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Strategies for Managing Childhood Phobias

It is normal for kids to feel fear or even mild anxiety about things like dogs, spiders, or the dark. But for some children, the fear becomes much more severe and starts interfering with normal life. This intense, irrational fear of a specific object or situation is called a phobia. Phobias cause kids significant distress, like crying, tantrums, panic attacks, and avoiding what they fear.

Childhood phobias are fairly common and tend to peak around ages 7-11. Any object or situation can become the focus of a phobia, but some common ones are animals, needles, water, heights, storms, and costumed characters. Phobias can develop suddenly or build up gradually after a negative or traumatic encounter. Regardless of how they start, phobias can be extremely disruptive for kids and families. The good news is effective strategies exist to manage them.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The gold standard treatment for childhood phobias is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. This type of counseling aims to help kids change negative thought patterns and behaviors around their phobia triggers. Some techniques a CBT therapist might use are:

  • Teaching relaxation skills like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to control fear.
  • Mindfulness training to stay grounded in the present moment instead of imagining frightening outcomes.
  • Systematically exposing kids to fear triggers, first through imagination or videos, then in real life in a gradual way.
  • Modeling brave behavior and praise for facing fears.
  • Challenging unrealistic negative thoughts about their phobia object/situation.

With weekly therapy sessions over several months, most kids see significant improvement. CBT gives them tools to manage fear and ultimately interact with their phobia triggers comfortably.

Medications

If CBT alone seems insufficient, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications as well. Medications like Prozac and Zoloft help control excessive fear responses. They can make therapy more effective by calming kids enough to fully participate in and benefit from exposure activities. Make sure any medication is carefully monitored for side effects. While useful for some, medications should complement therapy, not replace CBT as the foundation for recovery.

Parental Help

Managing childhood phobias requires teamwork between therapist, parents, child, and doctor. As a parent, do not reinforce avoidant behaviors. Instead, praise brave behavior, even in tiny steps. Help your child practice CBT techniques at home through imagined exposures. Model calm, confident behavior around phobia triggers yourself. Never shame or punish kids for fearful reactions – anxiety is involuntary even when it seems irrational. Patience and compassion go a long way.

Coping with Panic

Some phobias lead to panic attacks as well. Panic attacks are episodes of intense physiological fear symptoms like racing heart, dizziness, shaking, and feeling unable to breathe. They are scary for kids since they start suddenly, peak rapidly, and subside after several minutes. Phobias can trigger panic attacks when children encounter their fear trigger.

According to the folk at Aspire Psychological, panic attack therapy helps kids manage both phobic anxiety and associated panic attacks. Relaxation skills, realistic thinking, and exposure therapy apply to general phobia symptoms and panic episodes alike. Learning that panic attacks are harmless and temporary makes them less frightening. Practicing ways to get through them promotes confidence. With coaching from therapists and parents, young phobia sufferers can get relief.

Conclusion

Recovery from childhood phobias takes time and hard work. There may be periodic setbacks even with good treatment, and that’s normal. Stick with evidence-based therapies, medication if prescribed, and consistent practice of management skills. Celebrate each tiny step forward. Building bravery and resilience takes patient perseverance. But little by little, gains add up until your child can enjoy life unburdened by irrational fear. With your compassion and support, their phobias can be overcome for good.

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