How to manage a Balloon Phobia

Globophobia is real and shouldn't be dismissed as nonsense.We have some information on the background of this phobia as well as our top 10 tips on how to help toddler overcome their fear.

Behaviorist John B. Watson (1928) was immortalized for his classical conditioning experiment ‘Little Albert’. When Albert, an 11-month-old baby, was presented with a white rat, he showed no fear of it. But when the rat was repeatedly presented, and an iron rod was clanged at the same time, Albert responded by crying. When the rat was presented by itself, he cried with fear. Fear of the rat also transferred to a rabbit, a dog, and a fur coat. Watson concluded that early experiences condition behavior and development. We can put this in the context of how children fear balloons, monsters, or develop other phobias caused by stressful situations, certain experiences or frightening events. It is also known that children can develop the same phobia one of their parents suffered from if they were progressively aware of it during childhood. It can take many long years of intensive therapy to overcome fear - if at all - because areas of the brain that deal with fear often keep retrieving the ‘bad’ memories. This makes it extremely difficult to find a highly effective treatment.

Balloon phobia Fear of balloons (globophobia) is a very real and common phobia and many children suffer from it. If your child has experienced the sound of a balloon popping or exploding in his face, he may be frightened of going to places where balloons may be present. This can lead to teasing or bullying, which worsens his fears. Even the thought, smell, sight, feel or squeak of a balloon can cause him to breath rapidly, feel nauseous, tremble, shake, sweat or cry.

How to help your child overcome his fears

1. Encourage your child to copy your actions while you blow up an imaginary balloon. Move your hands away as it gets bigger. Release the imaginary balloon in the air for you and your child to catch and throw to each other. Make it fun!

2. Give plenty of praise when your child blows up an imaginary balloon.

3. Blow bubbles into the air and encourage your child to pop the bubbles and to say the word ‘pop!’

4. Go through the same process with an imaginary balloon but avoid over-exaggerating the word ‘pop!’.

5. Progress very slowly to pictures of deflated balloons. If your child feels comfortable, introduce a picture of an inflated balloon.

6. Introduce your child to non-threatening images of balloons on DVDs or YouTube.

7. Show your child a deflated foil balloon that bears an image of your child’s favorite TV character. Encourage him to touch and explore it, but don’t force him (if an inflated foil balloon bursts, the noise will be less frightening than a latex balloon exploding).

8. If you get as far as an inflated latex balloon, don’t over-inflate it. It may burst as the air inside warms up and expands. Keep latex balloons away from sunlight.

9. Always buy new, quality latex balloons. Old balloons burst easily, and thin ones usually make the loudest bang.

10. If the sound of a balloon popping is likely to bring on a panic attack, provide ear plugs or ear protectors at places where balloons are likely to be present.

Help your child to overcome his fears by being as warm and accepting as you can about his fears. Talk to your child and listen to what he says. Hold his hands and allow him to cry when he needs to. Provide lots of cuddles to help him feel safe. If your child is fearful of joining in with a balloon game, take the lesser role. For example, by not catching the balloon when it comes your way. Avoid laughing at your child or using tickling as a distraction technique to help him overcome his fears - it is not helpful. It’s much better to encourage your child to focus on something else and to take deep calming breaths to help him to relax. Your child may never grow to love balloons, but small, gradual exposure steps can help him to feel more comfortable with them. Avoiding balloons altogether may reinforce his fear

Written by Dr Lin Day

Founder of Baby Sensory & Toddler Sense