Phobias in children are fairly common; you may be surprised to learn that young children have more fears and phobias than adults do and that they experience the emotion of fear much more intensely. Most of us have some sort of irrational fear or another and the correct definition of a phobia is “an intense and irrational fear of something that, in reality, poses little or no danger”. Small children will show many fears as they grow up and learn about the world around them and this is only natural – they may fear things that they don’t understand. As children grow older and learn to make sense of the world and everything in it, these fears usually fizzle out and disappear. However, some children may hang on to one or more of their fears until it becomes a phobia, and this is the time for parents and caregivers to step in and try to help them conquer the fears.

Common Fears Among Children

0 – 2 years: Loud noises, strangers, separation from parents or caregivers, large objects.

3 – 6 years: Imaginary things such as monsters, ghosts, the dark, strange noises, sleeping alone.

7 – 16 years: More realistic fears such as illness, injury, death, natural disasters and performance at school.

Different Types of Phobias

Animal phobia – including fear of snakes, spiders, dogs, rodents, birds and insects among other animals.

Natural environment phobias – such as fear of heights, storms, the dark or water.

Situational phobias – which includes things that are triggered by a certain situation such as fear of enclosed spaces, flying, driving, tunnels and bridges.

Blood-Injection injury phobias – including injury, blood, the dentist, needles or other medical procedures.

Overcoming a Phobia

A phobia can make life difficult for both the child and the parents, so overcoming the phobia as best as possible is essential. This will often involve engaging professional help. However, first of all you need to be sure that this really is a phobia and not just a fear that your child can grow out of with some help from you.

For normal and age appropriate fears and anxieties, there are plenty of measures parents can take to help their child develop the skills and confidence they need to overcome the fear before it develops into a full-blown phobia. First, recognize that the fear is real, however trivial it may seem to you. Encourage your child to talk about the fear as putting it into words will often take away some of the power of the negative feelings.

  • Never belittle the fear to try to force your child to overcome it. However ridiculous it may seem that there is a “monster under the bed”; the feelings of fear are very real to your child. Don’t give in to the fear, this will just reinforce it and make it worse. If your child is scared of dogs, then don’t cross the road to avoid walking past a dog – instead support your child with gentle words of encouragement as you walk past the dog.
  • Teach your child to rate fear on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the scariest) or with the fear moving up through the body (up to the knees, tummy, chest, head, etc).
  • Teach your child strategies that he can use to cope with the fear. Encourage your child to use positive self-talk, such as “I can do this” and “I will be okay” when they feel anxious. Get your child to use you as a safe home as they approach the object they fear – letting him slowly approach and then back off again as often as he likes – he will gain in confidence (and the fear will subside a little) each time he make those small steps towards the object of fear.
  • Teach your child some deep breathing and visualization techniques to use when feeling anxious – for example floating on a cloud or sitting on a beach and breathing deeply in and out.

If the fears do persist despite all your efforts to help, then it would be a good idea to talk to your GP about referring your child to a therapist who will help him conquer the fear before it becomes a proper phobia that will affect his enjoyment of life in the future

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