POP! Goes the phobia with free support for young children to tackle excessive fears
Researchers from Queensland’s Griffith University are offering free assessment and treatment for children aged three to five who have specific phobias, as part of the Preschoolers Overcoming Phobias (POP) treatment trial, through the Southport campus.
Project leader Associate Professor Lara Farrell says that specific phobias affect around 10 per cent of the population, with some of the common phobias treated in the program including dogs, the dark, insects, heights, storms and other weather. Many children often present with more than one phobia.
A spokesperson from the POP treatment team said any specific phobia presenting in preschool aged children (those aged three to five years old), excluding blood/injection/injury phobia, can be explored within the program.
Children who experience phobias are excessively afraid of certain situations or objects, with phobia being a different experience to feeling nervous or scared. In addition to feeling excessively fearful, a Griffith spokesperson said, a phobia presents “a substantial impairment in a child’s life, and the life of their family too.”
“For example, a child with specific phobia of storms may be unable to leave the house/childcare service at times when they think it may rain or if its windy. They may miss out on childcare, family outings and birthday parties.”
“In an educational setting, this child may become distressed and refuse to go outside during playtimes or get anxious and refuse to interact or eat because of his/her fear and preoccupation with the weather. This in turn can have longer term implications on educational, social and emotional outcomes.”
To distinguish between a phobia and an “every day” fear, the POP! team recommended the following:
- Is the child much more afraid of the object/situation/experience than other children their age?
- What is their emotional response? Children experiencing phobia may get very upset, cry, or cling to their parent/caregiver when confronted with their fear
- Is the child avoiding certain situations because of their fear?
- Is the child exposing themselves to potential harm to avoid their fear? For example, a child with a phobia of dogs may see one while outside, and run away onto a road to avoid the dog.
Associate Professor Farrell said that phobias represented the earliest mental health disorders to onset, occurring as young as three, and that it was important for parents and educators to understand the distinction between a phobia and an everyday fear.
The POP! Trial is one of the first to examine the utility of exposure based treatments, which have been successful with older children and adults, in preschoolers. The POP! Team recommended that parents seek professional help to deal with specific phobias, so that the clinicians involved can provide parents and children with education and techniques to be able to practice their learning at home.
“Specific phobias in preschool children are predictive of later mental health concerns, so early treatment is important, and may be one way to prevent the development of later mental health issues” a Griffith spokesperson said.
The POP! Program is part of a nationally funded NHMRC treatment trial, and is being run by a team of international experts in child anxiety. Available free of charge to those able to attend the Southport campus for treatment, the program involves:
- comprehensive psychological assessment
- random assignment to one of two treatment conditions or a wait-list monitoring condition.
- a series of follow-up phone calls monitoring each child’s response spanning 24 months.
Further information about the program can be gained by calling the POP! Team on (07) 5678 8317 or emailing [email protected]
For those unable to attend the Southport campus, researchers recommended a visit to the GP to get a Mental Health Care Plan would be beneficial.
“A Mental Health Care Plan allows parents to receive a rebate from Medicare for a specified number of sessions with a registered psychologist, specialising in treating specific phobias in younger children.” a spokesperson said.