What Can I Do About My Child’s Germophobia

During the global pandemic, fear and anxiety led to germophobia in many children. By asking “What Can I Do About My Child’s Germophobia,” parents can find scientifically-backed coping practices to support their children at home.

Since the pandemic, my 9-year-old has been preoccupied with germs. He washes his hands frequently and asks me if random things can make him very ill. I believed his phobia would subside as soon as things began to improve, but it has not. He appears much more terrified about reentering the world. Recently, he cried when he realized we would send him to summer camp. I feel quite anxious. What can my spouse and I do assist him in overcoming this phobia?

To the mother of a germaphobe,

Although growing immunizations, declining COVID rates, and signals of a return to normalcy would suggest that we should all feel comforted, I am hearing from people of all ages that their worry has increased alongside this success. Under lockdown, keeping in our bubbles offered us a sense of security; therefore, it is reasonable that this re-entry would be accompanied by dread.

Why Pandemic and Anxiety Go Together

When our brains detect a threat (like a predator in the caveman era), but we cannot physically avoid or combat it, we experience anxiety because our bodies and brains are stuck in the midst of the adrenaline reaction we are naturally conditioned to have.

The epidemic constituted a real threat to our safety, albeit in a figurative sense, as we cannot see COVID-19 in the air or on surfaces. This invisibility, however, heightens our apprehension since we believe, “This threat may be anywhere at any time!” Your son’s hand-washing activity makes sense as an adaptive response to the circumstances but has become a problem. This extreme emphasis on germs and severe illness is not assisting him in staying safe, but rather causing him (and you) distress that appears to be interfering with his life.

How Parents Can Help Children Overcome Fear

Facing your fears is the most effective treatment for anxiety. Frequently, parents struggle with anxious behaviors in their children because what offers the child momentary relief (removing the source of stress) fuels future distress. Rather than succumbing to the temptation to avoid, you can help your son develop the skills he needs to overcome his fear of germs and public settings by employing time-tested methods for anxiety.

Continue to anticipate his typical everyday activities, including his presence in the world. However, you may begin to teach him two sorts of coping methods to handle his concern about germs and illness: relaxing and working on his ideas. Help him feel more in charge of his thoughts and feelings by teaching him deep breathing techniques (a racing heart and trouble breathing are common anxiety responses).

In addition to relaxation, you can assist your son in working through his concerns over germs and illness. I explain to children that the “anxious brain” attempts to deceive them with false notions but that they may use their “normal brain” to counteract these beliefs. If your son’s nervous brain says, “I’m sure I’ll become seriously ill if I go camping this summer.” By assuring him that “thousands of kids go camping and don’t wind up in the hospital” and that “the camp is taking steps to assure children’s safety and health,” you will be able to ease his “normal brain’s” fears.

Once he has gained experience with relaxing techniques and challenging ideas, you may address the behaviors that are impeding his progress, which in his instance, is regular hand-washing. Counting the typical number of times, he washes his hands each day and gradually decreasing that number can help him adjust to not washing his hands when he feels he should. While he is not washing his hands, he can practice relaxation and cognitive tactics or engage in an enjoyable activity to divert himself from his worry. The objective would be to limit hand-washing to times when everyone does it, such as after going outside and before meals.

When to Get Help

If your son’s germ phobia and concerns of being sick appear to be worsening or not changing despite your efforts, he would certainly benefit from seeing a specialist in childhood anxiety. Although his nervous behaviors began after the epidemic, it is plausible that he possessed additional risk factors for developing anxiety and that the pandemic acted as a catalyst. A professional evaluation can identify whether your son’s anxiety symptoms indicate a more serious issue requiring treatment.

It appears as though your son’s worry is becoming gravely ill, and hand-washing has been his technique for avoiding this anxiety. Thus, even though we have all adapted to washing our hands more frequently in our lives, his use of it may still be viewed as a “compulsion” depending on how frequently he does it, whether it results in other issues like skin that is cracked and bleeding, or whether it takes up so much of his time that he cannot finish other crucial tasks. A professional can examine the peculiarities of his behaviors to determine how far they deviate from the norm, which informs the most effective treatment options.

In such a case, let me reassure you that you and he are not alone. In recent years, the prevalence of anxiety disorders in children has increased for a variety of complex and poorly understood causes, but the good news is that we have a solid understanding of how to treat pediatric anxiety. My experience has shown that these treatments frequently equip youngsters with abilities that enable them to manage all sorts of stress as they age effectively.

The Conclusion

A substantial number of children have developed a wide variety of anxiety symptoms due to the epidemic and the high juvenile anxiety rates. It might be difficult for parents to differentiate between the impacts of stress and those of other possible issues. Using well-known techniques to reduce anxiety, you can begin at home, but if the issues persist, child mental health specialists can assist.

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