Helping Your Child to Overcome Fears

Ask the Experts by Veronica McAtee

Q: My daughter is scared to use public restrooms and often refuses.  I think it’s the loud sounds that bother her.  She has a language delay so it’s hard for me to truly understand what is bothering her.  I keep reassuring her she’ll be ok, but that doesn’t seem to help.  I know it’s important for her to use public restrooms, so how can I help her overcome this fear without stressing her out too much?

A: This is a common fear for children.  Public restrooms are loud, and the sounds are often unpredictable. Some restrooms have automatic flushers that go off when the child is using the toilet and one or two experiences like that might be enough for a child to avoid them altogether.  However, the more that you avoid the sounds, the bigger the fear becomes.  Be prepared when you out and proactively visit different types of bathrooms to get used to the sounds. Tell your child using simple language that you are going to just visit the bathroom and walk in and then leave after a short time without requiring her to go in the stall. Praise her for staying calm and being brave. The more she is exposed to the sounds, the easier they will be to handle. If you practice this when she doesn’t need to use the restroom, she might be calmer and more relaxed.  If you’re using a toilet with an automatic flusher cover the sensor with something and remove it when it’s time to flush. You can also tell your child to cover her ears before you flush and stand outside of the bathroom stall so that she is able to tolerate the sound from a distance. Set small goals along the way and reward your child when she is brave and accomplishes those goals.   

Q: My son hates to get his hair cut.  I haven’t been able to take him to a salon in years and I try to cut it at home but it’s getting harder as he gets bigger. How can I help him so that I can cut his hair?

A: Getting a haircut can be stressful for many kids because of the way it feels and sounds.  It’s also something that doesn’t happen often, so many kids don’t get to practice this skill frequently.  Work on gradually exposing your son to the different things involved in a haircut such as wearing the cape, listening to the sound of the clippers, and looking at the scissors.  Create a simple story about getting a haircut that lists the steps along with pictures and review this with your child.  You might also show your child a video of someone getting a haircut so he can learn to tolerate the different sounds.  Set up some play scenarios to work on this but don’t actually cut his hair. For example, you can pull out the clippers and let him listen to the sound and then briefly touch them to his head and praise him for staying calm.   If you break it up and practice frequently in small steps, over time he will learn to tolerate the sounds and feeling of getting his hair cut.   

Save the Date

Tips for Managing Anxiety in Children with Special Needs with Veronica McAtee

Presented by Kids on the Go in partnership with The Family Center

August 6, 2019
The Nonprofit Center at Pare, 23500 Pare Street, St. Clair Shores

For more information:

Veronica McAtee is a Limited License Psychologist and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst at the Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center and Boll Center for Human Development in Grosse Pointe.  She specializes in behavior therapy for children with autism, anxiety, ADHD, behavior problems, toileting issues, and social skills. She can be reached at (313) 473-4703 or visit Beaumont is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

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