Moving Past My Daughter’s Phobias

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overcoming daughter's phobias

We all have fears and some of us may even have a phobia or two. My husband is terrified of enclosed spaces and I have a very real fear of flying. Occasionally these phobias do interfere in our lives. For example, a recent trip to a ‘ghost town’ left my husband panicked and fleeing a creepy, wooden elevator packed with tourists. He spent an hour waiting in the blazing sun for us because we weren’t scared and remained inside. I experience some intense panic and anxiety every time I board a plane, and while so far I have not allowed the fear to keep me from flying, I do have to do some serious pep talking to convince myself to step through the round portal hole of doom.

My eight-year-old daughter has some pretty intense phobias of her own. I do believe I am in some part responsible for some of her fears. My helicopter flight patterns have created an innate fear response to anything even slightly dangerous. Step into a parking lot and she’s clinging to my arm, a bug in the house equals tears and screams of terror, and riding a bike has thus far prompted only stress and whimpers of, “Can I stop riding now?”

At first I didn’t think much of it. All kids gets scared some times, no biggie. And for reasons I don’t understand, she’s not afraid of things other kids are fearful of. The boogeyman? Wants to meet him. The dark? It’s cozy. The vastness of the ocean? Bring it on! Yet the very definition of phobia is: irrational fear. A fear of something, which is not likely to harm us, is an irrational fear. She would be better off fearing the ocean, it has very real dangers, and yet my daughter can’t be in the same garden as a butterfly.

The first time I truly acknowledged that maybe my daughter had a problem was a trip to a place called Butterfly Wonderland. The thought of thousands of butterflies was exciting and I was looking forward to it along with my daughter. She expressed no fear or anxiety prior to the trip, but two feet into the enclosure and you would have thought it was Silence of the Lambs. Her fear was so instant and intense; there was no calming her. The blood-curdling scream had dozens of concerned butterfly watchers rushing over to save her. At first I was terrified she had been gravely injured in some way. Once I realized it was only one of her phobias, I wasn’t so terrified, I was just angry.

As soon as we exited the exhibit, I asked her what was wrong.

“I just don’t like being in there with all those butterflies. The thought of them crawling on me freaked me out,” she said.

I waited several minutes before I said another word as the thoughts rushed around inside my head. What a waste of forty bucks. What was wrong with her? Does she need to see a therapist? Why my kid? I confess I was irritated at the idea of having to ‘deal’ with something I thought at first was silly. I knew also that she wasn’t making it up, or being difficult to frustrate me. She was genuinely scared.

I tried to be calm, I tried to convince her to return to the exhibit, but she refused. I explained that butterflies can’t hurt you, they don’t bite, and they are the most gentle of insects. She didn’t care. She wasn’t going back in there. I didn’t force her, of course, but I thought about her behavior for the rest of the day. What was I to do? How was I to handle her intense phobias? I don’t want her to go through life in fear, that’s a tough way to live. I realized that some of her fears were serious and I needed to do something about it.

I acknowledged the part I had to play in her fears. That was step one. Being cognizant of how my behaviors and anxieties can be passed to her. Perhaps my fears of scorpions and bees had somehow been absorbed into her consciousness and once there, changed and morphed—like the fair caterpillar in it’s chrysalis—to the point she no longer had control over her fears. And perhaps the many times I frantically grabbed her hand in a parking lot had caused her to believe every car, even one not heading in our direction, was a potential hit and run waiting to happen.

So I have become more careful of what I say and how I act, and even when I am afraid, I try not to show it.

The next step to move beyond her phobias was to acknowledge them and discuss them. We have started talking a lot about bugs. Which ones are good, which one are bad (at least for humans), which ones she fears the most. She is curious and asks about what each insect’s ‘purpose’ is in life. I try to supply her with an answer that will give her less fear and more respect for the life of the insect. We talk about how helpful are the earthworms in irrigating soil, how the bee pollinates the flowers, or why spiders help by eating other bugs. Although, she and I have both decided Mosquitos have no usefulness and must be killed on sight.

So far, discussing these fears has produced the results I had hoped, the screams and intense weeping which originally accompanied the sight of a cockroach, has now been replaced with a swift, “Uh…mommy. Can you please come get ride of this nasty bug, please?”

She still hasn’t asked to go back to Butterfly Wonderland, but she no longer flees the garden at the sight of one, so I’d say we are making progress. On to the terror of death by training wheels!

About the Author

Writer, book lover, former probation officer. Tamer of The Rose, toddler wrangler, and tolerated by an 8-year-old. Author of A Rowboat Out of Sand. Follow me on twitter @judgemecrazy and check my website for my books and blog.


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