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My 7 year old seems to be afraid of a lot of playground equipment. It's not the height so much as I believe that he's afraid of falling and getting hurt. (He'll climb up tall stairs and go down tall slides, run across high bridges...) We were at a playground recently where they had a wall climb, monkey bars, a mini zipline, hand over hand bars (I never learned what those were called, a twisty metal pole to climb and one of those rolling logs with the bar to hand on to. He wouldn't do ANY of it. He'd go to each thing like he was going to start, then he'd say that he was afraid and what if he fell?? I tried to reassure him that I was right there and would catch him and help him, but he was still really freaked out. How do I help him acclimate and learn to overcome his fear? He WANTS to, and I can see that he's very frustrated by his own feelings.

  • I'm inclined to believe with subtle psychological influence he may be more interested in trying. My daughter when she was 3 or 4 started watching those american ninja warrior shows with us, which is just a big obstacle course playground and she got so interested in it that all playground equipment was like ninja warrior. Couple watching that with you playing on them and pretending to be a ninja warrior might get him to start small, like low level balancing beams, etc, and reach out more. Could also be he's just not ready yet. I know many who broke bones on playgrounds so maybe fear is valid – Kai Qing May 11 '16 at 20:26
  • He's already interested in trying. Therein is the problem. I should have been more clear that I'm not pushing him to do it. I, very often, encourage him to go and find something that he's more comfortable with. HE wants to do it, but is terrified and ends up frustrated with himself for not being able to push through the fear. I'm just trying to figure out how to help him through that fear so that he trusts in his own body more. – Tabatha May 14 '16 at 5:24
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Acknowledge his fear. "Wow, yes, it's huge isn't it? And it's pretty scary."

Find out what result he is scared of - you've said it's being hurt if he falls, so check it is actually that.

Ask him what he could do to avoid that happening. Then ask him if he can think of examples of risky things that he does safely or other things he does to keep himself safe (wearing a helmet when he rides a bike?) Remind him that there are things that are still a bit too dangerous for him - boiling a kettle unattended, or going high up a climbing wall without a rope - and then ask him if he thinks you'd allow him to do those risky things.

Start small. Find a smaller bit of play equipment that he's comfortable with. Reward good behaviour. Model good behaviour too - try the equipment yourself.

After he's tried it ask how he feels it went; if he felt safe; what he'd change; then finish with "Was it fun?"

This answer very loosely uses concepts from "cognitive behaviour therapy". There are emotions (fear) that are driven by hot thoughts ("I'm going to fall off and hurt myself") supported by flawed evidence (you need to find out what the evidence is). Your aim is to stop the hot thought happening, and to allow him to correct the flawed evidence with something more realistic, and to reduce the fear.

He should be doing most of the work - this process is not you telling him things but you helping him to discover these things himself.

Here's some information from the English NHS about anxiety, including anxiety disorders: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/anxiety-children/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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I would take a step back from the question and ask two (2) things:

  1. Why does the kid need to play on the equipment? Do you want him to for social reasons (so he's not left behind, etc), physical reasons (this will teach him dexterity that will allow him to do x, y, z activity you have planned for him), or a psychological reason (physical confidence will make him confident in other areas in life)? This is a worthwhile distinction because the issue is (probably) not the playground per se, but some more profound value of yours that the playground stands for.

  2. This is mentioned in other answers, but what's he really scared of and what might have caused him to be scared of it? Keep that in mind and take baby steps. Again, this is explained in other answers.

IMO, I say ditch the playground and go do something else. No need reinforcing inadequacy, as he probably feels like a bozo watching all the other kids jump like trapeze artists. Go do something that makes him feel strong, something that he does fearlessly, something that excites him. And let him do it. Ask him to show you, ask him how he does it and why. See where I'm going with this?

ALSO, this is totally projecting, but I would say the best thing you can do for the kid is get out of his way. Don't follow him around the playground. He probably doesn't need a friend; he needs a mentor to challenge him and support his growth. If he asks you "What if I fall?", laugh and smile and say "I don't know, buddy." And if he says "I'm scared," tell him the truth: "Dude, I'm scared sometimes, too. But that's never a reason to not do something". I'm not saying ANY of this is easy, nor possibly to do perfectly. But it's 100% true in my experience that the source of most kid's neuroses and issues are their bumbling parents trying to protect them from the world.

Good luck and keep being an awesome parent! Your little dude is lucky to have you.

  • I should have been more clear that I do not, by any means, follow him around the playground. He will call me over when he wants to try something that he's afraid of, and I do my best to encourage him. It's not really ME that's wanting him to use the equipment. I encourage him to go do something he feels more comfortable with.HE wants to, but he's simultaneously terrified of it and becomes very frustrated with himself for being unable to push through the fear. I'm trying to figure out how to help him push through that fear and be more confident and trusting in himself. – Tabatha May 14 '16 at 5:22
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I would suggest you do some research on risk taking in children. Especially in recent decades, parents often unintentionally stoke this sort of fear by doing things like being "right there [to] catch him and help him." If you let them occasionally fall from a short height when they are three years old, they will be a lot more confident on the higher climbing walls when they are seven.

If you're always there to catch him, that shows him you don't trust his climbing ability. If you don't trust his climbing ability, why should he? Instead show him an example of fearlessness by either by going first and doing it yourself and expecting him to follow, or by removing yourself beyond arm's reach and looking unconcerned.

  • Yes. But do be there after the first few falls with a quick check-in and reinforcement that "wow! you're ok though, yes? good, you're doing great" etc. – Jeff Y May 11 '16 at 18:28
  • I'm not there all the time or following him around. I tell him that I'm there for him when he asks me to be because he WANTS to try it, but is afraid. The issue I'm having trying to help him with is pushing past the fear. – Tabatha May 14 '16 at 5:19

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