Supporting children with phobias
Notes on phobias in children-parent guidance
Hypnotherapy is a wonderful tool in helping people of all ages overcome their phobias, but it isn’t a magic wand! if the messages are different at home from in the therapy room, this may hinder success. Here I set out a few ways you can ensure that you are supporting your child in the best way to overcome their phobia.
As therapists we use the terms “secondary gain” and “hidden agenda” to describe anything which may mean that the client gains some benefit from having the phobia or unwanted behaviour. A hidden agenda is a conscious benefit, and a secondary gain is a subconscious one. Clients may know what their hidden agendas are, for example that if their fear of dogs is reduced they will have no reason to refuse to go for those long family walks they hate! They won’t know what their secondary gains are, because these are their subconscious hidden agendas. For example, have they received any positive attention because of their phobia? Received rewards, treats or made to feel special because of their phobia?
Be kind to yourself, we all know parenting doesn’t come with a manual! Reflect on how you have been reacting and if you think there is anything you can change to ensure that you aren’t unintentionally supporting the phobia.
When clients seek treatment for their phobia, part of the approach a therapist takes is to reframe the phobia by putting it into a normal social context. This includes normalising the subject of their phobia. For example, talking about how safe flying on a plane actually is, or about how small and harmless spiders actually are. This is often done in trance work, using metaphors and not in a way that would belittle the client for their very real symptoms.
Reflect on how you could add to the normalisation of the phobia to reduce its impact. Do you allow your child to hold your hand tighter near what they fear? Perhaps you praise them for not being scared, perhaps tell them they are brave when they encounter the object of their fear? What the subconscious mind takes from this is “if I am being brave, there is something here to fear,” and “if I am being held tighter, there is something here to fear.” Reinforcing the belief will interfere with any reframing in the treatment, because to recover, the child must accept that it is normal not to be afraid of the dogs/flying/balloons/needles and that they aren’t actually scary or dangerous!
I understand that this is hard when you want to protect and look after your child, and soothe any distress they may show. There is no need to become harsh or unsupportive, just to be mindful of the effect your behaviour may have, and subtly change it.
Positive language is important. Right from the beginning of their treatment, use “used to have a phobia,” rather than does have a phobia. Avoid the passing on the idea to your child that you are giving the therapy “a try”, as trying your best is very closely linked to not actually succeeding as far as the subconscious mind is concerned!
Forward pace to chat about all the things you will be able to do when he/she no longer has the phobia (notice - “when” not “if”). Avoid talking to other people about the phobia in front of your child, as even if you are confident you will frame the language correctly, they may not when they reply!
You are in a position of authority and influence, if your child hears you question the possibility of the success of the treatment, they will question it themselves and this will affect its outcome. I am very careful in how I describe the treatment to the child and create an atmosphere of positivity, while making no promises and gauging the child’s own ability to take on some degree of responsibility for the treatment’s success.
I am always happy to answer any questions you may have about your communication with your child, or any other aspect of the treatment. If it is practical to do so, you and your partner may like to consider taking it in turns to accompany your child to our sessions. Hearing what has been said to your child and how may give you more confidence in your own approach!
Lastly, it is not the purpose of this document to make you feel guilty or beat yourself up about how you may have contributed to your child’s phobia, and so I sincerely hope that you do not feel that way. It is the purpose of this document to support everyone to get the best outcome moving forward by being consistent in our approach. So, be kind to yourself, please!
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