What are typical fears?

Birth – 6 months

Loud noises, loss of physical support, rapid position changes, rapidly approaching unfamiliar objects

7-12 months

Strangers, looming objects, sudden confrontation by unexpected objects and unfamiliar people

1-5 years

Strangers, storms, animals, the dark, separation from parents, objects, machines, loud noises, the toilet, monsters, ghosts, insects, bodily harm

6-12 years

Supernatural beings, bodily injury, disease (AIDS, cancer), burglars, staying alone, failure, criticism, punishment

12-18 years

Tests and exams in school, school performance, bodily injury, appearance, peer scrutiny, athletic performance, social embarrassment


Children express fears by crying, nervousness, freezing, clinging to an adult, or avoiding what they fear, and do not often recognize that their fears are excessive or irrational, and rarely report discomfort about them. If children overcome their developmental fears, they mature and gain self-confidence.

Adolescents usually understand that their fears aren’t logical. Their fears are usually focused on specific objects or situations, last a while and cause a series of physical manifestations, such as tachycardia, shortness of breath, dizziness, etc.


When should I be concerned about a child’s fears?

Although fears, in general, are common, they should not result in worries that are uncontrollable or prevent children and adolescents from participating in activities they would otherwise enjoy. For instance, it is typical for a child to be somewhat fearful of climbing to the top of a jungle gym, but it is concerning if the child avoids playgrounds altogether. Likewise, it is typical for a child to fear unfamiliar dogs, but it is concerning if your family is unable to visit a relative who owns a dog because of the child’s apprehension. It is also typical for adolescents to fear some social situations with peers they don't know yet; however, it is not typical for that to prevent them from participating in social activities.


What can I do to help a child with excessive fears?

It is important for caregivers to take a child’s fears seriously without underestimating them. If you are a caregiver and want to help your child with excessive fears, there are a few things you may attempt:

  • Talk to your child about their fears without sounding worried. Let your child know that you want to understand what they are afraid of.
  • Listen to what your child says. While some fears can be unrealistic for adults, they are real for children. So, before you bring any solutions to your child, try to listen and understand what is distressing them and acknowledge that you are taking their fear seriously.
  • Demonstrate problem solving. Without disregarding your child's point of view, you may try helping them to think about factual reasons why they may be worrying, and then help them to find realistic ways to worry less.
  • Let your child know you will take care of them so that they can feel secure. Young children in particular need to feel that caregivers and other adults provide protection and safety and can turn to them when they feel threatened.
  • Teach your child about how fear works. Older children can be taught to identify and better understand their fears by understanding this emotional response. When people face or think of something they are scared of an alarm sets off inside our brains. This alarm tells their whole body to prepare to face or run away from the threat they are perceiving. When that happens, they tend to feel their heartbeat increasing, their breath shortening, and their muscles tensioning. A lot of times, this alarm sets off by mistake and there is no actual threat present. A lot of times fears are excessive and unrealistic, so confronting fearful situations allows distress to decrease over time.
  • Whenever possible and with support, expose your child to the thing that they are afraid of. When you know what your child is afraid of, propose to be with your child while facing their fears. For instance, if a child is worried about attending a new school, you may arrange to bring them there before the first day to explore or arrange for them to know the place and meet some classmates ahead of time.
  • Set reasonable goals to deal with something fearful. For example, if your child usually needs you to sit in the room until they fall asleep, you could agree that by the end of the week they’ll try turning off the light and falling asleep on their own.
  • Remember that change takes time and fear is a very powerful feeling. It is important to work to stay consistent and appreciative of your child's hard work.
  • Try not to allow your child to avoid the things that scare them. Helping children avoid their fears probably makes the day run a bit more smoothly, but this accommodation serves to reinforce anxiety. Avoidance does not help your child to learn how to face fears or tolerate discomfort. Rather, teaching your child how to manage fears without your intervention can help to build the confidence and independence to feel more in control, and less afraid, both now and as growing up.

If you have already tried some or most of these suggestions and the problems your child is facing persist, it may be time to seek out professional support.

Fears that are too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, discrepant from those experienced by children the same age, and that negatively interfere with your child and family’s daily life may indicate the possibility of Specific Phobia.


What kind of professional support can I seek out for help?

It is not unusual that some caregivers feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty if their child is struggling with excessive fears. But, if you are concerned about your child's fears, support and guidance are available now. Communicate concerns during and between visits with your child's doctor.

Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful. These professionals also work with caregivers so that they know how to support their children outside of therapy sessions.

The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).


Where to find more information

Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Specific Phobia can be found at [clinical shortguide at the program website].

If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.

You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.



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