The many fears of children should not worry parents except if they become phobias. Where is the line between the two and how do we cross it?

Definitions and types 

Phobia, which is considered an anxiety disorder, is an irrational and unfounded fear, while fear is healthy and makes you scared of 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 caused 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 into 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 into five categories

  1. 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 the fear of being abandoned by his parents.
  2. 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.
  3. Fear of natural phenomena
  4. Fear of mythical characters like monsters and ghosts
  5. 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 the 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 fewer 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.

Physical symptoms

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. 

How to deal with their fears?

Dialogue is the best tool to fight your child’s fears. You must tell your child that you are there to protect them but also to help reduce their fear. You can also reassure them by pointing out that other children have fears too...

However, try to stay neutral, to keep your distance about his fears while being understanding.

You must let your child express himself, for example through drawing, says Mrs. Laplante. Dolls can talk together too. It does not have to be immediately after he expressed his fear. We can wait the day after and make him talk with puppets…

Once your child has put on paper the object of their fear, you can even suggest throwing away their drawing…and the fear itself.

Phobias fade or disappear around the age of seven. If all your attempts to help are vain and if his fears persist beyond that age, you should consider seeking professional help.

To learn more or get help

Image de Josée Descôteaux

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