Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. We all have some degree of fear about vomiting or being in close proximity to someone who is. It isn’t the most pleasant experience for anyone after all! However, there are individuals panic-stricken by even the thought of vomiting. In fact, this phobia is particularly common in children. On average, 6% – 7% of females and 1.7% – 3.1% of males experience emetophobia.

What causes emetophobia?

It is hard to pinpoint what causes Emetophobia. It can be a combination of factors including genetics and if the child is already extremely anxious. However, emetophobia is commonly triggered by a traumatic experience involving vomiting. The phobia is not restricted to a specific age. However, emetophobia is typically triggered at a young age and can persist into adulthood if not appropriately supported.

emetophobia - image of a unwell child with a fear of being sick

How will I know if my child might have emetophobia?

As a parent, it can be difficult to find out what is bothering your child. At a young age, they will struggle to express their worries and thoughts to you. If you are concerned about your child’s health or suspect they might have this condition talk to your GP first. They will advise on the most appropriate treatment and support for your child. A proper diagnosis by a medical professional is essential, however, if your child suffers from emetophobia there are some practical techniques you can put into place to help them.

What can I do if my child has emetophobia?

    • Don’t dismiss the issue. Consider this as a phobia until you have a medical diagnosis and be there to support your child.
    • Try to avoid making make false promises. For example, ‘if you wear this necklace it will stop you feeling sick.’
    • Find out as much as you can about your child’s relationship with this issue. Getting a clear understanding of the phobia can help you consider what can be done to support your child. So consider the following: when did it start? when does it affect them? how does it make them feel?
    • Encourage them to have a focus for the day or the week. For example, to pick 3 things they are looking forward to this week. The more they focus on this the less they will focus on their phobia. Suggest that they write or draw these things and then put it on the fridge or somewhere they can see it every day.
    • Remind them they have power over their body and how they feel. Give them simple physical examples like drinking some water or rubbing their tummy.
    • Empower them by helping to draw a picture of something that makes them feel powerful and put it somewhere they can see it regularly. For example, it could be them dressed as their favourite superhero or it could be a strong animal like a tiger or lion.
    • Help them come up with some ways they can help themselves if they are starting to feel sick, like asking for a drink of water or for a window to be opened.

Emetophobia - Child phobias

Maria Gallacher

Counsellor - Children and Young People at The Spark

Maria is a member of the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists and a Children and Young People Counsellor with The Spark. She works with children from 5 to 11 years of age in Primary schools in Scotland. Maria’s research interests include anxiety and phobias.

Counselling for children and young people

The Spark is the biggest provider of in-school counselling for children and young people in Scotland. Primary and secondary schools rely on us to help their pupils deal with difficult or traumatic issues.

Our team of highly qualified and accredited professional counsellors also work individually with children and young people outside of school.

All counsellors are BACP or COSCA accredited with advanced qualifications in their field and extensive experience. To find out more, speak to one of our advisors on 0808 802 0050 or contact us online.

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Good resources for more information on emetophobia include NHS Choices, Anxiety UK and website.

Children And Young People, Mental Health, Parenting, Tips, Young People