Q: My seven-year-old broke her arm on the monkey bars a few months ago. It has since healed, but she’s become cautious and is reluctant to get back to her regular activities, like karate and gymnastics, because she is afraid to hurt herself. How can we help her enjoy physical activity and deal with her fears?
A: Give your daughter the message that it’s all right to have fears and it’s good to share her fears and ask for help. This fear is pretty normal and will likely fade with time. To help her cope, avoid saying things like “Don’t be afraid” or “You’re a big girl now. Big girls don’t get scared.”
Without reinforcing your daughter’s fears, empathize with her. Acknowledge that the accident seems to have led to her being afraid to participate in her regular activities. Reassure her that her arm is now back to normal. Remind her of how much she used to like karate and gymnastics. You can try going back to the monkey bars together in order to give her the sense of security she needs to overcome her fears. Then gradually, and perhaps on repeat visits, you can encourage her to play with less close supervision. If your daughter does not benefit from these strategies, you might consider seeing a qualified children’s mental health practitioner to explore the problem further.