Could Your Child’s Anxiety or Fears be a Phobia?
Anxiety in kids is common, and sometimes phobias come with them All kids experience occasional fear as they explore the world around them. Different kinds of fear are common and a part of everyday life as children encounter new situations and challenges.
Fears of the dark, dogs, spiders, and being separated from mom are all normal depending on your child’s age. Most fears are mild, and kids grow out of them as they mature.
But what about fears that don’t go away? Fears that persist and cause major distress in a child?
What is a Phobia?
Sometimes fears can become so extreme, specific, and persistent that they turn into phobias.
A phobia is an excessive and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but causes anxiety and avoidance – lasting for at least 6 months.
With a phobia, your child experiences this fear every time they see or come into contact with the object or situation. And they will do anything to avoid it. For example, a child who has a phobia of elevators or escalators might insist on taking the stairs or even refuse to enter multistoried buildings.
Specific phobias are generally long-lasting, cause intense and noticeable physical and psychological reactions, and can affect your child’s ability to function normally at home, school, or with friends.
The Most Common Forms of Anxiety and Phobias in Kids
Similar to adults, kids can develop a fear of just about anything.
Common ones include insects, animals of any kind, the dark, getting lost, heights, blood, shots, going to the dentist, vomiting, monsters or ghosts, burglars, flying, enclosed spaces, going to school, thunderstorms, germs, getting sick, choking, loud noises, clowns, death (of oneself or family members), speaking in front of others, sleeping in their own bed, being alone, making mistakes, performing, and separation from parents or loved ones.
Separation anxiety is especially common among children and can lead to phobias especially if your family has recently moved to a new neighborhood or your kids are placed in a childcare setting where they feel uncomfortable.
Another very common phobia is a social phobia which is a fear of being embarrassed in front of other people.
Kids with a social phobia might feel afraid of talking to a teacher or of walking past their classmates on the way to the bathroom. A social phobia also makes it almost impossible for kids to give a speech in class or enjoy themselves at a birthday party.
To be clear, a child with a social phobia is not “just shy”. They might have lots of friends or want to go out but can’t control their fear of being with others.
Common Physical Symptoms of Anxiety and Phobias in Children
Each child may have different symptoms, but these are the most common symptoms for anxiety in kids:
- Increased heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Upset stomach
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- A fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
Sometimes anxiety symptoms stemming from a phobia can look like other health problems so it’s important to have your child seen by their pediatrician to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
How Do Kids Act When They Have Phobias?
Regardless of the phobia, you are likely to see these types of reactions in your child:
- Immediate and intense fear, anxiety in kids, or panic when thinking about or exposed to the source of their fear.
- Feelings of powerlessness to control them even if your worried kids understand that their fears are unreasonable or exaggerated.
- Avoids the object or situation entirely or gets through it with intense anxiety or fear.
- Inability to function normally because of their fear.
- Possible tantrums, meltdowns, clinging, crying, or refusing to leave your side.
Phobias can also lead to a panic attack which is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. For many kids who experience one, they believe something terrible is going to happen or they might lose control. Often they will complain of their heart pounding and not being able to think clearly as well as feeling dizzy, sweaty or shaky.
Why does Anxiety in Kids Develop into Phobias?
No one really knows why some children develop phobias. It’s likely a combination of things including genetics and their environment. Sometimes a traumatic event or an encounter that a child experiences as extremely fearful can cause a phobia.
A phobia might also stem from having a parent with anxiety and phobias or repeatedly watching a family member’s phobic reaction to a situation or object.
Here are some additional factors that may increase your child’s risk of a specific phobia:
- Your child’s age. Specific phobias often first appear in childhood, usually by age 10.
- Brain function. Changes in brain functioning may play a role in developing specific phobias.
- Your child’s temperament. Your child may be at increased risk if they’re more sensitive, inhibited, or negative than the norm.
- Hearing about negative experiences. Hearing about a plane crash or other catastrophe in real-time or on the news can lead to the development of a specific phobia.
What Can Parents Do to Help their Children with their Anxiety and Fears?
Since fears are often a response to a real or perceived threat in your child’s environment, you should be as reassuring, sympathetic, and supportive as possible.
When talking about anxiety in kids, acknowledge your child’s concerns, but don’t increase or reinforce them. Let them know what you’re already doing to protect them and ask them what other reasonable steps can be taken. Let them know that with your support, they can learn to put their fears behind them.
Most importantly, do not belittle or make fun of your child’s fears, especially in front of their friends.
And do not try to force your child into being brave. It will take time for them to face and gradually overcome their fears. You can, however, encourage (but not insist) them to slowly but surely come face-to-face with whatever they fear.
This kind of sensitive and supportive parenting can usually resolve or at least manage most childhood fears. When realistic reassurances are not successful, your child’s fear may be a phobia and it’s time to begin online therapy for kids in Chicago, IL, or anywhere in the state of Illinois.
When to Seek an Online Therapist In Chicago, Or Illinois for Help with Your Child’s Anxiety and Phobia?
Fear isn’t generally considered to be a phobia unless it’s a specific fear that’s disrupting your child’s life. If fears are negatively affecting your child’s daily functioning at home, school, or social settings, it’s time to get online therapy in Illinois.
As I mentioned earlier, your first step should always be to have your child seen by their pediatrician in order to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Sometimes your pediatrician may recommend medications as part of the treatment plan, but never in place of therapy. These medications might include antidepressants, which are designed to lessen anxiety in kids.
Thankfully, most phobias are highly treatable. In general, phobias are not a sign of serious mental illness requiring many months of therapy. But online therapy does tend to be more successful when the phobia is addressed right away rather than waiting.
The goal of counseling for anxious kids in Illinois is to improve your child’s quality of life so that they’re no longer limited by their phobia. As they learn how to better manage their reactions, thoughts, and feelings, they’ll find that they can learn to deal with their fears and feel more in control of their lives.
Overcoming Anxiety and Phobias at Briefly Counseling in Chicago, Riverside, and Anywhere in Illinois.
At Briefly Counseling, I believe that the best way to help your child overcome a phobia is to not focus on it, but rather concentrate on your child’s courage. Using the Kids’ Skill approach, (part of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy), I help your child to develop a specific “bravery”.
Let’s say your child is afraid of dogs. I talk to them about their “dog bravery” rather than about their fear of dogs. When I talk to kids about developing “braveries” rather than overcoming fears, they’re much more likely to collaborate with me. They step into the best version of themselves from the start.
Kids are quick to use their amazing imaginations to develop “braveries” which makes Kids’ Skills so effective. If your child is afraid of being bullied at school, they can imagine switching on an invisible shield that protects them from other children’s harsh words. Or your child might imagine that they have an imaginary friend or superhero who protects them and gives them the courage to confront whatever it is they’re scared of.
Lastly, we take small steps when your child is developing “bravery”. If your child is afraid of dogs, we might start practicing their “dog bravery” by pretending that one of their stuffed animals is an actual dog and only proceed to interact with real dogs down the road.
This process is called desensitization and it means that your child will gradually become a little less sensitive to the source of their fear each time they face it. Ultimately, your child will no longer feel the need to avoid the source of their phobia. While this process sounds like common sense and easy to do, it should be done only under the supervision of an online therapist.
Begin Online Therapy for Kids with Anxiety in Illinois
If your child has been struggling with fear, anxiety, or a phobia please know that there is hope! Anxiety and phobias in Illinois are highly treatable and online anxiety treatment at Briefly Counseling can help.
As an experienced and caring online therapist, I love providing online counseling for anxiety for kids. To start your child’s counseling journey, follow these simple steps:
- Click on the Schedule an Appointment
- Select a day and time in my online calendar
- Or learn about me, your caring online therapist
- Watch your child gain confidence and feel better
I provide all services via online therapy in Illinois. Whether you’re in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Rockford, Libertyville, or Crystal Lake, I can help you. Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.