About Children and Fears

When the children ages change the type of fears change. In some cases, some of fears remain long time or they come back in adulthood. According to Marks (1987) between ages of 2-6 children may have fears of monsters, ghosts, animals, laud noises, being left alone, loss of a parent. Between 8-10 years old children may fear that being late of school, social or peer rejection, criticism, new situations, divorce, and war. Between age of 11-16, children may have fears of school performance, dogs, spiders, being alone, making mistakes, injections, and public speaking.

Here, we may assume that younger children usually fear objects or lose of objects. When they grow up and have cognitive improvement, their fear changes to adult-like fears like fear of peer rejection, school performance, school phobia, criticism, and divorce.

Barlow and Durand (2012), point out that phobia can develop by direct experience, modeling, and information transmission.

Fears and phobias are strongly related to “controlling”. What I mean by ‘controlling’? Losing the control or possibility to lose control in danger or life threatening situation triggers fear and excessive worry mechanism. If the child thinks he or she cannot control the consequences and thinks he or she feels helpless in the situation then fear or phobia probably effects the child in long term or he or she will experience same fear or phobia in adulthood. Major concepts in the mind of children can be being defenseless or unprotected. For children, protection and defense related power related to their parents. Another way of saying, children think their parents are their guard. Additionally they tend to model their parents in every opportunity. Imagine a kid sitting in McDonald’s and all of sudden he sees a spider on the table. He will probably wants his mother see the spider with pointing out or saying “Look”. At that moment, if his mother fears and screams, probably the kid will do to same thing. If the mother stays calm and talk about spiders and give information about spiders and do nothing, probably the kid will learn spiders are not dangerous. He may even love the spiders later in his life.  Separation anxiety is a very important factor to having a fear or phobia. Separation anxiety (Barlow and Duran, 2012) is an unrealistic and persistent worry that children thinks they will separate from their parents. In my opinion, separation anxiety is also related to third objects. As in the example of spider in McDonald’s, let us say the kid sitting alone when his mother in the restroom or smoking cigarette in parking lot. If the spider is big enough and moves toward the kid, without having a parent around, the kid is probably will scare and run away from the table. What I am trying to say is that children have emotions and ideas about their parents will protect them from dangers. Without having them around they may think their defenseless and unprotected. Separation anxiety is not only about parent and children relationship but also it is related to third objects when the parents are not around.

children-fear-rational-psychology-turkey-istanbulIn children, if fears and phobias decrease in prevalence over time, we may have to look for parents and children relationship. Some parents ignore their children needs. For instance, if a kid thinks his father is too busy to listen his spider story, he may not want to ask help. Some parents may ignore the importance of consequences like saying “it is just a spider, nothing happens, do not worry”. Yes, it is true for an adult that a spider is just a spider, however, for a kid; it may be a big deal. Therefore, it is important for parents to response their children’s concerns and worries seriously and carefully. When children believe their parents provide them security, defense, protection and they think their parents concern about their weaknesses and worries then they likely will not develop fears and phobias. Later, they will keep in their mind that they are protected and safe, this may give them self-confidence. It means that they will model their parents and they will have a high self-esteem. Children in early years learn from their parents by watching and modeling them.

Embarrassment is also important figure in fears and phobias. Parents who do not embarrass their kid for their fears and phobias, they will be the best parent. Understanding children emotions and as in Carl Rogers’ concept “unconditional positive regard” are the key concepts in children fears and phobias. Sometime I see some parents treat their kids as if they are an adult. They mad at them, they yell them, they call them ‘stupid’ and they want their kid act like adult. I saw a mother in motor vehicle that she was yelling to her 7 years old boy “Grow anymore! You are a big man, come on!”. Imagine this kid have a spider fear and does not have anyone to talk about this. Such kids may develop a habit to not to tell their fears and phobias to anyone. Because these things are embarrassing for them and they will keep this fears and phobias as secrets. Depends on parent’s level of interest and level of care toward their kid’s problems the child’s fears and phobias increase or decrease in future.

The same principles apply for other fears like fear of falling, fear of the dark, anxiety over death, accident, injury.

The other factors may be biological predispositions and cultural myths. My father had a acrophobia, so do I. How I became a acrophobic even if I didn’t have any incident. It probably inherited. Additionally, I might be conditioned to this phobia because I knew my father had one. Sometime my father was telling us how he scares to flight and going to roof of the house. Information transmission is also played role. Later in my life, consciously or unconsciously, I probably picked models from other incidents such as from movies, news or other acrophobic people.

Therefore, in fears and phobias, cognitive functioning changes over the time depending on biological predispositions, modeling, information transmission, separation anxiety, and parents attitudes and behaviors toward their kids.

Author: Murat Artiran, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist


– Barlow, H. D., Durand, V. M. (2012). Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

– Marks, I. M., (1987). Fears, Phobias and Rituals by Professor. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

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