Childhood fears

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Almost all children are scared of darkness and the sound of thunder. Children also fear the unfamiliar and the unknown. As they are still not sure what exists and what doesn’t, monsters are still in their realm of possibility. Their imaginations can create incredible things. It is quite common for children to experience nightmares between 3 and 6 years of age. Though the exact reasons are unknown, it is believed that they are related to the normal anxiety and stress that are a part of growing children's lives.


Why should I be aware of this?

There is no simple answer to why children develop fear. They can stem from genetics, socialization or behavioral conditioning. Recent studies have suggested that many people are born with unusually responsive or sensitive temperaments that put them at risk for anxieties and fears. Evidence has also been found that anxiety runs in families. It is unknown whether this is because of parental conditioning or genetic inheritance.

How does this affect me?

We should realize that all children have fears and not get distressed or overly worried. Our worries inadvertently can heighten those fears and worsen the situation. Only when children don’t get over certain fears which are 'age-appropriate', active intervention should be contemplated.

Instead of acknowledging children’s fears as a natural part of growing up, some parents feel that there is something wrong with a fearful child.

All about childhood fears

Very often children develop fears out of experiences which they cannot understand and which seems to threaten them. Fear of darkness stems from anxiety over being separated from one or both parents.

They are scared of the night because that’s the only time they are entirely alone. Without the presence of a parental figure, a child may not feel entirely safe or secure. Young children also fear the unfamiliar and the unknown.

Older children learn to separate the real from the fictional. They begin to develop more socially-oriented or abstract fears. Older children become concerned about peer opinion, popularity, bullying or failing classes.

Though the exact cause of fear vary from child to child, there are some broad causes:

  • Others’ reactions: - such as another child's fear of snakes or an adult's horror at seeing a large spider can make a child fear the same things.
  • Traumatic or frightening event – A child can be left with fearful memories if he witnesses a bad traffic accident or sees a cat run over by a car. Such scenes can leave lasting, fearful memories.
  • Low self-esteem - Fears can develop from low self-esteem and lack of confidence. It is important to encourage and praise your child's efforts and to develop his/her self-confidence.
  • Family tensions and hostility – If there are regular fights in the family, children will absorb the tension, and fear and uncertainty will become part of their lives.

Some normal fears

  • Infants/ toddlers(ages 0-2 years) loud noises, strangers, separation from parents, large objects
  • Preschoolers (3-6 years) imaginary figures (e.g., ghosts, monsters, supernatural beings, the dark, noises, sleeping alone, thunder, floods)
  • School-aged children/ adolescents (7-16 years) more realistic fears (e.g., physical injury, health, school performance, death, thunderstorms, earthquakes, floods.

Common children's fears

In a survey a number of years ago, the fifteen most common human fears were identified, some of which relate to children's fears. They are: [1]

  • Darkness
  • Being alone
  • Angry people
  • Rejection
  • Disapproval
  • Making mistakes
  • Dogs
  • Public speaking
  • Dentists
  • Hospitals
  • Spiders
  • Taking tests
  • Deformed people
  • Police

What can I do?

  • Always remember that a certain amount of fear is healthy as it keeps your child away from harm's way.
  • The process of overcoming fear is bringing about a shift from a state of fear to the state of oneness. Begin by knowing your child's fears and accept them as natural and just another emotion.
  • Address the child’s fears by analyzing which people, places, activities, situations, character traits you child is afraid of.


  • Anxiety is the number one mental health problem facing young people today.
  • No child is immune from the effects of stress in today's media-saturated society. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable
  • Fear is a protective mechanism and a normal part of development.
  • Not all children who develop an anxiety disorder have a traumatic event in their history - in fact most do not.

Additional information

  • Helping Your Child Deal with Fears & Phobias


  • Understanding Children's Fears
  • How to Handle Childhood Fears
  • Children and Their Fears
  • Understanding Children's Fears and Worries


  1. Child Development Institute