Vomit Phobia in Children and How You and School Can Help
I’ve had a phobia of vomiting (emetophobia) since I can remember. You can read a bit of an introduction to emetophobia here. So it started maybe age three or four. I know that sounds far fetched but it is true. I remember the anxiety and dread even at such a young age.
Today I’m going to share with you the things I think might have helped me as a child. Now I say “might” because in all honesty, they may not have helped at all. Hopefully if you’re a parent, with a child with a vomit phobia then these tips might come in handy. It breaks my heart to think that kids are going through what I went through.
Talk to the School ASAP
If your child is school age and they have emetophobia, or you suspect it, then talk to the school or their teacher. It may be difficult to articulate it because honestly, not many people really “get it”. Most people think I’m being ridiculous. I’ve had doctors roll their eyes, I’ve had them tell me that maybe if I were sick more often, I’d “get over it.” I’ve had people close to me say similar. So don’t expect people to understand first off.
My advice when talking to teachers? Explain the phobia in the simplest terms possible and explain how it impacts daily life at home. This probably means eating and possibly travelling (travel sickness), and also problems if siblings vomit.
Then explain clearly what the school could do to help. And given my school experiences, there is A LOT school can do. And for me personally, school has a lot to answer for in terms of making this phobia a billion times worse. I truly believe that experiences I had, particularly at primary school, have shaped who I am today. Here are practical things which for me, definitely would have helped, and would have made my school experience a lot more enjoyable.
Give Your Kid Some Control
Let’s face it, as a child you don’t have an awful lot of control or say over what happens in life. Things happen because that’s the way life goes. You have to go to school, you have to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. You just do these things, without question, as a child. But as a child with emetophobia, I felt completely helpless at school. Completely at the mercy of whether another kid would or wouldn’t be sick. I feared school so much that most days I’d cling to my mum. Teachers would come out and peel me off her.
If possible, try and let your child feel a tiny bit in control. Speak to their teacher and agree that if the worst were to happen – i.e kid sick in class or assembly, your child can leave that situation. One thing that I hated was feeling I couldn’t get up and just walk out of a class or assembly. I remember practicing the Christmas play and another kid, (my sister of all people!) threw up during the practice. We all had to just carry on while it was cleaned up. It was just awful. Looking back, I wish I’d gotten up and walked out. I felt so scared though. Scared that I’d be told off.
One thing that did not help at all during my school years was the following…whenever another child felt sick, they’d (teachers? caretakers? who knows?) would wheel out the sick bowl. Correct. They’d bring the bowl into class, into assembly and into the lunch hall. Honestly, wtf. Who wants to sit there eating lunch while your mate hangs green-gilled over a bloody bowl??! This was the case in the late 80s and if it hasn’t changed then it really needs to.
Stop Forcing Children to Eat!
Lunchtime was such a stress for so many reasons. One of the main being that I was forced to eat. Or at least told that if I didn’t clear my plate, I’d have to stay in the dinner hall until I had. And this went for packed lunches as well. Dinner ladies would check them and if you hadn’t eaten everything, you had to stay inside. For the majority of my primary school life, I missed play time at lunch. I remember vividly sitting in the dinner hall at my first primary school, watching the cleaner sweep up all the rogue peas. I’d just head back to class, no fuller and no happier.
Don’t get me wrong, I know some kids need some encouragement with eating. But I don’t feel it is up to the school, or dinner ladies and staff. If it’s obvious that a child is not eating anything then mention it to the parent. Don’t force the child to eat.
I moved primary school at about age nine or so and took a packed lunch. This is when I realised nothing had changed in terms of being forced to eat. In the end my mum spoke to the school and I was allowed to have lunch in my classroom, either alone or with a friend. Why on earth they didn’t just stop dinner ladies piling the pressure to eat on, I’ll never know. They were complete bullies and it was so unnecessary.
Assembly and School Plays
Assembly and school plays were another huge source of anxiety and worry. I felt completely out of control and unable to leave these situations if I needed to. What would have helped? Taking the aisle seat. This is such a simple step that schools can have for kids who might find these situations stressful. Pop them on the aisle and if it gets too much, allow them to leave. If that’s too stressful, let them sit at the back. I know for me this would have helped a lot because I felt so vulnerable, sitting there in a sea of other kids.
Even today I like to have an aisle seat. At the cinema, at a restaurant, on a plane. I hate feeling that I can’t get up and walk off if I needed to.
I only really remember one school trip at primary school. We had a week in Hunstanton. Now I grew up in St Albans so this was a fair drive on the coach. And yes, I remember some of the kids were travel sick. Things that might have helped me back then? Not going on school trips. Although I definitely would have missed out. I do have some nice memories from that trip. Perhaps things like earphones and music might help while on the coach. And if the child is worried about themselves getting travel sick, perhaps some anti-sickness medication. I don’t think I realised there were medications for this until late teens. Why didn’t someone tell me?
One thing that would have made me feel better about trips was if my mum or dad had been there too. I know it isn’t always possible but can you go to as a helper?
Other Things to Note if Your Child has Emetophobia
Having been the one with the phobia, I can only speculate what my parents thought or felt. I’m pretty sure there was a lot of frustration. I spent most of my childhood not eating, and also not explaining why I wouldn’t eat. I felt very ashamed at simply saying I was scared that I might be sick. Even at a young age it just seemed ridiculous. I don’t think I really started to acknowledge that it was purely vomiting that scared the crap out of me. For a very long time I think my parents thought I had some sort of eating disorder. I guess they also thought I was an anxious kid and possibly had a school phobia or separation anxiety. I don’t know. No one really spoke about mental health in the 80s and 90s. Everyone told me to grow up and I believed them. And here I am, thirty years later, still hoping one day I’ll grow up.