Helping Children with a Phobia

Fears are really common in childhood, however, for some children they simply don’t grow out of it and they escalate over time. Within this blog, I would like you to understand what a phobia is, what symptoms to look out for and what you may be able to do to help and empower your child.

What is a Phobia?

A phobia is an intense and unreasonable fear of a specific object or situation. Phobias are different from normal fears as they normally become more severe with age. Children can have fears about insects, spiders, dogs, injections, the dentists or even about being sick.

What symptoms would you notice?

Phobic Behaviours:

  • Avoiding the feared object or locations where the trigger might exist, they may avoid, refuse to go to the dentist, the doctors, a park, public toilets or even a school trip.
  • Making parents check things first (e.g. make sure a room is free of bugs before bedtime)
  • Asking a parent to be present or available
  • Running away from a potential exposure
  • May hit/kick
  • Crying
  • Clinging
  • Tantrums

Physical Symptoms:

Managing phobia's

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upset stomach
  • Numbness
  • Cold or hot
  • Looking flushed

 Negative Thoughts:

  • It’s going to bite/sting me
  • I can’t go to the park, I can’t handle seeing a dog
  • It’ll be awful, I can’t do it, Mummy, don’t make me, please
  • What if I vomit

Why would my child develop a Phobia?

They can be linked to a frightening event or stressful situation. Research shows that phobia’s, as well as anxiety, can run in families. Genetic ( nature) and environmental factors ( nurture ) can play a part. It is not your fault but sometimes anxiety may be learned from family members who are noticeably stressed or anxious. Parents can also contribute to their child’s anxiety without realizing it, by the way, they respond to their child, giving in to the fear and non intentionally colluding with the “avoidance”

What are normal Developmental Fears and how can I help my child?

You can watch my video below about age groups for normal fears, and several tips to manage the Phobia.

My Tops Tips for any parent to manage a Phobia? ( please seek help if your child has a serious Phobia, any information on the website is not to be used as a replacement for help from a Mental Health Professional) 

1. Help your child become an expert on the anxiety

What anxiety is and why they might be having difficult thoughts and feelings. The importance of not avoiding.

2. Teaching your child about a specific phobia

It could go like this.

Parent: So you know about more about anxiety and the fight or flight response, so let’s talk about the phobia

Child: I know what it is now, do we have to talk about it!

Parent:  Yes, we do. You know uncle or a friend, they were really scared of dogs when they were a child and we could not go into parks, yours is a bit similar and explain…Discuss how the phobia is interfering with his or her life, and how it is affecting the family. What is the phobia stopping your child from doing?  Let them know it is really common and lots of children suffer from a phobia.

3. Help them learn coping skills to manage the Phobia by:

  • Teaching them feeling words.
  • Accepting, empathising and validating your child’s worries
  • Listening to worries with full attention and gently help them to distinguish between fact and fears.
  • Teaching them breathing and mindfulness
  • Asking them what you can do to help them feel safe.
  • Teach them positive self-talk, ( how they talk back to the ” fear/worry monster”)
  • Patiently encouraging your child to face the situation one step at a time safely, this is called exposure work, we gently expose your child to the phobia in small manageable amounts.

I hope this helps, sometimes the information here will help you but for more ideas,  more management tips and more, do join me at my workshop “ Stop the Worry Cycle” or contact a health professional. Good luck with Love Catherine

Related Posts:

Understanding Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Do’s and Dont’s

Is my Child Shy or Suffers from Social Anxiety

How Anxiety creates Disruptive Behaviour

Separation Anxiety and Disorder