Disclaimer here – as a hypnotherapist, I absolutely love working with phobias. You could call it my passion. Add to that, when I use hypnosis with a phobic child, I love the fact that they won’t need to go through life with a horrible fear which can affect every area of their life. I suffered from phobias right into adulthood and it was a driving phobia which first peaked my interest in hypnotherapy. I couldn’t believe that, after one hypnosis session, I was cured of a phobia which had affected my working and social life for years.
The vast majority of phobias are triggered in childhood. The phobias I’m talking about in this post are ‘simple’ phobias, which means they tend to be attached to an object, such as an animal or experience such as heights. These are different to ‘complex’, or social, phobias which tend to be fears about social situations. These ‘simple’ phobias often start as the result of an unpleasant childhood experience. That experience then becomes strongly associated with the horrible, fearful reaction which was felt that first time. For instance, I had a phobia of swimming which started at the age of six after I nearly drowned in a school swimming pool. My thunder phobia started about the same age when I saw the metal part of the pram my mum was holding being struck by lightning, the force of which threw her backwards about six feet. Both of these incidences created a massive fear response whenever I was near water or heard thunder. Many of my child hypnotherapy clients similarly have an unfortunate experience, such as being bitten by a dog or stung by a wasp, which creates a terrifying association between the dog/ bee and the initial feeling of extreme fear.
Other common starting points for childhood phobias include ‘picking up’ a phobia from a parent or older sibling, where younger children learn that the object, animal, etc. is ‘scary’ and perhaps also initially copy the behaviour of parents or siblings. Once again, a strong association can be created between a ‘thing’ and a fearful response. The initial experience doesn’t always have to be an extreme event. It could be, for instance, that a child sees a snake or spider on television, in a scary context, and develops a fear. Or it could be something as slight as a parent entering into a room and commenting that they ‘don’t like snakes’, which can become amplified as a fear in a child’s mind.
If you have a child with a phobia, you need to remember that their fear is way out of proportion to the object which they are scared of. Phobias are extreme, irrational fears. There’s no point in trying to ‘explain’ a child out of a phobia. Stating reassuring facts certainly won’t do any harm, but it also might not have much bearing on your child’s fear. Your child is reacting to the situation with an extreme fight or flight response and trying to rationally ‘think’ their way out of their response is impossible.
How can hypnotherapy help you’re a kid with a phobia? The brain finds it almost impossible to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined – which is partly why things which aren’t really that scary seem absolutely terrifying. By helping your child to enter a creative, imaginative state of hypnosis – where they are more receptive to the positive things they experience when guided by a hypnotherapist – we can help them to imagine a positive outcome, and rehearse that outcome several times until it becomes their reality. Let’s say your child has a phobia of dogs because he or she was once bitten by a dog. Having helped your child into a state of hypnosis, the hypnotherapist would then encourage the child to visualise a different outcome to the one incidence where he or she was bitten. With the child, the hypnotherapist would set up a ‘superhero’ power for the child which would quickly take him or her into a positive, empowered state of mind and which they could access at any time.
Children often feel as if they are the only kid with a phobia, and it can affect which friends’ houses they will visit and which activities they will take part in. Phobias can affect a child’s confidence and self-esteem. And if a childhood phobia is not treated, it can affect them well into adulthood.
I was over 30 before I dealt with my phobias using hypnotherapy. I wish I’d found help so much earlier! One session using hypnosis is often enough to cure a child completely of their phobia. If you’re interested in helping your child overcome their phobia using hypnotherapy, please get in touch.