How to help your child overcome fears and phobias
Some children are extremely sensitive. They need time to get used to the new environment, people and situations. For example, if a child goes to school or sports section for the first time, he will be able to enjoy it only after a while, when he gets used to the situation.
Every child experiences fear from time to time. Young children learn about the world around them, gain new experiences and face certain difficulties or unexpected circumstances that may frighten them. It is an integral part of growing up and developing. However, sometimes the child experiences an irrational fear of the most unexpected things. For example, afraid of the sound of a fire engine siren or ambulance, insects, etc.
Childhood fears are common
According to psychologists, 43 % of children aged 6 to 12 years are subject to fears. The most common at this age is the fear of the dark, especially when the child is left alone in a dark room. Also, children are often afraid of animals, such as large barking dogs. Some children are afraid of fire, heights or thunderstorms. Sometimes children, having seen enough news on TV or on the Internet, are afraid of robbers, kidnapping or war. If a child has recently experienced the loss or serious illness of a relative, he may begin to worry about the health of loved ones. Usually these fears are in their Teens. Most of these fears are not very strong, and they gradually fade away.
What is a phobia
Sometimes fears can escalate so much that they turn into phobias. These are strong and irrational fears that interfere with everyday life. For example, the fear of dogs in a six-year-old child can cause him to panic so much that he will refuse to go out at all. At the age of 10, a child may be so disturbed by news of serial killings that they will insist on sleeping with their parents.
Some children at this age have a fear of communicating with people they meet in everyday life. Such shyness can prevent a child from finding friends at school and communicating with most adults, especially strangers. Such children may deliberately avoid social situations (such as friends ‘ birthdays) and may find it difficult to communicate with anyone other than their family.
Often children at this age have a fear of isolation. Sometimes this fear is amplified when the family moves to another city or the child goes to a new school. The child may be afraid to go to summer camp or even go to school. This phobia can also have physical symptoms, such as headaches or abdominal pain. All this leads to the fact that the child closes in itself and becomes depressed.
At the age of 6-7 years, a child usually learns about death for the first time, in connection with which he may have a new fear. When he realizes that, ultimately, everyone is mortal – both his parents and himself – his anxiety can increase. In some cases, this preoccupation with death can be very painful.
How to deal with fears and phobias
Fortunately, most phobias are treatable. Phobias are not usually a sign of serious mental illness that requires a long course of psychotherapy. But if the child’s anxiety does not go away for a long time and prevents him from enjoying everyday life, he will need the professional help of a psychologist or psychotherapist who specializes in the treatment of phobias.
During the treatment of phobias, many psychotherapists offer the child to meet the source of their fears in safe doses. For example, if the child is afraid of dogs, the therapist can show him pictures of dogs or videos with them during the conversation. Then he can offer the child to watch the dogs from the window. Finally, the therapist can play for a few minutes with a small harmless puppy in the presence of adults. After that, the child will feel much easier in the presence of dogs.
This process is called desensitization: the child gradually becomes less sensitive to the source of his fear every time he encounters it. In the end, the child will not avoid situations that have caused his phobia. Although this process from the outside looks like a matter of course, it should be done only under the supervision of a professional.
Sometimes psychotherapy helps children become more confident and less prone to fears. In stressful situations, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques can help the child.
Sometimes doctors recommend antidepressants as an additional remedy, although they are never used as the only treatment. They help relieve anxiety and panic attacks associated with phobias.
How can parents help a child
Let’s look at a few ways that parents can help their child cope with fears and phobias:
talk to your child about their concerns and show compassion. Explain to him that many children have fears, but with your support he will surely learn to cope with them;
don’t play down your child’s fears or make fun of them, especially in front of their peers;
do not force the child to show courage. He may need time to deal with his fears. However, you can unobtrusively encourage him to face his fear and not avoid situations that frighten him. The main thing is not to insist on it.
Fears are a normal part of a child’s life, the reaction of his psyche to a real or imagined threat, the source of which is in the world around him. Therefore, parents should support the child in such situations. In talking to him about his fears, parents should acknowledge them, but not amplify or diminish them. Calm the child and offer him ways to cope with fears. Trusting communication and support is an effective method of dealing with fears. If this does not help, the fear can develop into a phobia, and then the best remedy will be the help of professionals.