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Phobias: Don’t pass them on to your kids

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There was a horrific noise coming from my bedroom. An angry manic chattering combined with the occasional thud. I paused on the stairs, hairs on the back of my neck rising. Was it a burglar trying to steal my My Little Pony collection? A vindictive ghost, seeking revenge after I’d played with my yoyo in a graveyard? Whatever it was sounded angry, but I wouldn’t be phased. After all, I’d just got my bronze 50 metre swimming badge, and I was unstoppable.

I had to investigate, despite my hands trembling with fear. I slowly turned the handle and inched into the room. And then it attacked. The petrified magpie, which had seemingly got in through my open window, obviously thought I was a predator, hell bent on wringing its neck then gobbling it up. The squawking bird made the first move by flying at my face, getting tangled in my hair, and pecking my neck, a faint scar of which still remains.

After it flapped and scratched me into submission, aka a crying ball on the floor, it hopped onto the windowsill, chattered at me one last time, and made a swift exit, but not before pooing up the curtain.

As you can imagine, after this rather traumatic encounter, I developed an unhealthy fear of birds, and even the sight of a feather in the street will send me running in circles with my hands in the air.

Don’t pass on phobias to your children

And I am absolutely determined not to pass this irrational phobia on to my young daughter – after all, she seems to adore our feathered friends, to the point of wanting a budgerigar.

Child upset by phobia

Psychologists say one of the best ways to do this is to pretend you are not afraid. In my case, this involves me walking past pigeons without flinching, something which I am gradually learning to do. According to the British Psychological Society, “Modelling calm behaviour and trying not to let your own avoidant phobic tendencies interfere with your child’s full life experiences is a very good start. Most parents do this instinctively as they know how handicapping their own phobias can be.”

Or, you can explain why you have the phobia

Another effective solution is to justify your phobia to your child. Explain the circumstances that led to your phobia, and tell them that they needn’t be afraid of the same thing you are. When I told my daughter about my bird fear, she laughed and told me she loved birds, and that it was my own fault for leaving my bedroom window open – such sympathy.

Maybe get help?

But if you’re truly paralysed by a fear of spiders, driving, heights, flying, whatever, how on earth can you pretend not to be afraid, when the very thought of your fear makes your knees tremble? One possible answer is to get the phobia treated, and one of the most effective ways is through self-help.

This can involve lifestyle changes, attending a self-help group, and using self-exposure therapy.

This is also known as de-sensitisation – to do this, gradually increase the length of time you are exposed to your phobia. For instance, if you’re scared of heights, take it quite literally, one step at a time, until you are able to climb a ladder without hyperventilating and passing out half way up. Or if it’s spiders that petrify you, start by holding a picture of spider until you’re ready to progress to a rubber spider, then it’s on to the tropical house at the zoo for an encounter with the real thing.

So, it’s time to grab the bull by the horns, or in my case, the bird by the wing – overcoming phobias, or at the very least, disguising your fear can be difficult and stressful, but ultimately rewarding, both for you and your child.

 

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About Kim Jones

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