Blogs,  Children's Health,  Phobias

Survival Week: Childhood Phobias

This week I asked you about what you’ve been ‘surviving’ as a parent at the moment and I asked this because I’ve had a tough couple of weeks, with food intolerances and structural work on the house, but particularly around the issue of child anxieties and phobias.

All children will experience some form of anxiety during their development. The most common being separation anxiety, which in simple terms is when your baby or child learns how dependant they are of you and struggle to be apart.

Some children may even develop specific fears or phobias, for instance, fear of the dark, animals, strangers or even weather. It is all part and parcel of growing up, and is completely natural, and can occur in certain ages or stages in their development.

Over the last few months, I’ve had my first experience of managing a specific phobia with my eldest. At first, I’d noticed a change in his behaviour, he didn’t seem as ‘happy-go-lucky’ like any 3 year old is, and as the week went on he stopped wanting to go to nursery.

It first started with, conversations of “I don’t want to go to nursery Momma” which then changed to protests resulting in full blown tantrums.

Initially we thought it was because he had changed rooms, from the toddlers room to pre-school and wasn’t adjusting to the change yet. But after speaking with his Key Worker we discovered he’d had an altercation with another boy, which explained his refusal to go.

However, the protests became worse, and you could see it wasn’t tantrums anymore, it was fear. Intense fear and panic.

We had to listen to our little boy, so we kept him off until we got to the bottom of what was going on.

Speaking with his Key Worker again, we then learnt that it wasn’t an altercation as previously described, it was in fact a phobia of another little boy in pre-school who had severe autism.

It was explained that whenever the boy would come into his area to play, Fin-Bob would become extremely upset, covering his ears and closing his eyes crying until either he or the boy was removed.

That was fear… and his way of trying to close off all his senses until whatever he was fearful of was gone.

That’s when we learnt his specific phobia had turned into anxiety and panic that was now impacting his attendance at nursery.

But where had all this come from? Has Fin-Bob saw something or experienced something that made he become fearful? Possibly. Frustratingly we’ll never know the real reason. Unfortunately, nursery never gave any details as to why this had happened, despite our questioning. They themselves may not have known, or seen anything. Not forgetting, there’s a very good chance that nothing ever did happen.

Like I mentioned earlier, anxiety and phobias are common around my son’s age, so it’s hard to pin point any rational reason. The only real information we had was how Fin-Bob was reacting, and the panic and fear he was experiencing whenever we talked about going to nursery.

We had to recognise his fear was real, despite how irrational it may have sounded, developing a fear of another boy who probably did nothing to him. So we talked and talked, trying to get Fin-Bob to tell us what he liked and didn’t like about nursery. We talked about it being okay to be scared, and that we were always there for him. We did everything to not ignore it and acknowledge that it was okay.

But it’s tough trying to converse with a 3 year old about feelings. Especially when he doesn’t have the language skills yet to describe what he’s going through or how he’s feeling.

Luckily for us, he was due to leave that nursery and attend a new pre-school in September, so in the short-term the issue of being around the thing/person he was fearful of was quickly resolved.

However, despite knowing it’s a phase, and that no doubt he’ll get over it, I wanted to prepare myself in case a specific phobia like this arose again. I’ve now become more in-tune to recognising signs of anxiousness in him. Not that there has been any further signs as yet.

Like most kids, he soon bounced back, and since leaving the nursery and joining another pre-school he’s back to his happy-go-lucky self, and loving pre-school and all his new friends. But like any parent would be, I’m still on the look out, just in case another specific phobia arises. Which no doubt it will, because of his age and stage in development, only this time I’ll be better equipped, and will listen to my child sooner, rather than listening to others.

As you can probably tell, I’m still feeling a bit sore about the whole situation and this has been a difficult post to write.

It’s important to mention that if you are experiencing something similar there is a wealth of information online, around childhood anxiety and phobias, along with some great coping mechanisms and tools to help support the child and parent. I found this page on the Kids Health website particularly useful.

Poor Fin-Bob, he’s such a friendly boy so my personal opinion is that something must have happened with the other boy and nursery either haven’t seen it or just didn’t give it the attention it deserved. I worry about busy nurseries that ‘miss’ things with kids pre-school age and younger.

I’ve got a really great book by DR. Christopher Green called ‘Toddler Training: A parent’s guide to the first four years’ and there is some good info in there about childhood fears and anxieties and coping mechanisms/comforters. It’s become my ‘bible’ recently as it covers all sorts of stages and milestones. 

It was definitely lucky that he was already moving and that it has helped otherwise you could have gone around in circles for a while over that one! Our fear issues are slightly less harder to avoid… Jay is terrified of dolls or new toys with faces. He just freaks out screaming. Just last week in a supermarket in Menorca he had a total melt down over Bert & Ernie dolls from Seasame Street 🙈

My concern is, will this develop into something more in the future, and rather than try deal with the issue, we’ve removed it instead.

But he’s 3… And that’s what I need to remember. At such a young age it’s my job to protect him as best I can. And when he is older and more capable of expressing his feelings, I can deal with anything further… If it arises.

Very tough blog to share, because I’m so close to it, and he’s my beautiful boy xxx

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Lucy At Home UK parenting blogger

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12 Comments

  • Lucy At Home

    Oh what a difficult thing to have to watch your son go through. But it sounds like you did a really good job in dealing with it – many parents would have brushed it off or laughed at such an unusual trigger. But you’re right – at age 3, all kinds of things can be scary and, as you say, no-one really knows what happened between the two of them. As parents, it’s our job to listen to our kids and try to understand them and be advocates for them, even if it only seems like a small problem to us.

    And I’m so glad to hear that things are back to normal after starting a new nursery #blogcrush

    • pips@parentingphils

      Agreed – talking to him and reassuring him, is what has brought him round to going and enjoying nursery again. He still has spikes of anxiety about going to nursery in the morning, and when we see it start to creep, we approach everything in steps, keeping communication going and explaining what we’re doing next, so he knows what to expect. We’ve found this works really well. Thank you so much reading and your kind comments #BlogCrush

  • Enda Sheppard

    I am somewhat confused by this post. You have mentioned nothing specific about what happened or did not happen between your son and the autistic kid. How is a fear of this other boy a phobia? Has he real grounds to be afraid, or does he just not want this other boy around? In the absence of any other information, my curiosity and sympathy for the autistic boy is aroused. If he is violent or dangerous that is another story, but if he is just “different” then maybe the emphasis should be on working around that for your son. #BlogCrush

    • pips@parentingphils

      I completely understand your confusion – I’m still feeling a lot of mixed/confused emotions about it all myself, and obviously it reads that way too. But I’ll do my best to answer. The reason why I’ve not spoken ‘specifically’ about what did/or didn’t happen between my son and the other child is simply because I don’t know – and frustratingly will never know what triggered this behaviour. Why the nursery chose to tell us the other child had severe autism is again vague – because no other details were shared. Certainly not anything to say he was ‘different’ and my son struggled with that. What brought it all on, we are simply at a loss with, and for me, that’s probably the most upsetting part about it. Why do I think his fear was a phobia? Is simply because it wasn’t just fear, it was intense fear and panic that didn’t go away, but instead grew more intense and stopped him wanting to go to nursery. Even though things have improved greatly, he still at times has fits of panic and fear about going to nursery. Do I think the other boy triggered this behaviour? I don’t know – all’s I know is that he is part of the story told to me by nursery, and where they feel it all began. How important that is in explaining my boy’s sudden change in behaviour, again I don’t know. I get that his behaviour may seem irrational, but with the little and somewhat mixed messages shared by his nursery and not forgetting he’s only 3 years old, its all I had to equip myself to try and deal with this as best I could. I am by no means an expert in childhood anxiety, but felt it important to share my experience with other parents who may be dealing with something similar, and let them know that there is a wealth of accessible information out there that support children and parents through similar situations. Thank you so much for reading my post, and your comments. Pips #blogcrush

  • Carmela

    I feel how intense this must be for you. You’re absolutely right about how hard it is for a three-year-old to express what he is feeling. I am glad that the “trigger” was removed and your kid is happy now. I also understand how you are worried about similar situations that may arise in the future. In case it happens again, perhaps your child will be old enough to express his feelings? I am now wondering if it happened to my own kid- how would I react? I would probably feel the same way you are feeling. #BlogCrush

    • pips@parentingphils

      Thank you so much for your kind words, and your right it takes a certain skill to be able to explain how your feeling, and with support and guidance from his Dad and myself, I’m sure we will be able to better equip him for when he does feel moments of anxiousness. #BlogCrush

  • Daydreams of A Mum

    This must have been horrible for all of you . Tricky to know too that you can’t for sure now know what caused it as the little ones can’t vocalise and if nursery have missed something. That toddler book to mention and his baby book before I were to my Bible when they were much younger #BlogCrush

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