Article by Jake S. Knapik, PsyD
Looking back on my childhood, I’d have to say that I was afraid of pretty much everything. I was the youngest boy in the family, with two older sisters and countless older cousins. In this dynamic, I’m what some might call a “Momma’s Boy.” My mother was my sole source of relief as a child. If you were to look through the family videos and photos and scan the large group of people, to find me, you would need to find my mom. Now, there wasn’t anything I was specifically afraid of. I was just scared of the perceived unknown. As I became familiar with something, it would no longer be scary and I would jump in and play and go about my day. Overtime, my general fear disorder dissipated and I developed into a (relatively) functioning man. My fear of the dark, or the basement, or my “scary” uncle (he was tall and had a deep voice, so obviously he was scary) came and went and I was able to develop as a child. I went to school, I went to friends' houses and I tried new things.
So, did I have a phobia?
No. I was anxious and I was a worrier. I was afraid of the unknown, but I didn’t have a phobia. A phobia, in a very specific manner, is a direct fear that impedes day-to-day functioning. Some common phobias would be heights, blood, dogs, cats, flying, vomiting, or spiders. The list of possible fears is endless, however a specific phobia is only diagnosed once the fear has interrupted a child's ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
For example, you might hate flying. The whole process makes you extremely uncomfortable. You worry about every noise on the plane (why do they have to be so noisy?) and never relax. This is all true. However, you don’t fly often for work and only get on a place once or twice a year for vacation. And when push-comes-to-shove, you get on the plane. This is an example of a fear, not a phobia. You are afraid of flying, however you are able to accomplish the task. Aviophobia, on the other hand, is the debilitating fear, or phobia, of flying/aircrafts. In this example, you change jobs to ensure you don’t have to fly. You avoid vacations that require an airplane. If you have to fly, drugs are needed to simply get to the airport. Your mental bandwidth is completely consumed by thinking and ruminating about the flight. A phobia is all consuming.
When it comes to children, identifying a phobia can be challenging. Firstly, every child is different. Some children’s frustration tolerance is quite high and they are able to deal with new and “scary” things with relative ease. Some children, like myself, worry and are afraid, however are able to accomplish what they need to accomplish. And, there are some kids who are outgoing and open to new experiences, however are completely stopped in their tracks by a specific fear. For the kids I have worked with, fears have ranged from birds to individuals who are homeless, to everything else in between.
These kids weren’t simply afraid or nervous around these birds or people - they were unable to function around them. They were unable to function even thinking about the possibility of maybe seeing these things. Their day-to-day routine was being impacted by their attempt to avoid these fears. They stopped going to school. Stopped going to friends' houses. Their life got smaller and smaller. That is a phobia and it can be extremely debilitating. Fortunately, the treatment for a phobia is extremely effective.
For brevity's sake, I won’t go into how exactly the treatment works - however, I can tell you that there is something to the old saying of ‘face your fears.’ If you think your child, or someone you know, suffers from a phobia, I encourage you to get help sooner rather than later. Children don’t just ‘get over’ their phobias. Leaving a phobia untreated can lead to other mental health problems, like general anxiety, and it can become a lifetime, chronic issue that becomes much harder to overcome in adulthood. Finding a qualified treatment specialist is important to conquer their phobia.
Do you think your child may have a phobia?
Jake has extensive knowledge on treating kids, whatever their fear is. To learn more about Jake, visit his profile or book an appointment with him now.