Biggest Parenting Mistakes: Susan

Terrified of Animals

"Hi Dr. Phil, my name is Susan, and my 6-year-old daughter, Jaycie, is absolutely terrified of any bug or animal that walks the planet," the mom says.

"I don't know why I'm scared of them," Jaycie says.

"It started when she was 2 years old, and she was in nursery school, and one day I went to pick her up, and the teacher informed me that Jaycie had a meltdown in the cafeteria because there was a fly in the room. They said she went into hysterics, and was screaming, and really shaky and nervous," Susan says. "My oldest daughter, Jacqueline, got a Chihuahua last year named Chico, and Jaycie is just petrified of Chico now. She's never been traumatized by an animal, but it's totally debilitating to her. She literally shakes and cries. Where do I begin to teach her that not all animals or insects are harmful to her? What steps do I take to make her less fearful? I'm just at a loss. I don't know what to do."


[AD]Susan joins the show via telephone. She tells Dr. Phil she can't think of why this started because there was no trauma with her daughter and any animal. "She loves animals, and she talks about them with her friends. As a matter of fact, last night she told me, ‘Mom, everyone in my school has a dog. I'm the only one who has to lie about it.'" she says.

Susan gave Jaycie a hamster the previous summer, hoping she would warm up to the creature, but she hasn't. "Pooh stays in his cage. If Jaycie's in the house, Pooh is not going to get in his exercise ball," she says.

Susan assures them she doesn't make light of her daughter's fear, which has been going on for five years.

"First off, you're quite right. You do not ignore an issue that matters to your child," Dr. Phil says. "But what you want to do is you want to empower her with skills for mastery. What has happened here is Jaycie has developed a phobic reaction," Dr. Phil says. He explains that although there are many different phobias, they all come down to a fear of losing control.


"I suspect this is something that you might want to have a short-term intervention with a child psychologist or psychiatrist. There is something called systematic desensitization. That is where you teach the child to call up a relaxed and calm state and then maintain that in the presence of ever-increasing stimuli," Dr. Phil explains. "So, first it might just be the thought of an animal, then maybe the picture of the animal, then maybe an animal 30 or 40 feet away, and then 10 feet away, and then you get in what's called in vivo, where you're actually in the presence of an animal in the world. Now the good news is this: This is not a serious mental disorder or mental illness. It responds very well to treatment in a very short period of time. This is something that could very well be resolved in a couple of weeks."

"Wow," Susan says.

[AD]"It can be something that debilitates her for the rest of her life, or you can deal with it and get it resolved in a short period of time," Dr. Phil says.

Dr. Phil offers to set Susan and her daughter up with a therapist that can work with the little girl on desensitizing her fear.

"Oh, that would be awesome," Susan says.