Phobias in Children

A fear is just a condition of your mind and a phobia is an intense, persisting fear. A fear for a child may keep on changing as he or she grows. Learn how some childish fears turn into phobias and a relationship between phobia and fear.

All individuals are afraid of something or the other. Fear is a natural reaction to certain stimuli. Fear is an important feeling because it teaches children that certain objects or events are unsafe. For example, a child who is afraid of being burnt is not likely to play with matchsticks or start a fire. The experience a child gains in dealing with his fears enables him to improve his decision-making skills, as he grows older. It helps him to distinguish between what is safe and what he needs to avoid.

Phobias in Children

Identifying Fears 

Having fears is a normal response to situations. It is a necessary part of growth for a child. However, not all children experience the same fears. Even for one child, fears depend on his age, maturity level, etc. In many cases, the fear is in response to an external stimulus. Fears keep changing, as a child grows older. 

A baby will have 'stranger fear'. When the baby is approached by people he does not know, he tends to cling to his parents. 

A toddler suffers 'separation fear'. If he is separated from one or both parents for a few hours, he may become distressed emotionally. 

A child below seven usually fears unreal things such as monsters under the bed or ghosts in the cupboard. These fears are usually a manifestation of another fear like being afraid of darkness. 

Between the ages of eight and twelve, a child's fears deal with real circumstances such as physical injury, failing exams, and natural disasters.

When Fears Turn into Phobias 

As a child becomes older, a fear may disappear completely or be replaced by another one. This is mostly seen with fears that are age-dependent. Occasionally, a particular fear may persist into adulthood. This is more likely to happen if the fear is in response to an experience. For example, a child who is bitten by a spider may grow up to retain his dislike of spiders. 

Sometimes, a fear begins to take a greater hold over the child. If the fear becomes intense and causes severe reactions, it is classified as a phobia. The difference between a fear and a phobia is that the phobia cannot be tolerated. If the child encounters the object or event causing the phobia, he experiences extreme anxiety. This anxiety can become a source of distress to the child as well as the other family members.

Determining if the Child Has a Phobia 

Parents usually cannot distinguish when a child is suffering from a phobia. 

However, there are a few ways to determine how much a particular fear is affecting the child. The first question to ask is if the fear is age-appropriate. 

Fear is a part of normal development; hence, it should not be ignored. If the fear is the same as that experienced by other children of his age, chances are the fear will diminish with time. Therefore, there is no real cause for concern. 

Another point to consider is how the fear affects the child's daily life. Phobias have a tendency to create havoc in a childs personal, academic, and social life. 

If it is possible to minimise how much contact the child has with the fear stimulus, it may help him deal with the fear. Fear can sometimes be conquered by a simple change in the child's daily schedule. For example, say the child is displaying a fear of dogs because he is afraid of a particular dog on his way to school. If his route to school is altered, the child will not come in contact with that dog anymore and he will no longer be afraid. However, if the child has a phobia of dogs, this step will not make him feel less afraid of the animals. 

Most phobias do not need any special help since the child himself is able to deal with them. However, if a phobia affects a child's daily life, he many require professional help to deal with it. Getting rid of a phobia merely involves finding a strategy to overcome the situation.