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Behavioral Treatment for Specific Fears and Phobias

child vaccination

Fears and phobias are increasingly common in children. A fear of needles is a particularly common fear that usually starts in early childhood and can result in significant avoidance of  medical procedures in general.

What Research Says

A recent NPR story describes a research study published in 2012. The researchers surveyed over 800 parents and 1000 children. In the study, 24% of the parents and 63% of the children reported a fear of needles! This is concerning because specific fears and phobias can lead to avoidance of health-related procedures.

Cognitive Behavior Treatment

Luckily, there is behavioral treatment for specific fears and phobias. Behavior therapy or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help children overcome their fears. The most effective behavioral treatment for specific fears and phobias is called graded exposure therapy. In graded exposure therapy the child is introduced to the feared situation or object in small steps until they are able to participate in the situation on their own.

For example, if a child has a fear of going to the dentist, the treatment can start out with the child reading a book about the dentist, looking at a picture of a dentist’s office, and observing a parent participate in a dental visit. Then the situations are gradually increased until the eventual goal of participating in a dental procedure is achieved. Kids with specific phobias and fears benefit from parent participation in the treatment process.

Practice at home will provide faster progress. Depending on the age and learning history with the feared object or situation, treatment can progress quickly or may take more time to break down the situation into smaller steps. Either way, behavior therapy or cognitive behavior therapy can help a child overcome their fears and phobias.

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