Childhood Fears and, Their Relation to Mental Health Disorders

childhood fear

There are many risks in a child’s world, both imagined and real, that many adults forget they have ever faced. Research indicates that anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent childhood psychiatric conditions, despite the fact that the majority of childhood fears are typical, transient, and eventually outgrown. Treatment for abnormal childhood anxiety is important not only for its own sake, but also because it may help prevent adult anxiety disorders, as it turns out in a large percentage of cases that the symptoms of an adult anxiety disorder first appeared in childhood.

Types of disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder:

Today, generalised anxiety in children is understood to be the same disorder of uncontrolled worry that affects adults, formerly known as the overanxious disorder of childhood.

Children suffering from this disorder

  • Exhibit excessive self-consciousness, self-doubt, and worry about living up to the expectations of others. They require adult validation and assurance all the time.
  • Concerns could include grades in school, storms, break-ins, getting hurt playing or running out of gas. They frequently report having headaches, stomachaches, and other physical complaints in addition to feeling tense and restless.

Also Read: The Hidden Scars of Witnessing Domestic Violence in Childhood

Social anxiety disorder (social phobia):

Children suffering from this disorder are extremely shy and fear being around new people or things.

  • At an age when it is no longer normal, they cling to their parents and may be afraid of adult strangers as well as other kids.
  • They might be terrified of attending birthday parties, striking up conversations, or reading aloud.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder:

The hallmark of this disorder is intrusive, unwanted thoughts known as obsessions, which lead to growing tension that is occasionally released by compulsive, repetitive behaviours.

  • Because the obsessions frequently revolve around fear, like getting sick or losing a parent, it is typically categorized as an anxiety disorder.
  • The symptoms of this disorder overlap with generalized anxiety disorder because adults with it understand that obsessions are illogical, whereas young children may not.
Panic disorder:

A panic attack is characterised by an intense physical sensation that includes sweating, palpitations in the chest, trembling, breathlessness, dizziness, and nausea in addition to a sudden feeling of overwhelming dread or impending doom.

  • Frequent panic attacks and the fear associated with them can cause persistent anxiety about potential attacks and their consequences, such as losing control, “going up the wall” or passing away.
  • A common outcome of this anticipatory anxiety is agoraphobia, which is the avoidance of an increasing number of locations and circumstances that could trigger a panic attack.

Also Read: Childhood Depression: The Cryptic Essence

Separation anxiety:

When a child’s fear of leaving their home or their parents persists in their later years, it is referred to as separation anxiety disorder. This fear is common in the very young. It can arise out of the blue, during stressful situations like a death in the family, or as a result of panic attacks or social anxiety.

  • Youngsters suffering from separation anxiety could be terrified to sleep over at a friend’s house, attend a birthday celebration, or even go to a camp.
  • They might try to get into their parent’s bed at night and follow them around the house. They experience physical symptoms when they are in danger of being separated.
  • Older kids often manifest this concern by experiencing specific nightmares about accidents, illness, or criminal activity, worrying about potential harm to themselves or their parents while the parents are away.
  • Particular nightmares are often triggered in older kids by their concerns about getting hurt or experiencing mishaps, sickness, or criminal activity while their parents are away.
Simple phobia:

In young children, fear of particular objects or situations is common, normal, and typically transient.

  • Up until the age of ten, these anxieties come and go quickly. If they are excessively severe, irrational, or arise at an inappropriate age, then treatment is only necessary.
  • Thunderstorms, water, lifts, choking, blood, big animals, and insects are a few common objects of phobias.
Post-traumatic stress disorder:

Experiencing or witnessing a terrifying or horrifying incident outside the realm of common experience, such as a serious accident, a natural disaster, or a sexual or physical assault, triggers this disorder. One frequent reason is severe child abuse.

There are three kinds of symptoms.

  • Re-experiencing includes anxiety when anything reminds them of the traumatic event, intrusive memories, nightmares, and a propensity to act out the incident in compulsive play.
  • The need to desperately avoid thoughts, feelings, people, and places connected to the trauma is the cause of the second set of symptoms. This avoidance may eventually result in numb detachment from one’s own feelings and estrangement from others, as it begins to exclude an increasing amount of life.
  • Elevated arousal, which includes irritability, angry outbursts, jumpiness, insomnia, and poor concentration, is the third set of symptoms.
Genetic and environmental roots

Studies on twins and adoption indicate that heredity plays a role in anxiety disorders, which run in families.

  • Some babies are “behaviorally inhibited”; their hearts start to race as early as four months old, and they cry and withdraw when they see strangers. This temperamental shyness is linked to the later development of anxiety disorders.
  • The early environment might also influence anxiety disorders. Child abuse represents the most apparent cause of post-traumatic stress disorder, yet even less severe stress can exert a significant impact.
  • For both physical and emotional sustenance, children need to be near their mothers or other carers; their fear of being alone stems from this emotional attachment that is necessary for survival.
  • Children with insecure attachments face an increased risk of developing anxiety disorders, and parents experiencing depression or anxiety can contribute to their children’s sense of insecurity.

Also Read: Importance of Motivation During the Childhood


  • The most effective proven treatment for anxiety disorders in kids and teenagers is cognitive behavioural therapy. Studies have demonstrated its efficacy for up to four years.
  • Gradual exposure to frightful things or circumstances combined with incentives for conquering fears is a popular technique.
  • One way to help young children with phobias is to put them close to the object they fear and give them permission to do something fun and comforting, like play with a favourite toy or eat.
  • Older people, kids can learn how to talk themselves out of negative and frightful thoughts, or they can learn techniques like muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
  • Asking the nervous child to imitate the therapist or another youngster who appears fearless is another tactic.
  • Cognitive and behavioural approaches are frequently most effective when used in groups, which give timid and anxious kids the chance to make friends, gain confidence, and try out new behaviours.
  • Young children may benefit from play therapy that makes use of toys, puppets, and drawings to identify and communicate their fears.
  • Older kids may benefit from psychodynamic therapy by comprehending some of the causes of their anxiety.
  • Any kind of treatment for anxiety in children should be accompanied by supportive counselling, which consists of reassuring words and sympathetic listening.

How can parents help?

  • They can receive education on how to deal with an anxious child.
  • By offering incentives for conquering anxieties and serving as role models for problem-solving and self-assurance, they can support cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Occasionally, a child’s anxiety stems from a family issue, or the child perceives themselves as the source of all family problems. Joint family therapy, in which all members take part, might be a good option in that situation.

Little long-term research exists on managing these disorders, and our understanding of the most effective approaches for children versus adults remains limited. Family and marital issues, have a significant but hard-to-measure impact. Research lacks strong support for the advantages and disadvantages of medications. Thankfully, children can overcome their fears or grow out of them with effective treatment. It’s not always the case that shy kids grow up to have anxiety disorders. Over time, even the effects of traumatic stress might diminish. For mental health professionals, optimism is a reasonable mindset in this particular field.

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