, children are at increased risk for developing situationspecific fears. For instance, children who witnessed the September 11th attacks became more fearful of war and terrorism as a result (Burnham, 2007). This increased fearfulness also is the case for children who experience natural disasters such as earthquakes, wildfires and even lightning strikes (Dollinger, O'Donnell, & Staley, 1984).

In addition to dealing with global crises or natural disasters, counselors must be able to help children with everyday problems such as graphic media coverage of war and disasters, teasing, bullying, family conflict, economic problems, and academic failure (Burnham, 2009). …

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