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What are the best approaches to help an older preschooler (~5-6YO age) overcome fear of heights, like going on very high slides/monkey bars/other playground equipment?

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Is the fear only dealing with things like monkeybars (where they're hanging from a height) or slides (where they're expected to "fall" from the height)? Or also from bridges or elevated walkways, stairs/escalators, elevators, etc? –  Doc Jun 4 at 19:33
    
@Doc - No fear of adult stairs/escalators/elevators... But any sort of walkways in playground castles that are up high are a problem –  user3143 Jun 4 at 19:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

One general solution is to start with an "easier" fear to manage (e.g. start with an elevated walkway rather than the slide/monkey bars). Stay with the child and hold their hand. Distract them so they don't realize they're at a height, then slowly draw their attention to it. Encourage them to step up to the railing and reassure them that you're there and will hold on to them and they wont fall, etc. If they have trouble with this, you can start slower (go up the stairs with them and just point out that they're at the same height as the railway) but at no point should you force it (e.g. don't carry the child up to the height, and don't push them towards the edge, etc). If they refuse to approach the edge or have a strong negative reaction, remove them from the stimuli - you don't need more negative feelings being associated with the thing they're afraid of, you need positive feelings and memories.

After the child acclimates to the walkway, move on to something slightly more 'difficult'. The key is slow acclimatization to each new stimuli, always being encouraging and supporting, but never pushing the issue. If you can get them to suggest it, all the better (this can be done by working around the issue, talking about something cool that can or will happen from being introduced to the stimuli, and making them want to see/do it).

For heights (especially at a playground), a good order would be stairs -> walkways/bridges/overlooks -> slides -> monkeybars. For slides, try to go with shorter slides at first and you can either go down with them or stand at the bottom to "catch them". Monkeybars, you can walk along with them while they hang. Also, for slides, they may find it easier to go down covered slides (where they can't see outside) at first. You can later point out that an uncovered slide is the exact same thing but without a roof.


Bear in mind that while you can work with a person to help them overcome their fear of something (or at least be able to manage their fear), you sometimes can't remove it completely. If they're truly afraid of heights, and you aren't having luck, you can see a psychologist, or you can let it be. It wont be the end of the world if they don't play on the jungle gym, and a lot of these fears are passing things that the child will naturally get over as they get a little older. If it truly becomes an issue, and you aren't having luck, seek a professional rather than pushing it and making it worse.

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(You don't say whether this is a phobia or a fear. You don't say whether it is a problem that needs to be fixed or if it's just something that you want to fix right now.)

Controlled exposure to the thing that causes the fear is one approach. At all time the child is in control of the actions. You start with activities that are far away from the objective ("playing on high equipment") and work, in tiny steps, toward that goal.

Start by drawing and painting some pictures of a playground. Include some monkey bars and similar. Read or make up a story with this equipment. Go to a playground where they have the equipment, and talk about the children playing on it, but then go do some other play activity, then approach the equipment and talk about it, maybe touch it, and then play on another piece of equipment. Start climbing just a couple of steps off the floor, then come down and do something else.

At each point listen to how the child is feeling. Acknowledge wha they're saying. Do not dismiss their feelings. Then ask them what evidence they have to support their opinions, and talk to them about alternative explanations.

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I'm not sure I'm qualified to tell phobia from fear... –  user3143 Jun 4 at 21:40
    
@DVK it's a level of severity, basically. If the child simply states they're afraid and wont do it or can have limited exposure without too much anxiety/distress it's more likely a fear. If they break out sobbing, do everything in their power to not only avoid but also maintain a great distance from the stimulus, or are otherwise distressed and generally impaired it may be a phobia. Honestly, if it's a true phobia you are better off consulting a professional. –  Doc Jun 5 at 14:17

Tell him that his hero (maybe his father, or any game character) loves the high places and his hero will be mad if he finds out that your child is afraid of high places.

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Hi, and welcome to the site. I've downvoted this answer, because I don't believe that lying to a child and threatening them with anger is an appropriate way of teaching a lesson. All this is likely to do is upset the child. –  Beofett Jun 6 at 13:01
    
and what your wrong !!i am answaring that person because I know him personaly :D o please next time dont put your self in such situations –  Watchou Jun 6 at 13:32
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I completely agree with @Beofett on this one. Telling your child that their hero/parent will be mad at them if they're afraid of something is a good way to cause bigger issues and upset the child further. Being mad for breaking the rules under their direct control is one thing, being mad for a psychological thing most likely out of their control is completely unreasonable. –  Doc Jun 6 at 20:08

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