Farzana Fatema (Rumi)
Fatiha (7 years old) (pseudonym) went to her friend Nuha’s (pseudonym) birthday party with her family. There was still time left to cut the cake. All the children were hailing. The children were playing blindfolded. After someone touched Fatiha, it was her turn to get blindfolded. Suddenly, Fatiha felt something unusual on her head. She removed her blindfold and started screaming after seeing a cockroach creeping on her head. She could feel her racing heartbeat. Fatiha’s friends started laughing at her. She could not move her arms and legs. Fatiha lost her consciousness in fear! ”
Fear is an unpleasant emotion old from the beginning of creation. This fundamental reaction occurs due to danger, pain, or threat of harm. Fear is a very common, normal feeling for children. Some fears are natural and predictable. But sometimes the fear can become deeper and come out as a more complicated form- ‘childhood phobias’.
The fear response begins in an area of the brain called the amygdala. This nut-shaped structure located in the “temporal lobe” of the brain detects stimuli. For example, whenever we see something associated with a frightening emotion, it is activated which then activates the regions of motor functions associated with the “fight or flight” -mood. The “hippocampus” and “prefrontal cortex” help the brain to interpret perceived threats. For example, seeing a lion in the forest can cause intense fear, but curiosity about the same lion at the zoo and thinking the lion is beautiful. This is because the “hippocampus” and “prefrontal cortex” process relevant information and reduce the fear response of the “amygdala” and its flowing results. Basically, the brain assures our “sensitive” areas that we are truly safe.
The effect of fear on the development of the child:
The first 3 years of life are the most important years of development, such as brain sensitivity, language, and abstract thinking. Fear of traumatic events at this time can negatively affect the structure of the brain and its connections. Traumatic events, such as physical or sexual abuse or domestic violence in childhood in general, can have a lifelong impact. Fear, threatening events affect behavior as well as physical and mental health. The fear of being separated from a prolonged aggressive relationship between parents is even riskier for children’s emotional balance, anxiety, and frustration, which has a negative effect on the formation of the child’s personality. As a result, children may have the inability to trust when choosing friends, difficulties in building confidence, digestive problems, sleep problems, forgetfulness, etc.
Fear varies according to the age of the child. As they grow older, their fears change at every stage of development. But the fear experienced at one age can happen again at another age.
1. Childhood fears:
- Experiencing sudden noises or sudden movements
- Seeing a large object that suddenly falls into sight
- When a stranger comes close to talk or hug.
- Separation from parents, change in-home or surroundings, unfamiliar environment.
2. Fear of toddlers/preschoolers:
- Ghost or any strange sound at night.
- Scary masks or masks of monsters.
- Dogs, cats, or other pets.
3. Fear among children in school years:
- Spiders, snakes, large insects, or reptiles.
- Bad weather, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, loud noises from thunderstorms or earthquakes.
- Staying alone at home, especially at night.
- Teacher being angry, failing any test.
- Scary TV shows or news of an accident.
- Injury or illness, going to the doctor, dentist, injection.
- About Kidnapping, or insecurity.
- Feeling close to someone.
- Not being perfect.
4. Common fears for teenagers:
- Going to the medical provider and the doctor or dentist.
- Road traffic accident.
- Failure at school or work.
- Being injured or killed.
- Social phobia such as speaking and acting on stage at school
- Sick or injured parents, siblings, or pets.
- High-rise buildings, hills, getting on the plane, and look down.
- Concerns about adult issues such as money or marriage.
According to psychology, Childhood phobia is an exaggerated, intense fear in proportion to any real fear. And this fear should be last at least for six months or more. According to Boston Children’s Hospital, “Phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that can affect children for a variety of reasons.” Here are some common types of phobias-
1. Specific phobia:
It means when the child is afraid of a very specific entity. It could be a certain place like a toilet, or a special person like a teacher, or any specific insect, etc.
Signs and symptoms:
The child tries to avoid the entity of phobias or begins to think that something bad will happen for no reason. Many times, when the specific object of phobia is present, the child’s daily routine activities such as eating, sleeping go out of order and are disrupted.
2. Panic disorder:
In this type of disorder, without even any specific event, the child may feel sudden panic. The cause may not be immediately obvious, but the consequences of the panic can be seen in the child’s behavior.
Signs and symptoms:
When panicked, the heart begins to race. The child starts shivering, sweating, respiration becomes slow or fast. There may be discomfort in the chest. Panic makes the child restless. The child says he is going crazy or starts crying, screaming. It can even cause complete loss of consciousness at the scene.
Fear of setting foot outside a familiar place mostly any open or closed place like a shopping mall, playground, lift, etc. Children feel that they may be in a situation in those places from which they cannot be rescued. For which they try to avoid such places.
Signs and symptoms:
Children do not want to leave the house under any circumstances or to meet or talk to any strangers or guests in the house. If forced to do so, they may panic or scream, cry.
4. Social phobia:
This is mainly termed as fear of contact with people in any social situation/gathering.
Signs and symptoms:
The child is terribly frightened when the child is introduced to another person or asked questions in any social situation like the classroom, any party, or when goes on stage to deliver a speech. The child tends to avoid such situations by lying or pretending to become sick.
Causes of phobias
It can be caused by any visible or invisible basis. Children get feelings of impending danger that are out of proportion to reality. Childhood phobias can occur for a variety of reasons. E.g.
1. Biological factors: The brain contains a special chemical called a “neurotransmitter” that repeatedly sends messages to control a person’s emotions. Serotonin and dopamine are two important neurotransmitters that can cause anxiety when “pushed.”
2. Hereditary / Family Reasons: Anxiety and fear can be inherited. Just as a child may inherit a parent’s brown hair, green eyes, and foresight, it may also inherit that parent’s tendency toward excessive anxiety. Also learns from family members and others. For example, a child whose parents are afraid of spiders can also learn to be afraid of spiders.
3. Environmental causes: Traumatic experiences such as seeing or acknowledging abuse, parental divorce, illness or death in the family, unfamiliar fearful environment, exams, listening to or watching regular ghost stories, even a big event like the start of a new school year can also be the cause.
Advice for parents to overcome the fear of the child
1. Generalization and Giving Legitimacy: Everyone has some fears and so is your child. So talk to them about their fear. It is important to reassure him and then suggest a solution. Do not embarrass the child for fear.
2. Model coping skills: You can’t instantly allay your child’s fears, but you can be a model of behavior. Teach them to practice deep-breathing exercises and give your child a logic against fear at that moment.
3. Discuss your fears: Discuss the content of your fears with your child. Tell him about your feelings and the ways in which you are working to overcome fear.
4. Being aware of outside influences: Children who are inclined to learn new things are more interested in the outside world. Be aware of turning off violent news on YouTube or TV.
5. Expressing fear: One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is the expression of fear. If there is no environment at home to express feelings of fear, it is difficult to overcome the child’s fears.
How can a phobic child be treated?
Treatment will depend on the child’s symptoms, age, general health, and how serious the condition is.
1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy: From this therapy, a child can learn new ways to control anxiety and panic attacks. Learns to coordinate his thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
2. Family therapy: Parents or families play an important role in any medical process. Here an integrated treatment plan is created with the help of a therapist.
3. Medications: Some medications can help a child feel better, such as for a panic attack. Be sure to know about the side effects and benefits and risks of using the drug.
It is difficult for parents to accept that a child has fears and phobia whereas some parents think it will go away over time. Many children have fun by intimidating, leaving insects on other children. It can also be a danger to the other child. Proper parenting plays an important role here. Being alert, having open conversations with children, and building strong bonds of trust are great ways to help children deal with their fears.