Signs of fear and phobias in children | Support 4 Kids Ltd

Fear The Unknown or Risk Being Eaten

Do you fear your child will be gobbled up? Over millions of years, living beings have evolved and part of this evolution included our instinct to survive. Back in the mists of time, when there were lots of dangers waiting to claim those who were unprepared, survival instincts were likely needed on a regular basis.
The concept of experiencing real fear is a prime example of what was needed to kick our mind and bodies into gear to keep us safe.  But things have changed, and for most of us this heightened level of fear is no longer necessary to survive.

Worst or best scenario

Now imagine you are out and about, maybe even trudging through the darkness on your own. Suddenly, from the trees nearby comes the loud snap of a twig. You might respond to this sound by:

  1. Ignoring the sound, and assume it’s just a small animal.
  2. Wandering over and peering into the bushes, possibly in the manner of a teenager featuring in a horror movie who hears something in the darkness.
  3. Getting yourself ready to react just in case you have to run or defend yourself.

Is your child suffering from fears and phobias | Support 4 Kids Ltd

Yum Yum in my tum
​If you decide on ignoring the sound, your body and mind will be pretty relaxed and you will not experience any immediate rush of adrenaline, meaning you are not expending any unnecessary energy. But should the cause of the twig snap turn out to be a hungry bear, then you are definitely not in a great position to defend yourself, in particular, if the bear decides it wants you for lunch!
​On the other hand, if the noise turns out to be a lion, and you have adopted option 3 meaning you are ready to react, you are in a much better position to survive the lion’s attack. When you are feeling this level  of  fear,  your  body  will  ready
itself physically, and prepare to take action. Your body will be flooded with adrenaline meaning your heart will beat faster, your breathing will accelerate and your senses will be on maximum alert. If, indeed, that snap turns out to be a hungry lion, you are ready to run and, if you can’t outrun the lion, at least you might outrun the person next to you!

Gulp…

​It is clear that, as humans, we can have a general fear about many things in life and, though unpleasant, the majority of the time such fears do not tend to affect our daily lives significantly. It is when fears become too overwhelming that a phobia may develop. When you have an extreme reaction towards a particular object or situation, and your response feels out of control, that reaction may be termed a phobia.

​Important fact
No one is born with a fear, being afraid
is something you learn to do!

Spider phobia in children | Support 4 Kids Ltd

Developing a fear or phobia can often be traced back to your early childhood or adolescence. In most instances, it would be a response you have learned from another person, typically an adult. One of the most common scenarios is when a child sees an exaggerated reaction from another person. A child who watches a parent reduced to a nervous wreck by the appearance of a small spider is going to believe that there is something scary about spiders, why else would the adult react like that! The child learns to be scared themselves of that particular trigger, and that child will often grow up with a fear of spiders.

Of course, you can equally develop a phobia as an adult, and there are various ways in which this might be brought about. The onset is usually sudden, and it may occur in situations that previously did not cause any discomfort or anxiety. For example, a phobia could derive from a particular traumatic event, like a car accident, leading to an extreme response when getting into a car.


Stress can lead to fears and phobias

​Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that being exposed to long-term stress can lead to anxiety and depression lowering your ability to handle stressful situations. Being unable to handle stressful situations can lead to repetitive negative thinking causing a response pattern that can steer you into experiencing anxiety, fears and phobias.

Now that we have established that all humans experience fear at some point in their life, it is also evident that the majority of people know that fear causes very little real threat and they will overcome this worry without too much difficulty.There is, of course, a gulf between feeling anxious in a particular situation and then having that fear escalate to a point where it becomes so intense that it is damaging to the person experiencing it. At this point, the fear is developing into a phobia. As fear becomes phobia, the impact on a person’s life can be significant. No one likes to be put in a position where they feel immense terror and this can result in increasingly complex avoidance behaviour which means that the individual struggles to lead a normal life.

What to look out for in your anxious child

​As a parent, how do you know if your child’s fear is excessive and potentially developing into a phobia? There are signs you can look out for but please bear in mind that most children will experience intense fear from time to time due to external influences, in some ways, it is part of growing up. But some children do not seem to ‘grow out’ of this phase, therefore, each child’s situation needs to be assessed for a duration of time to ascertain the severity. As a starting point, if you notice some of these clues on a regular basis, it may be an indication that your child’s fear is getting out of control.

Your child is complaining about

•    Nausea
•    Dizziness
•    Racing pulse
•    Chest feeling tight
•    Muscles tense
•    Excessive sweating
•    Churning sensation in stomach
•    Rapid, shallow breathing
•    Numbness in fingers and toes

Which other symptoms do you watch out for?

​During the next phase, your child’s behaviour is also changing. There are four traits that differentiate phobias from a typical fear and anxiety. Signs to watch out for include:
  • Persistence – this happens on a regular basis, you cannot to stop your child from feeling this level of fear, the ‘attacks’ are persistent and are increasing in severity.
  • Avoidance – Your child is going to great lengths to avoid coming into contact with their fear trigger. This could be things like avoiding feared areas, taking long detours in case there is a dog in the street, making excuses for why they can’t go to the cinema and similar.
  • Irrational – They report that their thoughts are filled with terrifying negative notions, which race around their mind in a vicious circle, and they start using irrational phrases like:
o    I am in danger if I do this
o    no one understands how serious this is
o    I can only cope if my mum goes with me
o    the dogs on the street are going to attack me
o    if I step on the line, someone is going to die
  • Limiting – their fear or phobia is affecting and limiting daily life. The whole family is affected and restricted, both in respect of social interaction and family time, routines need to be adhered to, appointments are cancelled, you need to make detours to avoid things and similar events to accommodate your child’s fears.

What you can do to help your anxious child

​Anyone who has ever suffered from excessive fear knows that you cannot simply tell a child that their fear is irrational and ask them to calm down. The key to dealing with a child’s phobic response is to make sure that they have an effective mechanism for controlling the physical symptoms of their ‘fight/flight response’ i.e. they need to learn how to respond and deal effectively with the symptoms and causes of their reaction. If you are worried about your child’s excessive reactions, you may want to consider implementing these recommendations to support your child:
  1. Encourage your child to face their fears, and not ignore the effects of the phobia. Do not let your child avoid situations that trigger their fears, instead find ways to confront and challenge those negative thought patterns. The more your child avoids something, the worse their fear will become.
  2. Use analytical worksheets to help your child understand the source of their fear. Discover as much as you can about this process, then show your child how to use this method to help them overcome their worries. This is a great way to introduce rational thinking to your child while also ensuring they are involved in the activity which again produces stronger positive outcomes.
  3. Learn some relaxation techniques that you can do together with your child. You want to encourage the release of endorphins in your child’s body which will counteract the influx of excessive adrenaline. Your child will be able to use these techniques when they are in a situation that triggers the fear or phobia.
  4. Get additional help if needed, online therapy can be very effective in combating fear and phobias. With an online approach, the process can take place at home, where your child will feel calm, safe and supported.

​Don’t forget, everyone is supposed to be scared some of the time, and that fear can be a positive thing, however, if your child’s distress is driving them towards a state of life that is not healthy, seek help now.

Discovering the benefits of therapeutic tool will help your child generate a more realistic and balanced view of the specific situation they are fearing. In fact, they are likely to discover that their thoughts are often scarier than the actual feared situation. From this realisation, your child will become more confident and understand that they do have the ability to overcome their fears. Don’t delay – don’t let this fear or phobia gain more ground than it already has, decide on the best way forward and make a proactive decision today.

By Tina Elven

Online Solutions; if you suffer from severe agoraphobia and you are housebound or even room bound, using an online approach is a great method as it allows you to take your first steps towards overcoming your phobia, and for you to start embracing life without fear.

Please note that the list of symptoms for fear and phobias are not conclusive, you are advised to get a diagnosis from your GP if you are concerned about you or your child’s physical or mental health. The lists are not intended for self-diagnosis and have been included for informative purposes only.

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3 Replies to “Fear The Unknown or Risk Being Eaten”

  1. This is a great article that I want to use when speaking to my teenager, I have been worried about his extreme worries and now I can see that I must do something about it.

  2. I have quite a fear of spiders and I really don’t want my kid to grow up with a phobia. Handy to see how these things start!

  3. I’ve never given much thought to how we develop fears. I guess in a way I just assumed it was a natural instinct (“fight or flight” response), which to an extent it is. But, you’re totally right, the fear has to develop from somewhere. It’s strange that I’ve come across this article, because lately I’ve been thinking about my current state of mind and that when I was a child, and when I was a child I feared almost nothing. I was a lot braver then, than what I am now. I guess that proves that fears develop. I actually wish I had the bravery of what I had when I was a kid – I’ve been trying to figure out how I can get back to that frame of mind.

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