Afraid of Buttons?

How My Son Learned to Take His Phobia by the Collar
At around the age of four, my little guy developed a very odd behaviour. My little cuddle-monkey would no longer let me within five feet of him when I was wearing clothes with buttons on them, and he began insisting I change into something button-free when I arrived home from work. I suspected the behaviour had something to do with the divorce, as we had just moved into our first apartment. It wasn't until two years later, as we were riding up the elevator, that I realized the button thing was still in full swing!

I hopped on the Internet as soon as we got in the door, and wouldn't you know it, he wasn't the only one! I found so many entries from people who 'hate those little buggers' that I was at once amazed and relieved. All the things my boy had told me he hated about buttons were exactly the same words used by these other sufferersOne person described trying to go on a date and ignore the fact that their companion had "little plastic cockroaches" on their shirt. I know I wouldn't want to be near somebody if they had cockroaches on their shirt! 

I suddenly had a better understanding of how my son felt and had been feeling for so long. Although I had accomodated him over the years, guilt washed over me for not being more kind to him about his feelings toward buttons, out of ignorance. I printed all the testimonies I could find and read them to him one by one. I could literally see the tension releasing from his shoulders. Just knowing that he wasn't alone gave him his dignity back. He no longer felt like a weirdo, but like a kid who just didn't like buttons. I printed the information and gave it to everyone in his life. Most people laughed when I told them about the phobia, but seemed to take it more seriously when I called it by its proper name, Koumpounophobia. He was too young to start therapy, as it requires the sufferer to actually want to overcome the affliction, and a certain level of maturity. So when he was a bit older, around eight, we visited a therapist. She gave me some ideas on gradually introducing buttons into his day, first with pictures, and then moving on in bigger steps.

I created a program for him that we measured using Lego diagrams to mark the successful completion of each stage of the therapy. Throughout all of the following activities we also practised breathing techniques, because he would often hold his breath when faced with a button. It takes a lot of practice. And patience.

First, I gathered pictures of buttons and used them in mathematical equations (one yellow button plus three blue buttons equal how many buttons?). Then we moved onto memory games. I printed out sets of pictures of different coloured buttons, cut them into cards and laid them all down flat like a memory game. He would not use his hands to turn over the paper at first, he found a pair of tweezers and used those as his turning over tool. Clever right? Eventually I got him to turn them over using his hands, and then we focused for a while on touching the pictures of buttons. This all happened over the course of a few months, and we did it every night. We used counters starting at ten seconds of touching the picture for a week, then twenty seconds for a week, then thirty seconds for a week. I am a very patient woman - and wine helps.

We eventually moved onto real buttons. We started over at adding and subtracting, then touching for ten seconds, twenty seconds, and thirty seconds for a week each. Next was holding one in his hand for the same intervals.

After that, we practised hugging me while I was wearing a buttoned shirt. For ten seconds, twenty seconds, and thirty seconds. Rewarding is important, sometimes I would give him a few bucks after a session, but not always. I rewarded every single step with words of encouragement. "Great Job Today! You are so brave! I'm so proud of you!"

The entire process took about a year. My son still won't wear buttons, but they no longer distract him at school when classmates or teachers are wearing them. He hugs me and other family members if we are wearing them, without hesitation.

If you or anyone you know has a child who suffers with this phobia, I would be glad to offer any advice or assistance to help. There are plenty of resources on-line as well.

Koumpounophobia is a phobia of buttons. Koumpounophobia affects people of all ages and is a lot more common then most people think. Sufferers of koumpounophobia may not like the sight, touch, or smell of buttons, and some even have trouble listening to the "b" word. They may or may not mind the buttons on jeans. 

Good luck out there,
JB Pin It

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