It is normal for children to have fears, such as taking a test, facing a growling dog, or waiting out a thunderstorm. A phobia is more than fear, how-ever—it is an extreme response, a kind of fear that does not go away. A child with a phobia will be afraid of something every time it is seen or experienced, not just afraid once or twice. Children with phobias often go out of their way to avoid the situation or object that frightens them. The fear can be so severe that facing the situation or object can trigger a panic attack. This can make a child feel even more anxious and upset.

Specific phobias in childhood, as distinguished from normal fears, are excessive and persistent. Children with phobias try to avoid the specific situations or objects they fear, and when confronted with the threatening stimulus, they often "freeze." A reaction may also be judged phobic when the threatening stimulus is benign, and fear is thus inappropriate, such as when a child who is phobic about snakes sees a picture of a snake in a book and "freezes." There are many different kinds of phobias common in childhood, such as the fear of failure, the dark, injury, small animals, death, and going to the dentist. One of the most common, however, is social phobia, in which a child is terrified of being embarrassed in front of other people. A child with a social phobia might feel afraid of talking to a teacher or of walking in front of the classroom on the way to the bathroom. A child with a social phobia can find it nearly impossible to give a book report in front of the class, or even enjoy a birthday party. Although it is normal to have some slight degree of nervousness in those situations, a child with a social phobia becomes so afraid that the phobia interferes with the enjoyment of life. A child with a social phobia is not just shy but absolutely unable to control the fear of being with others.

Agoraphobia is a phobia in which a child worries about having a panic attack in a place where leaving would be difficult or embarrassing. The fear of the panic is so strong that the child often avoids places such as crowds, highways, or a busy mall where a panic attack might occur.

Also, fears that may be normal for younger children may be considered phobic if experienced by an older child.

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