Children’s Fear: Causes and Treatment

Fear is a basic human emotion that we all feel. Fear in children is a challenging and intense emotion, but it is a natural one. Recently, children have been experiencing this emotion more than ever before. In this article, I will explain the signs of a child's fear, its causes, and the best way to handle it.

Mona Youssri Psychologist
Dr. Mona Youssri
Published on:Oct 27th 2023 |Updated on:Apr 10th 2024
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What is fear?

Fear is an innate and natural feeling in humans, helping them to survive and protect themselves from danger. It arises when facing a threat or something unknown. This produces a reaction known as "Fight or Flight," either confronting or fleeing the threat. As a result, fear increases adrenaline production, preparing the body's muscles and organs to confront or escape the danger. A racing heartbeat is a sign of fear. Adults can learn how to face their fears and deal with them appropriately.

Fear in Children

A child's fear is known as "Neo Phobia," which is fear of something new or unfamiliar. Most things, people, and experiences are new and can be initially scary for children. Therefore, children fear strangers, like teachers in daycare, their parent's friends, or people outside their homes. Because children find safety with their families, they feel scared when they are away from them. Thus, it is essential to address the fear and separation anxiety gradually. When sending their child to daycare for the first time, I always advise mothers to do it slowly, allowing the child to get used to being away from their family.

How to Deal with Children's Fear?

The initial reaction everyone has when a child is afraid is to tell them not to be scared, thinking that this reassures them. But since the brain doesn't recognize negation, the message the child receives is "be afraid!"

To handle fear in children, we should introduce them to the unfamiliar things they are afraid of. If they are so scared of a person, we should tell them that this person is a daycare teacher, a friend of the mother, or a friend of the father. If they're scared of a dog or a cat, gradually introduce the child to these animals so they understand and are no longer afraid of them. Recognizing and validating a child's feelings, talking to them positively, and encouraging them to feel positive emotions like bravery is also crucial.

Teaching Emotions to Children

Introducing human emotions to children and explaining them early is recommended to encourage them to express and handle their feelings. I usually advise introducing emotions like sadness, happiness, anger, and fear through drawings, placing them where the child can see, and explaining them from an early age, around one and a half to two years, when children start using words.

What are the signs of fear in children?

  • Verbally expressing the feeling of fear.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Headaches.
  • Sudden changes in behavior.
  • Excessive crying.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Changes in eating habits, either refusing to eat or overeating.

What are the long-term effects of a child's fear?

There's a significant number of adults who consult mental health specialists for anxiety disorders. This has increased in recent years after the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation of this disorder is unjustified fear, often resulting from childhood fears that weren't adequately addressed. Therefore, it's crucial to treat anxiety in children while young to prevent childhood traumas from having long-lasting effects on their lives.

Treatment of fear in children

Many children are currently experiencing intense fear due to events in Palestine. I recommend the following advice for parents during this time:

  • Avoid exposing children to frightening and violent scenes. Instead, talk to them about events by presenting the facts without inflaming emotions.
  • Even if parents feel sad, they shouldn't excessively cry in front of their children. Sharing emotions with children is essential for personal development, but surrendering to sorrow will demoralize them. They derive hope and security from their parents, especially from their mother.
  • Do not disrupt the child's routine because of current events; continue as usual.
  • Speak positively and use historical context when discussing events.
  • Encourage children to act positively through prayer, volunteering, and donating to victims.
  • Talk to your child about their feelings, acknowledge them, and guide them towards positivity and hope.
  • If a child's fear is intense, consider consulting child mental health specialists and resorting to play or cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • In situations where expert assistance isn't available, such as in war zones or disaster areas, it's advisable to encourage the child to talk about their feelings through play. This can help alleviate the burden of fear and trauma. Play can be used to introduce hope and assure the child that this tragedy will eventually have a cheerful ending.

Check out Motherhood in Difficult Times: Parenting with Hope



Mona Youssri Psychologist
Dr. Mona YoussriClinical Psychologist

Dr. Mona is a licensed psychologist and family counselor at the Saudi German Hospital in Dubai. She is an APA (American Psychological Association), MEPA member (Middle East Psychological Association), and ACAMH member. She is also a lifetime member of the International Honor Society in Psychology (PSI CHI). Dr. Mona is also a certified trainer and corporate Coach with a Master of Arts in Psychology from the American University Cairo. She diagnoses and treats children with behavioral problems using play therapy and behavioral management techniques.

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