Definitions and types
Phobia, which counts among anxiety disorders, is an irrational and unfounded fear while fear is healthy and makes you fear a real danger against which we protect ourselves.
When fear invades all of our thoughts and we cannot function anymore, it has become phobic.
Specific phobia is an intense fear cause by the presence or anticipation of an object or a specific situation such as planes, heights or open spaces.
In adults, phobias can be classified in four types:
- Situational: related to a specific situation like driving, elevators, airplanes;
- Blood-injection-accident: fear of invasive medical procedures;
- Natural environment: fear of heights, storms, thunder;
- Animal: fear of animals.
Parents should not fear discussing their own fears with children. On the contrary, talking increases the chances of not giving them the same fears or phobias. “We must talk with our hearts, be honest and tell our child that we fear such situations”, saysMarie-Andrée Laplante, founder and president of Phobies-Zéro, an organization that offers tools and support to persons living with anxiety disorders.
In children, phobias can be classified in five categories
- Others phobia: it is usually the first phobia experienced by children. It appears around the age of eight or nine months old. The baby cries when he sees persons that he does not usually see. This fear hides a fear of being abandoned by his parents.
- School phobia touches 5% of children and teenagers and generally affects children who are afraid to be separated from their family or who fear anything new. These children simply refuse to go to school.
- Fear of natural phenomena
- Fear of mythical characters like monsters and ghosts
- Fear of germs and diseases
Causes of phobias
Social phobias and specific phobias could have a genetic origin because it often affects many members of a same family. On the other hand, some people are born with a predisposition to anxiety. Therefore, they are more prone to phobias and as young as five or six years old.
Phobias can also develop in response to a traumatic event.
Various warnings repeated too often that generally reveal an overprotective nature can also generate fears, rational or not, in children.
Our children’s fears: when should we worry?
We should not ring a bell and call a psychologist if our child expresses his fears now and again. They are normal and are related to his stage of development and are transitory. In fact, you can start worrying if his fear disrupts his normal functioning, for example, if he refuses to leave the house.
“When your child has less friends, isolates himself or misses school, for example when he has an oral presentation in class”, adds Mrs. Laplante.
The excessive fear of asking questions in class, the fear of blushing, the obsessive fear of being ridiculed, the fear of sharing his opinion are all worrisome fears and parents should worry when their child shows signs of avoidance when facing certain situations or certain places.
Physiological symptoms can give you hints: your child may suffer from sleep disorders, headaches or nausea. Some children with anxiety disorders may have a significant weight loss and others have compulsions or rituals.