Phobias In Children

Phobias and fears can start in very young children – most children are either unaware and even deny their fear symptoms. It becomes very important for parents to watch for unusual behavior which interferes with their life and development in a normal manner. It is hard for parents to watch their children become afraid of a number of things and distinguish whether it is a normal phase or something serious.

How Phobia is Defined

It can be defined as an extreme reaction – rational or otherwise – to something like:

  • a person, animal, insect or reptile (like snakes, lizards, dogs or clowns)
  • places or buildings (hospitals or playgrounds)
  • objects (knives, needles, rocking chairs)
  • activities (going in an elevator or riding a horse)
  • situations (being alone on a dark street etc)

Many children are also fearful of being separated from their parents and this phobia is termed as separation anxiety disorder.

Age Groups Affected

Phobias are a disorder with origins in anxiety. Many children get a feeling that danger is right around the corner. This may be out of proportion with reality and it affects children of all ages. It is different from the phases that children go through, from time to time. It can cause extreme fear which last a long time. They can be treated when addressed in a timely manner with help from a professional.

Children are affected by the same phobias as adults – between 6-10% of all youngsters experience some phobia or another according to researchers. Most children go through phases of fear and anxiety at different stages of their life. Parents have to watch their children closely to see if there are any radical changes in the behavior.


Signs of Phobias in Children

A parent is the first line of defense in figuring out whether a child is just shy or has serious fear issues. Parents and the family physician play a very important role in the child’s treatment. Parents should share their observations with the doctor and try to formulate a plan of action. Some questions to ask would include:

  • What is the criteria used to reach a particular diagnosis?
  • Is it possible that it is something else?
  • What are the possible treatments and end goal for my child?
  • How long will it take?
  • How can I get the child to talk to me?
  • What is my role in the treatment process?
  • How should I handle panic attacks?
  • What other resources are available to parents?

Timely intervention and help by way of therapy and medications will ensure that children recover fast and live normal lives.

Mode of Treatment

Psychotherapy and medications are used to help children as well. Therapy methods include talking about the problem and what the triggers are. Professionals are able to identify and teach children to use the following techniques to address their fears:

  • how to recognize the feeling is out of proportion
  • realizing that the outcomes from encountering the situation or object are unlikely
  • how to talk to oneself and remember what is real and what is not
  • doing relaxation and breathing exercises
  • role playing with a parent or clinician and practice worst case scenarios
  • increasing exposure to situations and ensure that the triggers don’t have the same effect.

Children are also prescribed the same anti anxiety medications as adults, in lower doses so that they can overcome their problems and get a good grounding in different methods to handle their phobias.