Acrophobia in children: how to face the fear of heights?

During the first months of life, babies are unaware of the fear or phobias of many situations, even despite having been exposed to falls, small accidents and even scares, in those first months, they retry actions that may have even caused them pain, which it also allows learning.

Most experts agree that until approximately nine months of life, babies do not have developed fears that can be common later, such as the one that occurs in the dark, feeling alone or heights. It is precisely with the crawling and the exploration of the spaces, that situations appear that can give rise to phobias.

In the case of heights, there is a natural survival instinct that can induce stress in the child, when they exceed a limit that is considered mentally insecure in the infant and therefore should not cause alarm in the parents. But when should they worry? When can you talk about acrophobia?

Warning signs

Acrophobia is the exaggerated fear of heights and should not be confused with vertigo, which is a physical disorder of the vestibular system found in the ear and is related to balance and spatial control. If a child has it, he may feel objects around him spin around him, giving him a false sense of movement. But a child or even an adult who has this disorder does not necessarily have a phobia of heights.

If your child experiences panic, anxiety, dizziness, anguish, paralysis, palpitations, sweating, muscle tension, headache, nausea, or any symptoms that reveal pressing stress, you should discuss it with your pediatrician or specialist. to prevent it from becoming a fixed behavior in your childhood or even adulthood.

Acrophobia does not always manifest itself before what can be considered a great height, but it can also be expressed in the child experiencing panic when doing related daily activities such as going up in an elevator or escalator, looking out a window or terrace of a building that is not necessarily very tall, riding a swing or other amusement rides, climbing hills or being on a lookout point, crossing bridges or footbridges, etc.

How can you deal with this type of phobia?

In the first place, it is essential not to force the child to face these situations, without first having an evaluation and guidance from a professional, since the disorder can be exacerbated. If it is a specific situation, it will not be necessary to seek help, but if it persists and is repeated several times, you should go to the expert.

The specialist will use approaches such as:

Behavioral therapy, based on progressive and controlled exposure to heights, so that they get used to the situation and experience the fact that there is no real threat to them. You can start by putting them on a safe swing and with the presence of their parents and then increase their exposure to a balcony or moderately high stairs; if they can be calm, this will give them confidence to dare at another time.

Also, within this strategy, the child’s own imagination or innovative and effective methods can be used, such as the use of virtual reality, which allows to overcome the irrational fear of heights within a safe space.

Cognitive therapy, which consists of being able to show children that there are no real causes for experiencing the fear they feel in that high place, dismantling the situation so that their imagination does not prevail.

Relaxation techniques, meditation, breathing. Although still small, children can be instructed in these tools, so that they use them when they are exposed to what scares them and thus incorporate them into other life circumstances that do not necessarily involve phobias. Parents or the therapist can use these techniques even as an adjunct to behavioral therapy that involves progressive exposure to the stressful situation.

It is not clear what induces the appearance of acrophobia in children, but in some cases a relationship has been found in an exaggerated zeal of the parents in the face of situations that they consider to be dangerous in the exploration of the world around the baby, such as climbing up furniture or stairs, for example or a reaction of excessive alarm to small domestic accidents. Likewise, forced exposure to very challenging heights for infants can also lead to trauma and phobias. For all these reasons, parents must ensure the safety of their children, but without impeding their healthy development.

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