A phobia is different from being scaredof something. Many people don’tlike spiders, for example, but do notnecessarily have a phobia about them.
A phobia is an extreme fear ofsomething – usually an animal, object,place or situation.With phobias, the fear is so strong that itaffects day-to-day life.
If a child has a phobia they will be afraidevery time they see or experience thesituation or thing, and might have a panicattack. They will also spend a lot of timeavoiding the situation or thing, whichcan make life difficult.
There are many different types ofphobias. Social phobia, for example, is anintense fear of being in social situations.The fear results in people avoiding thingsthey might like to do and avoidingsituations where they have to talk to or infront of other people.
When a person sees or experiences something they think is dangerous, thebrain sends a message for adrenalinto be released into the bloodstream.Adrenaline prepares the body to fight orrun away from the danger.The symptoms and sensations causedby the release of adrenalin can increaseanxiety themselves, releasing moreadrenalin. This creates a vicious circle andcan lead to a panic attack.The symptoms of a panic attack include:
- racing heart beat
- difficulty breathing
- feeling sick
- dry mouth
- chest pain
- sudden need to go to the toilet
A panic attack can make a person thinkthat something awful is going to happen,that it is inescapable and out of control.All these symptoms can make someoneavoid the situation of object that triggersthe phobia. Avoidance can have a massiveimpact on a person’s day-to-day life.
No one knows exactly why certain peopleget phobias and whether or not there isa genetic link. Most social phobias startin teenage years, although social phobiaand other kinds of phobia can also start inchildhood.
Simple phobias are sometimes triggeredby a terrifying experience – being trappedin a small space, for example. Other timesthey run in the family and everyoneis afraid of something, like snakes orclowns. In these cases, children can be scared from their parents.
The cause of more complex phobias ismore difficult to work out, and there maybe many possible causes.A phobia may be triggered by long-termstress, such as the death of a parent or adivorce. Or if a child’s parents experiencea lot of anxiety then the child may growup viewing the world as a more dangerousplace, and may be more anxious as a result.
There are lots of different therapies thatcan help people manage their phobias.Medication is one option, but this isbest used only in the short term and inconjunction with another form of therapy.Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) looksat the connection between thoughts,feelings and behaviour. CBT can helpsomeone learn new techniques fordealing with phobia, such as breathingand relaxation exercises.
Therapy can also involve graduallyexposing someone to the thing they areafraid of. For example, if someone hasa phobia of spiders, they might start byreading about spiders, then look at apicture, then touch a model, then see areal one in a jar and, finally, hold a spider..
If a child has a phobia it is usually quiteobvious. They might develop copingstrategies for living with the phobia andmay never need any help.If the child needs help, a good start isto see the GP, who can refer them to apsychologist, psychiatrist.The time it takes to overcome the phobiawill depend on the child and how seriousthe phobia is. It may take weeks, monthsor longer, but treatment can be veryeffective
- Parents can share and admit their own childhood fears, especially if the parent had similar fears when he was a child. Then parent can indicate that he understands just how devastating such fears can be and that he stands ready to reassure and comfort whenever the child feels a need.
- Help your child feel safe. And don’t undermine the power of your words. When your child does confront a fear and hears your comforting, “It will be okay,” (or gets the same message from daddy holding her/his hand) she/he will feel more secure that she can deploy in other trying times. Your words of support will become a model your child can use himself. Our kids copy how we cope with our fears. So be the example of how to handle your own worries that you want your child to copy.
- There are some fears that we can’t protect our kids from and just must be endured. And educating your child about the event can clear up misperceptions as well as boost security.
- If the fear makes your child tense, learning relaxation strategies could help. Practice the one tip over and over until it becomes almost “automatic.” You might need to put a picture reminder on the fridge or next to your child’s bed. The trick is for your child to use that strategy the moment the worry comes before it builds.
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