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, they may cry, have tantrums, freeze up, or cling to someone else. Your child may also have physical symptoms. They may sweat, tremble, or feel nauseated. Your child will try to avoid what they are 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. Some children fear school and may often try to avoid going.
Unlike adults, children often don't know that their fear is extreme.
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.
The symptoms of a phobia can get much get better—and may even go away—with counseling. Phobias can be treated with a type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy. This includes exposure therapy.
In exposure therapy, a counselor 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 they are afraid of.
This therapy should only be done with help from a counselor or doctor.
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.
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 they feel 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.
- Tell your child you understand their fears. But also be firm and say that your child has to attend school.
- Talk with your child about the reasons they don't want to go to school.
- Help your child resolve problems or cope 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, school counselor, and teachers know about your child's phobia. Tell them how you are managing it.
- Be open with your child about their fears. Talk about them. Give plenty of support and reassurance. Make sure your child doesn't feel bad or ashamed about the phobia.
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