Effective parenting involves arming our children with real, solid strategies to combat obstacles in their way so they may grow strong and confident about life, and ultimately tackle their challenges head on.

One of the biggest issues parents face is teaching their children to deal with normal everyday fears and worries—issues that we all face and don’t go away just because we get older. Providing a toolbox of coping strategies while they are young is one sure way of turning your worriers into warriors for the long haul.

One of my favorite activities in this regard is the building of a Success Ladder. For instance, say your child is terrified of dogs. You know this, you’ve talked about how seeing and being around dogs makes them feel, and they don’t want to be afraid anymore because it is keeping them from going to the park, play-dates, and parties. Together you can come up with a list of all the possible things that could be done to expose them to the idea of not being afraid of dogs by taking “baby steps” and mounting victories against their Worry Monster.

 For example, a list might consist of the following:

  • Look at a book about dogs.
  • Go to another friend’s house with dogs.
  • Get close to a dog that is off a leash.
  • Pet a dog of choice that is on a leash.
  • See dogs at a distance at a dog park.
  • Watch someone playing with a dog at the beach

Then have your child give each behavior a “scare rating” from 1-10 on the following scale:

1-3 Mild Discomfort: Uncomfortable and nervous, jittery stomach, mild concern, palms are sweaty, and knees feel weak.

4-7 Moderate Discomfort: Scared and anxious, more concern, dry mouth, wanting to leave or escape, feeling tense, trouble swallowing.

8-10 Severe Discomfort: Very scared and anxious (panic), headache, feeling trapped, dizzy, nauseous, numb, feeling like you are losing control.

Once your child has rated each fear, build a visual ladder on paper where these activities can be arranged from least scary on the bottom up to most frightening on the top.


 Go to another friend’s house with dogs roaming around freely.


 Get close to a dog that is off a leash.


 Pet a dog of choice that is on a leash.


 See dogs at a distance at a dog park.


 Watch someone playing with a dog at the beach.


 Look at a book about dogs.

Then start with the first (least scary) item and have your child do it—over and over again until it is boring. Continue up toward the top until each is accomplished making sure to dialogue about the feelings and results of each activity as it is completed. I strongly suggest building an incentive plan to reward your child which each victory they accomplish. They will likely need some carrot to motivate them to do something that is scary.

Remember that is can take as long as it needs to take to get to the top. The important thing is that you are taking baby steps together and celebrating each small victory as it comes. Each step up the ladder will bring your child confidence against that particular fear, but also in life. Further, you will be teaching your child that he can tackle life’s challenges and adversities by making a plan and courageously working on it—one step at a time.

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