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How to Help Your Child With Phobias

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 24, 2021

Phobias in children are an anxiety disorder that causes excess fear of things or situations that lasts for more than six months. If your child has a phobia, they may show a fear of things like height, some animals, insects, flying, blood, and more.

Types of Phobias in Children

There are different types of phobias that may affect your child. Some of them include:

  • Specific phobias. This type of phobia is when your child gets anxious when they are around a particular thing. They may fear animals, heights, and blood so much so that these things affect their daily lives.
  • Agoraphobia. This type of phobia involves fearing open spaces. Your child may not want to leave the house alone. It may occur together with other kinds of phobias.
  • Panic disorder. Here, your child may experience a lot of unexpected fear. It may lead to shaking, a fast heartbeat, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
  • Separation anxiety disorder. As the name suggests, your child may develop the fear of being away from someone they are attached to (i.e. a parent).
  • Social anxiety disorder. This involves fear of performing in front of other children of the same age group.
  • Selective mutism. Selective mutism occurs when your child is unable to speak when exposed to a specific social setting.

Normal Types of Fear

While phobias involve excessive anxiety, children might show some normal levels of fear.

If your child is two years old and below, you may expect them to fear large objects, getting separated from a parent, unfamiliar faces, and loud noises. Children between three and six years old may fear darkness, strange sounds, sleeping alone, and even imaginary monsters or ghosts. Older kids between seven and sixteen years old may fear real things like injuries, poor performance in school, death, and illnesses.

Causes of Phobias in Children

The unreasonable fear of situations and objects might occur genetically or due to environmental factors. If your child experiences a lot of fear the first time they come across something, they are likely to develop a phobia of that same thing.

Other factors that may lead to phobias in children include:

  • Traumatic experiences early in life
  • Family history of mental health issues
  • Shyness in early childhood
  • Medical conditions linked to anxiety (i.e. thyroid and heart issues)
  • Some medications or substances

Symptoms of Phobias

Different children may experience various symptoms when they become anxious. Some common symptoms your child may exhibit when they have a phobia toward something are:

  • A racing heart
  • Shaking
  • A choking feeling
  • Sweating
  • Fear of dying
  • Loss of breath
  • Numbing
  • Stomach upset
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Fear of going out of control
  • Chills

Diagnosis

Consider seeking help from a professional after noticing any of the symptoms of phobia. The professional may examine the symptoms and take a thorough medical history. After that, they will make a precise diagnosis of your child’s condition. Your doctor might also order more tests in different settings to diagnose panic disorder.

Treatment of Phobias in Children

Phobias may negatively affect your child’s quality of life. The good thing is that phobias are treatable. The treatment method may be determined by your child’s age, symptoms, and health condition. Treatments may include:

  • Medications. Your child’s doctor may prescribe some medications to manage panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy aims to help children to manage anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Family therapy. This type of therapy involves the parent during treatment.‌

Tips to Help Your Child With Fears

It might be expected for your child to experience fear sometimes. The feeling may help them to stay cautious. In your child’s early days, you can expect them to be afraid of big, loud, or new things.

If your child is showing symptoms of unreasonable or excessive fears, you can help them by:

  • Comforting them through words and warm embraces
  • Assisting them to try new activities or things
  • Letting them meet new people while still holding them
  • Staying apart from your baby for some periods
  • Creating a comforting bedtime routine if they are afraid of darkness
  • Supporting them in slowly facing their fears
  • Avoiding watching scary shows or movies

Prevention

There are no conclusive studies on how to prevent phobias in children. However, early detection of the condition might go a long way in solving the issue as early as possible.

In general, phobias are pretty common. There should be no cause for alarm if your child’s fears do not interfere with their quality of life. However, you should consider consulting with a professional if the phobia is causing problems at school or in other social circles.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cedars Sinai: “Phobias in Children.”

HELPGUIDEORG INTERNATIONAL: “Phobias and Irrational Fears.”

The Nemours Foundation: “Normal Childhood Fears.”

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Phobias in Children and Adolescents.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Phobias in Children.” 

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