Extreme Child Phobias: More Than Fear, Sometimes Dangerous, Even Deadly

A child absolutely refuses to leave the house after a dog bite; another won't leave her room if a cat is in the building.

In 2005, an 8-year-old U.K. girl in may have starved to death because she refused to open her mouth after a traumatic visit to the dentist.

Yes, children can have phobias too. By definition, a phobia is an extreme, life-disrupting fear, but experts say a phobia in a child can pose special challenges that make them harder to detect and perhaps more detrimental.

"I think we tend to minimize it because we say, 'oh they're just being a kid, they'll grow out of it,'" said Jennifer L. Hartstein, a child adolescent psychologist in New York City who specializes in treating anxiety and depression.

"Yet, the earlier you intervene, the better the prognosis is," said Hartstein.

Below is a list of extreme child phobias, with expert advice on how to recognize and help children facing debilitating fears.

Childhood Phobia: The Dentist

British authorities started an inquest this week into the 2005 starvation death of Sophie Waller, according to reporting by the Daily Mail.

Her parents say Waller developed a phobia after a dentist accidentally cut her tongue during a routine visit when she was 4 years old.

By age 8, Waller was still afraid. According to the Daily Mail, her fears were so extreme that she refused to eat for three days when she learned that she had to go to the dentist again for a cracked tooth.

Her parents and doctors decided to send her to the hospital to pull the cracked tooth, but Waller's parents told the Daily Mail that the doctors decided to pull all eight of her remaining baby teeth at the hospital, instead of the one.

When Waller awoke, her parents said she would not open her mouth to speak or eat and had to be fed with a tube. She continued to refuse to fully open her mouth after she was released. Two weeks later, Waller died in her bed from starvation and dehydration, according to a local pathologist.

The tragedy of Waller's life may be twofold; perhaps the proper medical intervention could have kept her living, and perhaps a therapist could have treated her phobia.

Childhood Phobia: Fear of Food

"A lot of times, if you can catch this fear early, you don't have the same phobia as adults," said Hartstein.

"If it's a true phobia, what they can learn is strategies to manage their phobias," she said. "A lot of times the best way to get over a phobia is to expose yourself to your fear, in a controlled way."

Several children in the U.K. made news this year with phobias so severe that they could not eat. But instead of the dentist, these children simply feared solid food. After an Edinburgh Evening News report of one family struggling to save their son, another family came forward with their story of success.

Leo Coning was so terrified of eating solid food that he had to be fed with a tube while he slept, according to reporting by the Edinburgh Evening News.

Finally, by the time Coning turned 5, his family found a clinic in Austria that treated this very fear with controlled liquid food restriction and plenty of solid food. Within a few weeks, Coning was eating like a normal child.

Childhood Phobias: Bugs, Dogs and Cats

Anxiety experts say bugs and pets -- especially dogs -- are some of the most common child phobias. A true phobia may be missed, however, because children are commonly afraid of these animals.

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