We understand phobia as an intense rejection of a stimulus linked to discomfort and an alteration in the functionality of the subject. Thus, we must distinguish phobia from fear, since the latter is an adaptive reaction to certain stimuli or situations.
Although phobias can occur at any age, some most often occur at a period or age in life. Most phobias or anxiety disorders require meeting criteria for 6 months, although in some cases we will see that this time frame is shorter.
Thus, some of the most common school phobias they are the phobia of animals, which can relate to different species; dental phobia, which usually appears at the age of 12; separation anxiety (fear of losing or separating from the attachment figure); social phobia (fear of being judged or observed by others); school phobia (fear of going to school); blood phobia; and the phobia of darkness.
In this article we will talk about the distinction between phobia and fear, the phobias that most often manifest themselves at school age and what are their main characteristics.
What do we mean by phobia?
Before talking about the different types of phobias, it is necessary to know what this term refers to, what it implies. A phobia is an intense rejection of a stimulus, that feeling of aversion it is related to anxiety called the anticipatory response to a future threat, that is, to an event that may or may not happen. This phobia or anxiety will be considered pathological when it affects the functionality of the subject who presents it.
On the contrary, fear is an adaptive and functional reaction that keeps the individual alert to an imminent threat, real or imagined. In this way, during childhood, some fears are considered evolutionary and which occur most often at certain ages.
What are the most common phobias in boys and girls during the school year?
Now that we know the main differences between fear and phobia, we must bear in mind that not all fears that arise in childhood are dysfunctional and that it is necessary to assess the degree of affect to consider it a phobia. In the same way, it is also necessary to evaluate the temporality and observe its presence for 6 months or more.
During childhood, the most frequently observed anxiety disorder is specific phobia, where the anxiety or discomfort is directed towards a specific stimulus, it can be an animal, a situation, a type of environment or related to blood or injuries. On the other hand, in adolescence, it is more frequent to observe a generalized anxiety disorder, a social phobia or a panic disorder.
However, each case is unique, for this reason a child may develop an anxiety disorder other than a specific phobia or a teenager may present with a specific phobia for the first time. We have seen that within the phobias there are different categories, let’s see which are the most common at each age.
1. Animal phobia
Animal phobia, also known as zoophobia, tends to occur from the age of 7, being the specific phobia that manifests anteriorly. The feared animal can be anyone, there are specific names depending on what it is. For example, we can talk about cynophobia if the phobia concerns dogs, ailurophobia if it concerns cats, or even arachnophobia, the best known to designate the phobia of spiders.
The reactions at the origin of this type of phobia can be different: agitation, need to escape, rapid heartbeat, breathing, stomach pain. We will also see that the presence or possible presence of the animal is hypervigilant and an increase in attention to the dreaded stimulus.
As with other mental disorders, the cause of onset is linked in part to genetic predispositions; It has been observed that parents with this type of phobia increase the risk that their children will also suffer from it; and environmental factors such as bad experiences the child may have had with the animal or imitation of adult behavior.
2. Blood phobia
Blood phobia, also called hematophobia, usually appears at age 9, characterized by fear of blood or other stimuli associated with it such as injury. This phobia is special or has a different trait from others, the subject to the phobic stimulus shows a vasovagal pattern or a biphasic response, where first an increase in tension and activation of the body is observed, then a fainting and loss of consciousness.
In this way we can talk about different types of symptoms or reactions, some will be displayed in the first phase, the increase phase, and others in the decrease phase. In periods of increase, the most typical sign is an increase in heart rate and blood pressure; instead, in the descent phase, we can observe dizziness, increased sweating, pallor… Signs that can lead to fainting.
3. Dental phobia
Dental phobia, also called dentist phobia or odontophobia, usually appears from the age of 12.. Anxiety arises when you go to the dentist or when you think about him. The most common symptoms are similar to those seen in other phobias, trying to avoid the stimulus, for this reason do not go to the dentist despite the need to do so.
They may also feel hypersensitive to pain, feel more hurt, and choke, especially when the dentist puts an instrument in their mouth or inspects it.
4. Separation anxiety
Separation anxiety disorder is described as phobia of separation from home or attachment figure, usually mother and father. This anxiety usually presents at age 9 as the average age of onset, showing various symptoms such as excessive preoccupation with the loss of the bound figure, intense discomfort at separation or anticipation of separation, resistance to go to school or any other place or affect such as headaches or vomiting, among others.
Unlike most anxiety disorders, this condition requires compliance for at least 4 weeks.
5. School phobia
Some authors believe that school phobia is a manifestation of separation anxiety disorder, as it shows a reluctance to separate and go to school, but other authors emphasize the distinction between the two disorders. Thus, we define school phobia as a very intense fear of going to or staying in school, testifying to rejection from school and multiple absences. In this case, the time criterion is two weeks.
We must distinguish between school phobia (where the child is eager to go to school and his parents do not agree with his behavior and want him to leave), school dropout (in this situation it is not so important the behavior of the child but that of the parents, who authorize or decide that the child does not go there), and direct (in this case the child does not go to school, but it is not due to the presence of anxiety or phobia).
6. Social phobia
Social phobia usually appears at age 6, although this is the average age; that is, it can also occur in younger or older children. This anxiety disorder is described as an intense and persistent fear of being judged or observed by other subjects. This anxiety affects the life of the individual, and can refer to any situation of a social nature or to particular situations where the subject must act in front of another person or a group of people.
It is important not to confuse this phobia with shyness, since the latter is not considered a pathology, is a normal personality trait and does not affect the functionality of the individual.
7. Dark phobia
Fear of the dark is an evolving fear and it usually appears between the age of two and a half and about six years; at this age it will only be considered a phobia if it is excessively intense. This fear tends to disappear, but if it continues to manifest itself in old age, affecting the functionality of the subject, it can be valued as a phobia. This phenomenon as a psychopathology is often linked to a traumatic experience related to darkness.
The symptoms present in this phobia can be: need to sleep with the light on, panic attacks (palpitations, choking, sweating, tremors, etc.) related to fear of the dark, nightmares and sleep disorders, physical symptoms (nausea, vomiting, stomach aches…) and avoidance and inability to sleep alone or be alone in a dark place.
Are you looking for therapy services for children and adolescents?
If you want psychological help for children, contact me.
My name is Infanta DesireI am a general health psychologist and neuropsychologist, and I offer parent therapy and counseling sessions in person and online.
- Alonso, V. (2018) CEDE PIR Preparation Manual: Clinical Child Psychology. CEDE: 5ª Edition.
- Phobias in children and adolescents. Stanford, Children’s Health.
- War, MªJ. and Ogando, N. (2014) Fears and phobias in childhood. The teenager with congenital heart disease.