Fears And Phobias
Kids develop fears. It could be separation anxiety as a toddler, a fear of clowns as a preschooler, or a dread of public speaking as a school-ager.
About one in 30 children will develop a full-blown phobia. They’re hardly uncommon, and they can develop at any age. A fear is considered a phobia when it’s excessive and interferes with a person’s ability to function. If your child has a fear of sharks, for example, she can probably get along just fine in the world. But if she develops a phobia of elevators, or eating in a public place, or going to the doctor, that can impact your daily life.
A good place to start is with your family doctor. He or she can make some recommendations for treatment options and support if the fear is beginning to become unmanageable. But there’s also a lot you can do at home, too.
When I work with clients on overcoming phobias, we often do a desensitization process, where we break the fear down into smaller components. Let’s say your son has a phobia around dogs. Depending on the age of your child, you can talk with him about the different aspects of being around dogs and which aspects are scarier than others.
Perhaps seeing a dog walking by outside, through the window, when he’s inside, is not very scary. Being in the same room with a dog is kind of scary, and petting a dog is very scary. (There are probably lots of steps in between, but we’ll use those three.) Then you can create some opportunities to develop comfort with the most manageable one. That’s seeing a dog walk by outside. Encourage your child and point out all the ways he’s doing well. Staying calm, not anticipating the worst, recognizing that the dog can’t hurt him – all are helpful tools.
Over the course of time, you can then move on to the next step: being in the same room with a dog. This could take weeks or months perhaps. If your child shows signs of fear, then back off without blame or shame. Only go as fast as your child can manage, and encourage his efforts along the way. Continue to point out how far he’s come. Remind him of the tools that work (what he’s telling himself, breathing deeply). Keep moving along his list of scary steps. Hopefully, you will eventually reach the end point and the phobia won’t seem so unmanageable anymore.
Avoidance is one of the worst ways to cope with a phobia or other anxiety. The more we think about how awful something is and the less exposure we have to it, the more scary and insurmountable it becomes in our minds over time. Eventually, it can be completely overwhelming to face. Gentle exposure to the phobia, slowly and respectfully, discussed positively and in terms of what he’s been doing that is already working will help, even after a setback. Use your judgment to decide when it’s reached a point that you need to involve a professional, such as your doctor or a counsellor who specializes in working with children.
More details on anxiety and fears in this article.
Does your child have a Fear Of Being Away From Home?