What Should I Do If My Child Is Becoming a Germaphobe?

As we begin to see more vaccines and fewer COVID cases, it may seem like life is reverting back to its old self. Still, I’ve noticed many folks, young and old alike, confiding that their worry levels have climbed up a few notches. Notably, if you’re wondering, “What should I do if my child is becoming a germaphobe?” remember, it’s entirely natural to feel a certain level of anxiety as we step out from the safe bubble of lockdown and re-enter society.

Why Anxiety and Pandemics Go Together

Anxiety is the body and mind’s inability to release the adrenaline released in reaction to a perceived threat (such as a predator in the caveman days) that cannot be overcome physically.

Since we can’t exactly see COVID-19 in the air or on surfaces, the pandemic poses a genuine but intangible threat to our safety. However, because of this opacity, we worry more than necessary, reasoning that “this threat could be anywhere at any time!” Your son’s handwashing behavior is adaptive at first glance, but it’s causing him trouble now. This worrying about being sick isn’t helping him avoid danger, but it is giving him (and you) anguish and seems to be interfering with his daily life.

The Role of Parents in Guiding Children Through Fear

The best way to deal with worry is to face your fears head-on. When a child’s anxious behavior is made better in the short term (by taking away the cause of worry), it usually leads to more anxiety in the long time, which makes the parents even more stressed. You may help your son overcome his fear of germs and going places by teaching him effective coping mechanisms rather than letting him retreat into isolation.

First and foremost, his regular day-to-day activities, including his presence in the world, should be expected to continue as before. But you may start teaching him to calm down and focus on his thinking as coping skills to control his worry about germs and becoming sick. Help him feel more in command of his thoughts and feelings by instructing him in deep breathing, which can calm his overstimulated body (anxiety is often accompanied by a racing heart and difficulty breathing).

In addition to helping your kid unwind, you can also guide him in processing his fears of germs and illness. I tell students that their “anxious brain” may try to deceive them into believing untrue things but that they may use their “regular brain” to argue back. So, if your son’s anxious brain tells him things like, “His “normal brain” (with some coaching from you) can reassure him with facts such, “thousands of kids go camping and do not wind up in the hospital,” and “the camp is taking precautions to make sure kids are safe and healthy.”

You can help him overcome regular handwashing if he has gained experience with relaxation techniques and challenging thoughts. To assist him in getting used to not washing his hands when he thinks he should, you may keep track of how many times he normally washes them in a day and gradually reduce that number. He can use this time to work on his relaxation and thought methods or to distract himself with something enjoyable while he waits for the hands-washing to finish. The point is to limit hand washing to times when everyone does it anyhow, like before meals and after coming in from the cold.

Instances in Which Assistance Should Be Seeked

If your son’s germ phobia and anxieties of getting sick seem to be getting worse despite your efforts to help him, he may benefit from seeing a pediatric anxiety specialist. His worrisome tendencies may have begun after the pandemic, but he may have been predisposed to anxiety due to other circumstances. If you’re worried that your son’s anxiousness indicates a more serious condition, an expert can give him a thorough evaluation to find out.

Your son’s preoccupation with handwashing may stem from his anxiety about contracting a life-threatening illness. Even though handwashing is an adaptive behavior—after all, it’s something that most of us have come to do more of—his use of it may be considered a “compulsion,” depending on how often he does it and whether or not it causes other problems, like cracked and bleeding skin or so much time that he can’t get anything else done. The degree to which his behaviors deviate from the norm can be determined by a professional’s analysis of these features, and this analysis can also guide the most appropriate treatment choices.

If this is the case, please know that you and he are not alone. The rise in childhood anxiety disorders in recent years can be attributed to several factors that are complex and not fully understood, but the good news is that we have a solid grasp on how to manage this condition. From my observations, these interventions frequently teach kids skills that serve them well as they grow up and learn to cope with various forms of stress.


Many kids are feeling anxious right now because the pandemic coincides with already high rates of worry among children. As a parent, you may be unsure if these signs are a normal response to stress or the beginning of something more serious. If the kid’s worry persists despite using tried-and-true coping mechanisms at home, remember that child mental health professionals are trained to help.

Meaningful articles you might like: Teaching Children Lifelong Hygiene Habits, Advice For Girls on Good Personal Hygiene, Tips on Personal Hygiene for Tweens and Teens