Phobias in a child - how to deal with them?

does not constitute a real threat. It happens that older children are aware of the irrationality of their own fear. Phobias in a child.

Phobias in a child - how to deal with them?
Phobias in a child - how to deal with them?

A phobia is a type of neurotic disorder characterized by persistent fears of certain situations, phenomena, objects, places. Anxiety is subjective, excessive and often unjustified. The child avoids the causes that cause it, which makes it difficult for him to function in a school or peer environment. Situations, phenomena, objects and places that provoke fear are in practice not dangerous. However, the child experiences them, overreacts, mainly with anxiety, fear and isolation, even when he hears from parents that a given object or situation does not constitute a real threat. It happens that older children are aware of the irrationality of their own fear. Phobias in a child.

Types of phobias 

ICD 10 - the international classification of diseases and health problems, prepared by the WHO (World Health Organization), distinguishes several types of anxiety disorders in the form of phobias.

  1. Agrophobia with or without panic attacks - this is the fear of being outdoors, outside the house, in front of crowds and public places. A child or teenager suffering from agrophobia experiences an unbridled fear of being in an unfamiliar environment, but also wherever there is no sense of control over the situation, e.g. open space, crowded bus. It happens that people suffering from agrophobia experience the so-called double anxiety. Once before being in unfamiliar surroundings, and two before a possible panic attack that may occur for this very reason. Therefore, agrophobia can turn into the so-called social phobia.
  2. Social phobia - social anxiety in children concerns mainly the fear of contacts with peers and situations of contact with other people. Features of social anxiety include:

  • Fear of being in the spotlight,
  • Fear of saying something stupid, compromising yourself in front of others,
  • Fear that, for example, at school, the child will delay answering a question; if the student decides to give it, he or she speaks very quietly and uncertainly,
  • Fear of any social exposure - reciting a poem, performance in front of an audience even at a family party, providing answers in a forum, etc.

Various disturbing thoughts appear and spin in the child's head that reinforce anxiety, e.g.

  • What will they say about me, think
  • If I answer, I will definitely say something stupid, unrelated to the topic and compromise myself,
  • I'm sure everyone can see how nervous I am, how my hands are shaking and how sweat is pouring down my forehead.

Social phobia causes the child to be overly focused on himself, he constantly analyzes how he talks, how he looks, how he behaves, how others perceive him. In extreme cases, our child, avoiding contact with others, may argue that he does not need social interactions. It is worth knowing that a child with social anxiety disorder has a perfectly good and correct relationship with the immediate family, and may even have a few well-known friends. Therefore, the difficulties of social phobia may go unnoticed for a long time.

  1. Specific phobias - they relate to experiencing a strong fear when a child comes into contact with specific objects, objects or phenomena, e.g.

  • Animals, birds, insects, fungi, thunder, thunderstorms, lightning, etc.,
  • Small enclosed spaces,
  • Sight of blood

It happens that children with specific phobias are ridiculed and treated with irony or distance, which is an additional burden for them. It is worth remembering that the symptoms of anxiety themselves cause a high level of discomfort in a child, therefore the support, care and kindness of the environment is of great importance in dealing with the disorder.

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  1. Anxiety disorders with panic attacks that mainly occur in teenagers. Symptoms include periodic panic attacks, i.e. episodes of severe anxiety, and physical sensations of anxiety such as dizziness, palpitations, breathlessness. Panic attacks occur in a teenager for no apparent reason, and he tries to avoid places where he once had an attack. He is also often convinced that it will be difficult for him to get out and get help if he finds himself in such a place. A teenager may avoid, for example, going to the cinema, traveling by public transport or, for fear of a panic attack, not participate in school events or meetings.

How to help a child?

For adults, childhood fears may seem irrational. However, we must be aware that they are real for a child and that this cannot be underestimated or deprecated.

What can a parent do?

  1. Listen to your child with patience and kindness.
  2. Do not use the so-called "Shock therapy", that is, an attempt to intentionally expose the child to face the anxiety-generating factor directly.
  3. Read therapeutic fairy tales that relate to the specific situation of a given anxiety.
  4. Normalize anxiety reactions that is, talking to the child about the fact that anxiety is an emotion that is commonly experienced and that helps us assess the level of danger in certain situations.
  5. Teach your child to see body cues and thoughts that indicate anxiety to come and to use relaxation techniques, deep diaphragmatic breaths that calm the vagus nerve.
  6. Mindfulness application, yoga for kids.
  7. Problem-solving can be practiced with the child. This training should be done "cold" when the child is calm. It consists of the following steps:

  • Determining what the problem is,
  • Finding many possible solutions, even irrational, writing them down on the basis of the so-called brainstorming,
  • Choosing 2-3 best solutions according to the child,
  • Profit and loss assessment for each selected solution,
  • Selection and planning of activities,
  • Evaluation of the effects.

Treatment of children with anxiety disorders

Children's phobias are treated by a child psychiatrist. It is he who makes the diagnosis, i.e. assesses what type of anxiety disorder we are dealing with. It also decides whether pharmacological treatment is indicated. Usually, a psychiatrist indicates the need for a consultation with a clinical psychologist or prescribes psychotherapeutic treatment. The following methods are most often used in psychotherapy:

Psychoeducation so that the child understands the nature of fear,

  • Relaxation training so that the child learns to cope with somatic symptoms,
  • Behavioral methods, i.e. gradual exposure of the child to situations that cause excessive anxiety,
  • Cognitively identifying and verifying anxiety-causing thoughts.

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents are quite a common reason why parents refer their children to a specialist. The sooner the symptoms and causes of anxiety are identified, the sooner intervention and help can be undertaken. Anxiety disorders can make it difficult for a child to develop and function. Therefore, quick response is not only of preventive importance, but can also save the child unnecessary suffering and emotional damage.