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How can I help my son get rid of his fears?

Q: My son (aged 7) and my nephew (aged 6) got spooked one night at a camp by some friends who thought they were being funny. Now, they refuse to stay in a room by themselves (even if another child is there). It is becoming a huge problem. My son gets up three to four times at night. He sits on the toilet eating his cereal because he is scared to be in the kitchen alone, which is ten feet away. His fears are irrational to me, but totally rational to him. How do I help him without losing my patience with him?

A:Children at this age are fascinated by fantasy and have wild imaginations. The distinction between real and unreal is usually blurred. Your son has gone through a traumatic experience and is obviously very scared. He may overcome the fear on his own with time, but your patience and sensitivity at handling him are extremely important. Instead of criticizing him or belittling him, you should first of all provide a sense of security. Talk to him and let him express his true fears. Try to understand his reasoning even though you feel his fears are irrational. Explain to him how it was a prank and to be taken as such. Encourage any small effort at moving away from fearful behaviour, and try to ignore fear reactions. You can also try using stories of courage and serving as a good example yourself.

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