Childhood Phobia Confronted

Anxiety disorders can be mild, moderate or severe.  Some people have a mild form of anxiety called social anxiety and they are called shy by most people.  Other people have a moderate form of anxiety and they ruminate about things, occasionally lose sleep due to worries or lose their appetite due to worries.  Then there’s Chase. He has the type of anxiety called a phobia.  Phobias are usually a severe form of anxiety in which a person has an irrational fear of something, someone or some place.  Because of their fear, they either avoid people places or things associated with that thing or they try to get something such as comfort or security from other people to help them deal with it.

Chase has Phasmophobia, which is a fear of ghosts and Achluophobia, which is a fear of darkness. In addition Chase has a sleep disorder in which he falls asleep but doesn’t stay asleep.  When I started to recognize that Chase had these problems we sought counseling to help him.  Over the years, we tried moving his sleeping bag out of our room bit by bit, redecorating his room so that it looked really soothing and happy, trying to motivate him with a reward system, taking away nintendos or t.v. time, and more.  He continues to sneak in our room once we are asleep and lay on the floor until he falls asleep. When he was younger he had asthma so bad that our doctor told us that we couldn’t force him to stay in his room because he would scream and cry so bad that it would trigger his asthma to the point that he couldn’t breath.

Well, we brought in the back up troops a few weeks ago.  We found out about a terrific counselor, named David Shobe, who works out of people’s homes with families.  Kind of like “The Nanny”, but no television crews and no British accent. After gathering enough information from us, David determined that Chase copes with his fear by avoiding the dark and avoiding things that cause him to think about ghosts. He then taught us that in order for Chase to cope with his phobia on his own he would have to confront the thing that he is afraid of on a regular basis until he is able to feel comfortable being face to face with them.  It wasn’t something that we hadn’t thought of but David’s support and coaching was invaluable in this case.  He asked Chase to explain to him what happens when he jumps into a pool full of cold water and Chase told him that his body acclimated to the temperature of the pool after he had been in it for a while.  Then David, asked Chase what happened to his body when he got out of the pool and then jumped back in and Chase again explained the process of acclamation.  This proved to be invaluable in Chase’s ability to interpret his behavior and in his ability to change his behavior.  He was able to make the connection that the longer he could stay in his room the more acclimated he would become and eventually he would not mind sleeping in his room.

David advised us to come up with a reward chart to help Chase to reach his goals.  He told us to start out asking Chase to stay in his room for ten minutes four or five times a day. He also told us that instant gratification and praise was critical to Chase’s success.  He reminded us that criticism and yelling were only going to produce more anxiety in Chase and so it was counterproductive to do these things.  We were supposed to sit down with Chase and come up with a reward that he could achieve after he earned nine stickers on his chart.  For every ten minutes he spent in his room with the door shut he would get a sticker and once he earned nine stickers he would get a reward.  For his reward Chase decided that he wanted scary Halloween decorations.

We set off on our new project with Chase.  I made a chart and bought some stickers and as soon as I got it set up, Chase’s younger sister Mary saw it and said, “I want to play too.”  I knew we had to make a chart for her also.  Mary is the child that really doesn’t have anything that she really needs to improve so it took us a while to come up with a plan for her to exercise for five minutes and that would earn her a sticker. The reward that she wanted was a new pair of TOMS. Now this was getting expensive, but I knew we needed to help our son because he told us that he thought it would help his self-esteem if he learned how to sleep in his own room.

The first few times that we asked Chase to go to his room with the door shut he was reluctant but he did it and he was pleased when he got a sticker.  We purposely started in the morning when it was light outside so that he could build some confidence in himself that he could indeed stay in his room with the door shut.

Well, the day did turn into night just like usual and Chase began to get nervous going places without his sister or another person in the house near him.  I began to wonder how he was going to react to being shut in his room while it was dark outside.  After pizza, homework and a shower it was time to test out the night-time shut in.

When I told him that it was time to do his ten minutes in his room he said,  “No way, I’m not doing that! I hate this rule.  This is a stupid rule.”  Thank goodness we had David to blame.  We told him that it was part of our plan with David and that he was going to have to do it or else he would get something taken away.  After a lot of encouragement he finally conceded, but once he was inside his room and the door was shut the drama began.  He started escalating, which we were warned about and prepared for. He started yelling that we were stupid, that we didn’t love him, that we were traumatizing him, that we were the meanest parents ever, and on and on. Then he began to throw things at the door. I don’t know what they were but they were heavy things.  I continued to keep the door locked and at the end of the ten minutes his dad and I praised him and gave him a sticker and he pouted and ignored us.

The next day we did the whole routine again and when night-time came he protested a little bit but he took some things into his room to comfort himself and he lasted the whole ten minutes without escalating.  We have been doing this for about three weeks and he is already able to spend thirty minutes in his room with the door shut before bedtime!  Our house is going to be the spookiest Halloween house in the neighborhood but it will be worth it when he is able to sleep through the night in his own bed.

I hope this will help anyone else out there that has a child with a phobia.


Medication for Children With Anxiety

I ran into a friend today who told me that her daughter was having a hard time adjusting to a new school.  Her daughter went from a sheltered private school to a diverse charter school and felt like a fish out of water to say the least.  Her outgoing, fun-loving daughter had turned into a nervous wreck.  She couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch and she was not wanting to go back to school. Knowing what it was like to have an anxious child, I could understand my friends concern for her daughter.

When you have a child with anxiety it can be hard to know if they are just going through a phase or if they have serious condition that needs professional help.  The symptoms can be ambiguous and a lot of parents are wary of medications.  If your child is adjusting to a new environment your child most likely just needs time to meet new friends, or learn new rules.  If your child developes a fear of a specific thing or situation out of the blue then your child might have a phobia and meeting with a therapist can be helpful. If your child is not eating at all you will need to see a doctor to make sure that your child is getting the right vitamins and if it goes on for longer than a few days you need to make an appointment with a therapist.  If your child continues to feel so anxious that she/he can not eat you will need to see a psychiatrist to talk about starting your child on medications and/or vitamins. The bottom line is that if your child is not able to function like other children his/her age then you need to pay attention to your child and address that issue appropriately (through therapy or a psychiatrist).

There are medications that are specifically for anxiety and there are medications that are specifically for depression and there are medications to treat both anxiety and depression.  I strongly recommend that you take your child to see a psychiatrist and not a primary care doctor because a psychiatrist is a specialist who treats mood disorders. A specialist knows all of the details about specific medications for specific symptoms. When you are trying medicine for your child you have to keep an open mind and remember that all children are different so sometimes you will have to try several different medications to get the right effect. Be patient and keep an open dialogue about medications and symptoms with your child.  Some side effects are stomach aches, headaches, low blood pressure, dizziness.  You want to pay attention to any symptoms that your child has and discuss those with the doctor.

Another possibility is alternative medicine.  There is evidence that certain vitamins will help with moods.  You will need to talk to your doctor about the dosages that are appropriate, but some vitamins that help lift moods are vitamin B12, vitamin D, SAME, and St. John’s Wort to name a few.

A lot of anxiety symptoms in children can be treated with therapy, but when that doesn’t help it’s time to seek other solutions to help your child feel better.  A Child Psychiatrist is the best fit for this situation.