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Will it harm my child to make them do things they are scared of?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

In this FAQ series, we asked clinical psychologist Catherine Gallagher “will it harm my child to make them do things they are scared of?”

The key word when considering an answer to this question is danger. The question you should first ask yourself: is the thing that they are scared of doing actually dangerous? Because if it is, then making them do it is not such a good idea. Recognising that is important to ensure what you are doing is actually going to help them feel better.

Although, I think what we are actually talking about here is when the thing they're scared of is a result of their brain telling them it's dangerous, when in actual fact, it is not. In this case, we can definitely have a positive impact on their fear and anxiety. It is crucial that as parents or significant adults in the lives of children, we are consistently supporting and scaffolding them to do the things that their worried brain is telling them is dangerous.

In fact, unless we encourage them to stop avoiding such things, by placing them in situations that their brain is telling them is dangerous, they will keep believing those things are dangerous. Ultimately, that can actually cause big worries in their lives, which will lead to long term anxiety. So, as parents, it is vital that we support our children to do things that make them scared, in a small steps, to help them develop their capacity for some fear which will in turn lead to managing their own worries and anxiety.

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