Managing Fears and Phobias in Kids and Teens

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Growing up can be frightening. The path to adulthood is fraught with fears, both rational and irrational, challenging children and adolescents alike. And while it’s not uncommon for a child to be scared of imaginary foes or a teen to be afraid of social rejection, these and similar fears can lead to various types of anxiety disorders when not addressed with care.

So how can parents and other adults best help young people navigate their fears? What are the signs that typical childhood and adolescent fears have become more serious? And when is the right time to seek professional help?

Audience Questions

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD, breaks down common fears for kids and teens, offers strategies for parenting children who are feeling scared, and answers audience questions about specific phobias and how they’re treated.

  • Can you share the definitions of fear, anxiety, phobia, and panic?
  • What is happening physiologically when we experience fear?
  • What are the most common fears for children and teens?
  • How do we know when fears become problematic?
  • What should we know about anxiety disorders and OCD?
  • Why is OCD no longer considered an anxiety disorder?
  • What sets phobias apart from everyday fears and/or anxiety?
  • What are the most common phobias for children and teens?
  • What is the connection between phobias and panic attacks?
  • Are there genetic components to phobias or other anxiety disorders?
  • What should we know about treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy?
  • What is the concept behind hierarchies in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy?
  • How do parents go about finding a therapist for their child?
  • Can you explain the difference between inpatient and outpatient treatment?
  • What might be helpful to say to someone who is having a panic attack?
  • Can reassurance be counterproductive when helping children navigate fear and anxiety?
  • What is the value of helping a child externalize their fear or anxiety?
  • What should educators know about identifying these challenges and what to do if they spot them in a child?
  • Can you speak to any special considerations for individuals on the autism spectrum who have challenges with anxiety?
  • What should clinicians know about working with kids and teens with anxiety disorders?
  • What strategies might adults use to proactively address fear and anxiety with children in their care?
  • What would treatment look like if a patient has both anxiety and schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder?
  • What should we know about school avoidance relative to fear and phobias?
  • How do school accommodations factor into the conversation about fears and anxiety in kids and teens?
  • In what ways has the pandemic exacerbated fear and anxiety challenges for children and adolescents?
  • How can parents help kids and teens process media images of violence and war they might be exposed to?
  • What hope can you offer parents based on your work with children struggling with fears and phobias?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.

Resources

About Jacqueline Sperling, PhD

Jacqueline Sperling, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, faculty at Harvard Medical School, and the co-founder and co-program director of the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program. She specializes in implementing evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavior therapy, and working with youth who present with anxiety disorders and/or obsessive compulsive disorder.

Dr. Sperling is the author of the young adult nonfiction book “Find Your Fierce: How to Put Social Anxiety in Its Place” and a contributor for Harvard Health Publishing.

Learn more about Dr. Sperling.

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