Learning About Phobias in Children

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What are phobias in children?

Having a phobia means being extremely afraid of a certain object or situation. Phobias are very different from everyday worry or stress. Children with phobias have so much fear that it's hard for them to do normal activities.

Your child may feel great stress about being near an object or in a situation. To show this stress, he or she may cry, have tantrums, freeze up, or cling to someone else. Your child may also have physical symptoms. He or she may sweat, tremble, or feel nauseated. Your child will try to avoid what he or she is scared of.

Compared with teens or adults, children have more animal phobias, natural-environment phobias (such as fearing storms or lightning), and phobias about blood or getting a shot. Other phobias in children include the fear of loud noises and fear of characters in costumes, such as clowns. Some children and teens have school phobias. They fear school and may often try to avoid going.

Unlike adults, children usually do not understand that the amount of fear and worry they feel is more than the actual danger of being hurt by the object or situation.

How are phobias in children treated?

Treatment depends on:

  • How much the phobia interferes with your child's activities.
  • How hard it is for your child to avoid the feared object or situation.

Counselling

Phobias can be treated with a type of counselling called cognitive-behavioural therapy. This includes exposure therapy.

In exposure therapy, a counsellor helps your child imagine or actually get close to the feared object or situation. A series of steps may be used to help your child gradually get closer to what he or she is afraid of.

This therapy should only be done with help from a counsellor or doctor.

Medicines

If your child's phobias are severe, your doctor may recommend medicines to help your child with anxiety. Talk to your doctor if your child has a phobia that interferes with daily activities, such as going to school.

School phobias

Some children have a lot of fear about going to school. They may refuse to go. Or they may say they are sick. These reactions may be related to the anxiety.

If your child often says he or she feels sick before school, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can rule out any serious illness. Ask your doctor about ways to encourage your child to attend school.

You can:

  • Tell your child you understand his or her fears. But also be firm and say that your child has to attend school.
  • Talk with your child about the reasons he or she doesn't want to go to school.
  • Help your child resolve problems or deal with stress at school.

With severe school phobias, you may need to ease your child back into school. For example, your child may go to school for one or two classes a day, then a half-day, and then return to full days.

Work closely with the school staff. Make sure the principal, nurse, and teachers know about your child's phobia. Tell them how you are managing it.

Support

  • Be open with your child about his or her fears. Talk about them. Give plenty of support and reassurance. Make sure your child doesn't feel bad or ashamed about the phobia.
  • Don't try to force your child to be brave about a phobia. Your child will need to gradually overcome his or her fears.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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