Phobias differ from typical childhood fears. Phobias are communicated through a child’s behavior such as crying, freezing, tantrums, avoidance, etc. These behaviors are persistent and last for six months or more (American Psychological Association, 2013). Researchers continue to strive to discover the innate causes of phobias. There are also several studies devoted to the most effective strategies for treating phobias.
Common Child Phobia
A fear develops into a phobia if it has occurred for at least six months (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). According to the DSM-5 (2013), phobias occur in children of the United States with a frequency of about 5% and 16% among adolescents. One common child phobia is the fear of animals, zoophobia. One study found the first symptoms of zoophobia occur in children 8-10 years old (Ajdacic-Gross, Rodgers, Muller, Hengartner, Aleksandrowicz, et. al, 2016). There are several, more specific, animal phobias within the umbrella of zoophobia.
One potential factor for the development of zoophobia is a traumatic event (Ajdacic-Gross, Rodgers, Muller, Hengartner, Aleksandrowicz, et. al, 2016). For example, if a child went to a petting zoo and was chased by a chicken then he or she may develop a fear of chickens. This fear could evolve into a phobia if the child does not confront the stimulus causing the panic reaction. A child could be encouraged by parents and/or guardians to first look at and slowly progress to feeding or touching a chicken.
Another potential factor is environmental (American Psychological Association, 2013). Children observe others in their environment and tend to react to stimulus similarly. Many studies have shown a correlation between families and phobic disorders (Steinhausen, Jacobsen, Meyer, Jorgensen, & Lieb, (2016). This could be attributed to the evolutionary behavior of survival of the species. For example, members of a species group had a better chance of surviving in the wild if they reacted to stimuli quickly. Therefore, when one member of the group reacted the others were soon to follow.
A third potential factor is personal variables between age and the phobia (Phobias, 2018). Knowledge increases with age and experience. If a child has never encountered a type of animal then he or she may be inherently afraid of it because it is unknown. For example, if a child has never observed a goat then he or she may become afraid of the unknown.
One method to support parents and/or guardians is to encourage their participation in the therapy process. The client having the support of parents, guardians, or others could increase the effectiveness of treatment due to consistency during and out of therapy sessions. When parents and/or guardians participate in the child’s therapy attendance increases and motivation improves (Haine-Schlagel & Walsh, 2015). For example, when parents participate during a child’s therapy the attendance is higher. Also, strategies learned during therapy could also be utilized at home and other environments. This could increase the effectiveness of therapy.
Ajdacic-Gross, V., Rodgers, S., Müller, M., Hengartner, M., Aleksandrowicz, A., Kawohl, W., … Preisig, M. (2016). Pure animal phobia is more specific than other specific phobias: epidemiological evidence from the Zurich Study, the ZInEP and the PsyCoLaus. European Archives of Psychiatry & Clinical Neuroscience, 266(6), 567–577. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1007/s00406-016-0687-4
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Haine-Schlagel, R., & Walsh, N. E. (2015). A review of parent participation engagement in child and family mental health treatment. Clinical child and family psychology review, 18(2), 133-50.
Phobias. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved December 05, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com:
Steinhausen, H.-C., Jakobsen, H., Meyer, A., Jorgensen, P. M., & Lieb, R. (n.d.). Family Aggregation and Risk Factors in Phobic Disorders over Three-Generations in a Nation-Wide Stu