Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder. They’re much more than fear. They occur when someone develops an over-the-top fear of a scenario or object. Their level of fear will be disproportionate to the level of danger. The idea of the scenario or object or being exposed to it may cause extreme anxiety, panic or distress.
Phobias can emerge from frightening events or stressful periods in their lives. A child may adopt a phobia from a family member displaying phobic behaviour.
There are five common self-explanatory types of phobias: Blood-injection-injury, natural environment, situational, animal and “other” types (such as fear of the number thirteen). As teachers and parents, how might we intervene with a child displaying phobic behaviour? There are two ways to try to intervene early and help the child overcome their issue.
Cognitive Behaviour Strategies
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) helps people identify, understand and correct thoughts that have become irrational. Teachers and parents can attempt strategies based on CBT principles to intervene and support the child to overcome their phobia.
One such strategy that comes from CBT is “Think like a Scientist”. This is a strategy for children who would have the ability to be analytical and rational in their approach to anxieties that they may be facing. This approach encourages the child to detail what they are afraid of, why they are afraid of it and then research and note the realistic outcome of facing their fear based on facts.
You set up a page to look something like this:
|Feared Situation||Anxious Thought||Realistic Outcome|
I would encourage adults to use their discretion and best judgement in using this strategy and basing their decision on their knowledge of the child and their personality. I have previously mentioned more indirect strategies that can be utilised. This strategy is useful for fears of going swimming, going on stage and other common irrational fears that children face in school.
Mindfulness is a longer-term solution. Practising mindfulness takes patience and consistency to develop higher levels of tolerance of anxiety. There are several ways to do this with or without technology.
Getting your child to try focussing on their breath and striving to be in the moment are great ways to explicitly reduce anxiety. The benefits of these strategies are well known and there is so much content out there to facilitate these strategies. You might want to choose a physical object like a breathing ball or perhaps you want a youtube video for young children. Older children might enjoy learning about how to do 4-7-8 breathing or engaging in a full-on 5 minute guided meditation aimed at children. There are also apps like Headspace and Calm that provide a certain amount of free content to test out. I am also a fan of the app Mindful Gnats. This app provides relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, body scans and more through an attractive interface which may encourage children to adopt mindfulness as a regular practice.
Android Version available here.
Apple Store Version available here.
These are two different routes to attempt when dealing with phobic behaviour. If you’re not experiencing success and the phobias are causing extreme distress, I would recommend reaching out and seeking professional help from the appropriate source who may offer structured behavioural therapy or medication if required.
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