Dear Sarah: Calming Childhood Anxiety

Dear Sarah,

My 9 yr. old has suddenly developed a fear of fire. This means that at birthday parties she stays far away from the candles until they’re blown out. When we lit our Hanukkah menorah, she pitched a fit. She is struggling with general anxiety at the moment so this is clearly part of it, but our life is full of birthdays, holidays, and Shabbat – there are candles EVERYWHERE. How can we help her to move past this fear?

—Distressed Dad

Dear Distressed,

As her parent, you should initiate a conversation about her new fear.  Start by asking questions to see if she had an experience related to fire that has made her fearful and more cautious when fire is present.  You should also make sure that no one has said or done something, even accidentally, to cause her to be fearful.  Your daughter should be reassured that having a fear of something is ok and she won’t be forced to be close to fire until she is ready.  Make a plan with her ahead of time that gives her options of what she can do if fire is going to be part of an event. Let her give you ideas about what she thinks will make her feel more safe, and incorporate that into the plan.  Children will usually outgrow their fears naturally, but if the fear causes your daughter extreme anxiety, making it hard for her to function in everyday activities, it may be helpful to have her talk with a professional.



Dear Sarah,

My outgoing, spunky son is struggling in school. He doesn’t like sports and is pretty vocal about it. He’s become the butt of jokes, and all I can see in my mind is him, standing alone in gym class, looking miserable. He has friends who are not sports driven, but the kids who are into sports seem to dominate the playground. I’m heartbroken for him – how can I help him?

—Social Mom

Dear Social,

There are many kids that do not want to participate in sports and feel uncomfortable when sports are required at school.  If there is a concern about how he performs in a gym class, have a discussion with his teacher to find out more about the structure of the class. You may also discuss with the teacher what activities can be brought out to the playground so that your son and his friends have something to do that they like.  Physical activity is important for youth, but not every activity has to be competitive.  Involving teachers may be helpful in getting the more athletic kids to work with the rest of the class, so that everyone feels included.  There might also be an opportunity to have the kids in your son’s class play board games, chess, cards or other activities of interest some days. You could also inquire whether, with supervision, your son could be offered a monitored tablet or phone use to play games on some days as an incentive to be more physically active on other days.



Dear Sarah is JFS’ advice column. Submit your questions, and receive answers and advice from one of our licensed therapists. Names and details will be altered in published letters to protect your privacy. All letters will be answered and can be viewed on our website.