Phobias

May 4, 2008 – 7:27 pm

Fear is a natural response in everyone and keeps us from entering into dangerous situations. However, when the fear is centred on objects, creatures or situations that cannot possibly harm us then we can be described as ‘phobic’.

Children have more fears and phobias than adults and tend to experience the emotion of them more intensely. Such fears and phobias may begin with no apparent reason, although there is usually a small incident that has triggered an exaggerated fear response and this then becomes a habit.

Relaxation works

Wherever there is fear there is tension and so teaching the child to relax and to be calm is always a great help. A simple relaxation exercise is contained in our information article on Exam Stress. (link) Practising relaxation before facing the feared object or situation will benefit children of all ages. Give praise whenever a fear-inducing situation is faced.

Avoid labelling

Treatment of phobias in children works best if the feared object or incident is gradually faced, with support and encouragement from a caring adult. Avoid labelling such as ‘wasp phobic’ and just treat the child’s reaction as something that can be dealt with and overcome.

Common phobias at different ages

  • Children aged 2 – 4 years generally fear animals, being left alone and loud noises.
  • Between the ages of 4 – 6 years the fear of darkness and imaginary creatures come to the fore. Fear of strangers is common in the under fives but generally decreases into what would generally be called ‘shyness’.
  • After the age of 6 years irrational fears tend to decline, although school phobia and a fear of blood tends to start between ages 9 and 11years.
  • After the age of 11 children may fear death or that someone close to them might die.

Comforting children with phobias

It is important that, as the adult, you always remain calm when your child is afraid. Avoid the temptation to discount their fear by telling them “you’re not afraid”, because their fear is real, if unfounded. Instead, show the child how to deal with the fear. For example, if they think there’s a monster under the bed, shine a torch under there to show them there is nothing to fear. If they are frightened of the dark, let them leave a soft light on.

  1. 3 Responses to “Phobias”

  2. School Phobia (also sometimes called school refusal) is a distressing anxiety problem that can affect children as young as five and teenagers too, but is most common in children around eleven and twelve years of age – just when they are changing schools. The original causes of the phobia can be many and varied and may seem unrelated to actually going to school, such as worrying what might happen to a parent while they are away from them, but the physical symptoms are all too real. These include stomach pains, feeling or being sick, depression and in extreme cases a child may feel they are having difficulty breathing which is terrifying for them. Children may give reasons for not wanting to go to school such as being bullied – which can be a contributory factor too – or that their teacher is picking on them. Parents and teachers may think that the child is just making excuses, but their feelings of fear and distress are real and they need calm and patient support to overcome them
    Treatment of school phobia, once established, usually requires the help of a professional child counsellor/ therapist to work with the child, school and family. It is important that the child is not ‘labelled’ and that their phobic reaction to school is treated as something that can be dealt with and overcome.

    By Sue Twort on Jun 10, 2010

  3. An elderly female relative of my 4 year old grandson has just died. He is a sensitive and empathic child and he was very close to her. He is now worried that his mummy might die if he leaves her.

    As a consequence he won’t go and play at his friend’s house or go anywhere without his mum as he feels he needs to be with her to make sure she will be alright. This is becoming very limiting for her and she doesn’t know how to handle it. Any advice would be appreciated.

    By Marg Taylor on Aug 23, 2012

  4. Death is a difficult concept for a child of this age to comprehend so I suggest that someone close to him gives his an explanation that is relevant for a four year old.

    Use an analogy that he will understand e.g. When we buy a bunch of flowers they are young and fresh. Their life is short of course and as they get older they die and we remove them from the vase and put them in the compost bin. People live a lot lot longer than flowers and most people won’t die until they are old. (A) was old and she died, like old dead flowers in a vase. Mummy is not old. She is healthy and fit and she is not going to die right now so you have nothing to worry about. She is not going to die and leave you right now’.

    If he brings it up again say ‘Remember, Mummy is not old, she is young, fit and well’. You are quite safe, Mummy will be there when you get back’. Obviously lots of reassuring cuddles and kisses as necessary too.

    By Sue Twort on Aug 24, 2012

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