Developing, and immature, cognitive mechanisms that characterize childhood make Children particularly vulnerable to the development of fears. Although fears of this age are considered to be a rather normal evolutionary phenomenon, however, a normal child of primary school age suffers from an average of 11-13 strong and often persistent fears. These fears, in addition to the intense subjective discomfort they cause very often, can also interfere significantly with the daily functioning of the child at home, at school, or in the relationship with peers.
It is important to separate childhood fears from childhood phobias.
Their differences depend on the age of children, the way they appear, the frequency and the object or condition that is a phobic stimulus to the child. Therefore, it is also very important for them to be treated by parents and specialists.
As far as childhood fears are concerned, they are often common and normal reactions of children in the face of stimuli or events that are unknown and new to the child and may be an external threat. In other words, fears are associated with situations that can cause concern to the child because he suddenly faces things he does not know. Considering the above, psychologists say that the feeling of fear is necessary because it protects each child in order to avoid risks that are important to ensure his integrity.
Phobia, on the other hand, is a persistent, intense, persistent and irrational fear of a particular object, site, state or activity, which may not be a real danger or threat (eg an animal, school, etc.) that has resulting in a child avoidance behavior and intense subjective inconvenience – the child is keen to avoid what he fears. The child may experience symptoms such as sweating, intense tremor, stomach pain, vomiting, resulting in severely impaired daily functioning.
Until the age of 12, all children may face normal fears for their development, which usually resolve without turning into phobias.
One of the most common fears of pre-school children begins with the child’s beginning in kindergarten as it faces many unknown faces. The child may begin to cry, to refuse to enter the classroom with the other children and not to let his mother leave. This is the so-called “separation anxiety” that occurs naturally from the 7th to the second year of life and refers to the fear of losing care and the protection provided by the main reference person, especially the mother.
Usually, after the second year, it gradually begins to decline, but it may even peak (from pre-school age to 18 years) in response to the separation or threat of loss or even without a cause of extinction. His presence is usually considered to be characterized by the child’s unrealistic concerns about abandonment or rejection due to his separation from the parent who takes care of him and is associated with sleep disturbances and the symptoms of school phobia of childhood denial.
Other fears of children of this age may be darkness, monsters, ghosts. These occur naturally as the child does not yet have the cognitive and emotional maturity to distinguish the real from the imaginary. Sometimes he may be afraid of some natural disasters, such as lightning and earthquakes, as they imagine incomprehensible phenomena. And in these cases children start to cry and ask for support from their mother.
All of the above fears can easily recede as the child grows cognitively and the parents offer proper emotional support and security. At this point the help of the parents is important and necessary so that these fears can not be transformed into phobias. It is necessary for parents to reassure the child and help him cope with them.
Parents who, with all their attitude, help the child to become independent and autonomous, encouraging it where necessary and supporting it at the same time will prevent fears from occurring. On the contrary, parents who inadvertently convey to children over-protection and therefore the inability to cope with situations makes them vulnerable.
Phobias need more methodical treatment. Their difference from the normal fears of childhood lies appearance quality (longer duration and frequency), in children’s reactions (they may experience excessive anxiety with accompanying psychosomatic symptoms and a persistent effort to avoid phobious stimulation); in his / her general adaptation (the child has difficulty in responding to his / her daily routine and can be disrupted); an in dealing with them. They need special treatment by child psychologists as they rarely retreat on their own, and can often be replaced by other phobias (ie, change the phobic stimulus, but remain the basic symptoms of phobia) or generalize in other areas of the child’s life.
The incidence of phobias in the general population of children and adolescents ranges between 2.6% and 9.1%.
Genetic, idiosyncratic and environmental factors contribute to the aetiology. And here it is important to mention the experience of a direct negative experience of the child, for example, the teacher’s voices may contribute to school phobia. Also the connections the child may have between two stimuli that are in fact unrelated. For example, if the earthquake encountered the child in an elevator, it is likely that the child develops claustrophobic reactions. More importantly, it may be the transmission of some phobias by the parents themselves, which usually happens inadvertently and unwittingly. Young children have sensitive antennas and easily retrieve all messages (verbal and non-verbal) that are transmitted by adults.
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