Prevention

Many people develop a lifelong fear of an animal when they are bitten or growled at during childhood. To head off the development of such a phobia, parents should train their very young children how to handle animals in the following situations:

• Do not disturb an eating animal Children should understand that cats and dogs can become defensive when eating, so children should not startle an animal or put a hand near a bowl when the pet is eating.

• Never take a toy or bone from a dog's mouth Children should be taught that if a dog is unwilling to drop the toy, the child should have an adult retrieve it.

• Pet nicely Children should understand that pets are not toys, and that they should not pull an animal's tail or ears, poke its eyes, or throw things at it.

• Never sneak up on a pet Parents should teach children that dogs and cats can become defensive when frightened. They should approach a pet from the front with hands visible, speaking in a low, soft voice.

• Observe body language Children must be taught what it means when a dog raises its tail, with ears back, hair standing, teeth bared, and bark ing or growling—all signs that the dog should not be confronted. Children should avoid cats with hair standing, tail stiff, ears back, dilated eyes, and hissing.

• Never run Children must be taught that if they ever come face to face with a dog showing the above warning signs, they must not scream, run, or stare into the animal's eyes, because if they run the dog may chase and attack. A child should always walk away slowly, avoiding any eye contact with the dog.

• Do not invade a dog's space A child should never insert a hand into a car window or dog pen, because the dog might bite to defend its territory.

• Do not separate fighting dogs Children should be trained to get an adult to help break up a dogfight and not try to pry the animals apart.

• Ask permission No matter how friendly a dog appears to be, children should be trained to always ask the owner's permission before petting an unknown dog or cat.

fear of the dark Typically, a child who is afraid of the dark has developed a phobia because parents have insisted that the child must stay in a totally dark room at night. Parents need to recognize the fact that a room looks different to a child in the dark and take steps to reassure the child even if the fear seems completely irrational.

Experts agree that there is nothing wrong with allowing a child to use a night light, as long as it does not create frightening shadows. After the light has been turned out, the parent should stay in the room for a few minutes and talk about how different things look. The door to the child's room should be left slightly ajar, and the child should know the parent will be close by.

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