Imagine hitting the trail with your family with the goal of conquering miles of forests and going up the summit of your coveted trail, only to turn around with only a few hundred feet covered. The trail conditions are fine. The weather is perfect. And there are no threads of a looming cloud on the horizon? But what’s stopping you from moving farther ahead? For many hikers, especially families with young children, the fear of heights can stop you dead on the tracks. While you already pictured that fun and rewarding moment you get to spend with your kids at the top of your trail, you make your way back instead because fear has overcame them.
This is a scene that has plagued many families, so don’t fret as you are not alone in this dilemma. Fear of heights, also known as acrophobia, is a debilitating fear that you get when you are on elevated grounds. It is actually one of the most common phobias out there. After all, there is real danger that comes with conquering heights. But will you let this fear of heights hold your family back in terms of doing fun activities and enjoying great views? Your family, and especially your kids, could miss out on a lot if you choose to stay on level ground and just let their fear get the better of them.
Hiking is a fun and rewarding activity for people of all ages. But when kids are overwhelmed by their fear of heights, it seems daunting enough to manage on your own. But the sooner you can identify that such fear exists, the sooner you can also find ways to overcome it.
Tips to Identify Fear of Heights in Kids
It is normal to experience fear or anxiety when you are peering down the ground while you’re hundreds of feet above sea level. Knowing that you could fall off anytime and that fall could mean serious injuries (or even death) has resulted in one of the most common types of phobias – acrophobia or fear of heights.
It is easy to identify or voice out your fear of heights as an adult when you are able to fully express your thoughts and emotions. But it is a bit more difficult for children, especially when you go hiking. As a parent, you need to be very observant and take note of a few visible cues that indicate your child has fear of heights:
- A common sign of fear of heights in kids is when they refuse to look down at the view from your viewpoint. When you go hiking, one of the primary reasons that you scale up high mountains is to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the surrounding scenery. But when your child cannot muster the courage to look down at the same view that you braved the climb for then it could indicate they have fear of heights. Looking down gives them a sense of fear, especially when they realize just how far they are from the ground.
- Another tell-tale sign of fear of heights is when your child tends to crawl on all fours when they reach the summit of your trail. In some cases, they would kneel. This is an indicator that they have trouble maintaining balance due to the fear of height.
- If your child is shaking or sweating, then it is also an indicator that they have fear of heights.
- Other signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for are heart palpitations, anxiety, crying spells, or a full-blown panic attack.
How to Overcome Fear of Heights in Kids When Hiking
Conquering high peaks is one of the most exciting outdoor activities anyone can engage in. But while it is fun and exciting, this can be a challenge for anyone with a fear of heights. Imagine walking into a pristine natural environment but not being able to push through because you are crippled by your fear as you go up a few inches higher.
If you want to conquer the world, you cannot let fear overcome you. This is easier said when you’re an adult, but with kids can be a bit more challenging. Kids, especially younger ones, are unable to process their emotions – and thus, lack a sense of control. Don’t deprive your child the gift of nature with these tips on how to overcome fear of heights when hiking.
1. Be prepared when hiking.
There is nothing that you cannot conquer with enough preparation. If you know that your child has fear of heights and you are about to go on a hike, it is important that you are prepared by packing the right gear and items. Going out into the outdoors is already stressful enough, but this fear can be heightened when your child has to overcome unfamiliar terrain and great heights, too. You can ease their fear with your gear-related preparedness. It is important that you have all the gear you need to survive this hike and ensure safety for everyone, especially your child.
Before you embark on the hike, make sure everyone is well-rested the night before. It is also important to eat a hearty meal right before you go on a hike. When your child is physically ready, they are more confident in their ability to conquer the hike, no matter how easy or challenging the terrain might be.
Aside from physical preparation, you need to be ready gear-wise. You might have the perfect weather at the start of your hike but things could easily change, especially as you gain more altitude. Pack on extra layers and be properly geared with a tight-knit cap, sunglasses, and comfortable shoes to conquer any challenges on the terrain with ease. Don’t forget to pack adequate amount of water and food, as well!
2. Build your child’s confidence step by step.
Fear of heights is known as one of the illogical fears or that which can cause you crippling thoughts and emotions. While you want to overcome the fear of heights when hiking, do realize that this isn’t something that you can change overnight. Learn to be patient as your child processes their thoughts and emotions with regards to that fear. Overcoming any type of fear will always take time.
Of course, you cannot expect your child to overcome this fear by staying indoors and deciding not to go on a hike any more. Instead, start with short hikes (or those that have minimal altitude changes). The goal is to build their confidence slowly but surely, such that they become comfortable with the outdoor elements first. Once they conquer that, go on more hikes but make sure to choose a trail that gradually increases in terms of difficulty and altitude with each hike. Your goal is to help them reach the end of the trail or the highest point of the hiking trail and for them to realize that nothing bad has or will happen to them. If they come into that realization, they will eventually overcome that fear on their own.
Conquering fear of heights in hiking takes time and practice. Once you are comfortable with shorter hikes, you can always go to the next level on your next hike. Never ever push your child to doing something that they are not comfortable in, or else it will only heighten the fear. Take cues from them and always communicate.
3. Get them to practice meditation and focus.
Fear of heights, like any other phobias, can affect your mental and emotional state. But fear only exists in your mind. The source of fear starts on your mind until it clouds your thought process and prevents you from making rational decisions. This is something that kids might not realize yet, but you, as a parent, can teach your child to understand how fear works. You can tackle this by teaching your child the art of meditation and focus.
If you are practicing meditation and other zen-like techniques, make sure they join you in. Meditation is a powerful technique that enables the mind to stay quiet and focus on the present moment. It allows you to examine and experience your five senses, giving you an improved ability to focus – on yourself and the environment.
Once your child learns how to focus their thoughts and control the way their mind works, they can overcome any kind of fear, not just fear of heights. Instead of being overcome by the fear of heights, meditation and focus will enable them to process the situation they are in. Is there a real danger in this hike? Is this danger real or only a result of your perception? You’ll be surprised to know just how well your child has the ability to control their own mind. Get them to practice it!
4. Controlling, not eliminating, fear is the goal.
A little bit of fear is important, especially in children, as it helps to keep them out of danger’s way. Your goal as a parent is, therefore, to teach them how to control their fear and not to completely eliminate it. It is fine if they feel some level of fear, as long as they acknowledge that such fear exists. The secret to this is to let them embrace their fear. It could start by exposing them to the things that trigger their fear. In this case, if they fear heights when hiking, encourage them to hike more often and confront the same things that bring them fear.
When they redirect their energy towards controlling fear instead of fighting against it, it will be easier to deal. But you should never let fear stop them from doing things that they love. In this case, fear should not keep your children from going on hikes and being out with nature. They will feel a sense of power when they realize that their fear did not stop them from doing what they love and enjoy!
5. Remind them of the rewards of hiking and conquering their fear.
There is no better motivator to overcome fear than to be reminded of the reward that awaits you when you conquer it. You can use this as a source of motivation for your kids. The good thing about kids is that they are naturally curious and they would want to explore as much as they can. Encourage your kids to overcome their fear by reminding them of the rewards of hiking – being close to nature, seeing natural beauty, and encountering wildlife. Allow them to visualize this experience. The more they visualize it, the more they crave to have that rewarding feeling.
Once they get a taste of that feeling, they will want to experience it again. That’s why there is no better way to overcome fear of heights when hiking than to go on more hiking trips!
6. Remind them that they are not alone.
When you go hiking trips as a family, there is really no reason for your child to fear. As parents, you will do your best to protect them and make sure they are safe. Constantly remind them about this thought and they will eventually be more confident. When they know that you are around to protect them and ensure that they are away from danger, they are more likely to conquer their fear. Hence, it is a good practice to go hiking as a family so your child will become more confident when they explore the wild outdoors.
Has your child suffered from fear of heights when hiking? What other tips can you add to conquer the fear of heights during a hike and ensure a memorable hiking trip?