Election 2016: Are Our Fears Becoming Our Kids’ Phobias?

Worried child in front of graffiti“She should be arrested”… “if he is elected millions will be deported”… “no-one will be able to afford healthcare”… “our country will be bankrupt”…“if he”… “if she”…

More than any other time in recent history, Election 2016 is showing us a country divided – one that is filled with anger and hostility and fear – and our children are bearing witness. Depending on their backgrounds some of them are scared about their immigration status, or their parents having jobs, or our country being a safe place to live, or even having enough money to eat …all depending on “who wins”. The questions are unending and appear everywhere they turn. All these know is their parents are afraid, and that is enough to rock their foundation. This is a turning point for this generation. If we want to create a culture of kindness, we need to fix this…before today’s fear become lifetime phobias for our kids.

When is a worry or a fear actually a phobia and what is the difference?

Fears are common and expected in childhood; however, for some children and teens, their fears can become very severe over time, and even develop into a phobia. A phobia is an intense, unreasonable or exaggerated fear of a specific object or situation.

How common are phobias in childhood?

On average, specific phobias begin in childhood, between seven to eleven years with most cases starting before age ten.

Approximately 5% of children and 16% of adolescents will have a specific phobia in their lifetime.

What causes phobias?

A child may have a phobia of something specific dogs, spiders, or snakes, for example. Research suggests that phobias may run in families. Both genetic and environmental factors (life experience) can contribute to developing a phobia.

Some children and teens develop a phobia after being exposed to a traumatic or frightening event. Their concerns begin as rational, a natural reaction to a frightening event. But when the child catastrophizes the event or does not have the thinking skills to cope with or understand the event, sometimes the fear becomes larger than the situation warrants.

How do fears and phobias affect children, as they grow older?

If a child is not helped to understand the fear and the meaning of the worry, he may feel powerless and thus may worry more. The key is to help the child feel powerful over his thoughts, feelings and experiences. The more coping skills he has, the better he will do as he grows up.

Children often fear something because they think it will cause pain or from a previous experience, should a parent push their child to overcome their fear or let it happen over time?

Research shows that children are not usually reassured out of phobias. It’s best to help your child become an expert in their own anxiety and worries. Help your child develop the analytic skills to think about their phobias in a new way. Make them “cognitive scientists.” Encourage them with thoughtful conversations that aid them in helping their brains to be calm in light of distressing experiences. Help them explore their fears or worries and then empower them to develop new thoughts, feelings and behaviors regarding their fears. Here are a few conversation starters to spark your engagement.

  • What makes you worried?
  • What do you think when you are worried?
  • What do you fear will happen?
  • How is your brain responding to your fears or worries?
  • How BIG is your worry?
  • How big is the “true threat” of what worries you?
  • How can we “think differently” about this fear?
  • What else can we say to ourselves?
  • How can you help your brain calm down?
  • How can you help your brain see this fear differently?
  • What can you say to yourself when you begin to feel worried?
  • What can you do to calm yourself down?
  • How can I help you best when you feel worried?

What is a way to change a child’s fear around and look at it as a positive?

Slowly facing the fear or worry in a safe way, builds up a sequence of new life experiences that may aid your child in developing a new perspective.

Help your child with a strategy that aids your child in evaluating the size of the true threat compared with the size of the worry. Using thermometers or balls can help in this regard. You are helping your child see how BIG the worry is.

Here is a helpful printable from our next book 70 Play Activities. The election provides a real-life platform to encourage skills-based conversations with your children. So help them to think, explore, converse and problem solve instead of simply getting “caught in their worries.”


As an example, if you live in Minnesota and your child will not go out for fear of snow, it’s important for your child to know that snow is made of water, so it melts. Snow rarely causes direct damage. Help them enjoy the snow by building, playing and even bringing the snow inside for science experiments. Talk about how BIG is their worry? Using the activity to draw, write and narrate their concerns.

Remember, phobias are “overgrown fears.” They are bigger than reality dictates. You can help your child shrink those fears down to size with collaboration and communication.

For more help on phobias here are a few books you might take a peek at.




70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com

About the Author

Dr. Lynne Kenney is the nation’s leading pediatric psychologist in the development of classroom cognitive-physical activity programs for students grades K-8. Dr. Kenney develops curriculum, programming, and activities to improve children’s cognition through coordinative cognitive-motor movement, executive function skill-building strategies, and social-emotional learning. Dr. Kenney’s works include the Social-Emotional Literacy program Bloom Your Room™; Musical Thinking; Bloom: 50 things to say, think and do with anxious, angry and over-the-top-kids and 70 Play Activities For Better Thinking, Self-Regulation, Learning and Behavior. Learn more at www.lynnekenney.com. Lynne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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