Fear and Anxiety – An Age by Age Guide to Common Fears, The Reasons for Each and How to Manage Them

Fear and Anxiety - An Age by Age Guide to Fears, Why They Happen, and What to Do

It is very normal for all children to have specific fears at some point in their childhood. Even the bravest of hearts beat right up against their edges sometimes. As your child learns more about the world, some things will become more confusing and frightening. This is nothing at all to worry about and these fears will usually disappear on their own as your child grows and expands his or her experience.

In the meantime, as the parent who is often called on to ease the worried mind of your small person, it can be helpful to know that most children at certain ages will become scared of particular things.  

When is fear or anxiety a problem?

Fear is a very normal part of growing up. It is a sign that your child is starting to understand the world and the way it works, and that they are trying to make sense of what it means for them. With time and experience, they will come to figure out for themselves that the things that seem scary aren’t so scary after all. Over time, they will also realise that they have an incredible capacity to cope.

Fears can certainly cause a lot of cause distress, not only for the kids and teens who have the fears, but also for the people who care about them. It’s important to remember that fears at certain ages are completely appropriate and in no way are a sign of abnormality. 

The truth is, there really is no such thing as an abnormal fear, but some kids and teens will have fears that are more intense and intrusive. Even fears that seem quite odd at first, will make sense in some way.

For example, a child who does not want to be separated from you is likely to be thinking the same thing we all think about the people we love – what if something happens to you while you are away from them? A child who is scared of balloons would have probably experienced that jarring, terrifying panic that comes with the boom. It’s an awful feeling. Although we know it passes within moments, for a child who is still getting used to the world, the threat of that panicked feeling can be overwhelming. It can be enough to teach them that balloons pretend to be fun, but they’ll turn fierce without warning and the first thing you’ll know is the boom. #not-fun-you-guys

Worry becomes a problem when it causes a problem. If it’s a problem for your child or teen, then it’s a problem. When the fear seems to direct most of your child’s behaviour or the day to day life of the family (sleep, family outings, routines, going to school, friendships), it’s likely the fear has become too pushy and it’s time to pull things back.

So how do we get rid of the fear?

If you have a child with anxiety, they may be more prone to developing certain fears. Again, this is nothing at all to worry about. Kids with anxiety will mostly likely always be sensitive kids with beautiful deep minds and big open hearts. They will think and feel deeply, which is a wonderful thing to have. We don’t want to change that. What we want to do is stop their deep-thinking minds and their open hearts from holding them back.

The idea then, isn’t to get rid of all fears completely, but to make them manageable. As the adult in their lives who loves them, you are in a perfect position to help them to gently interact with whatever they are scared of. Eventually, this familiarity will take the steam out of the fear.

First of all though, it can be helpful for you and your child to know that other children just like them are going through exactly the same experience. 

An age by age guide to fears.

When you are looking through the list, look around your child’s age group as well. Humans are beautifully complicated beings and human nature doesn’t tend to stay inside the lines. The list is a guide to common fears during childhood and the general age at which they might appear. There are no rules though and they might appear earlier or later. 

Infants and toddlers (0-2)

•   Loud noises and anything that might overload their senses (storms, the vacuum cleaner, blender, hair dryer, balloons bursting, sirens, the bath draining, abrupt movement, being put down too quickly).

Here’s why: When babies are born, their nervous systems are the baby versions. When there is too much information coming to them through their senses, such as a loud noise or being put down too quickly (which might make them feel like they’re falling), it’s too much for their nervous systems to handle. 

•   Being separated from you.

Here’s why: At around 8-10 months, babies become aware that when things disappear, those things still exist. Before this, it tends to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. From around 8 months, they will start to realise that when you leave the room you are somewhere, just not somewhere they can see you. This may be the start of them being scared of being separated from you, as they grapple with where you’ve gone, and when you’ll be coming back. During their second year, they begin to understand how much they rely on your love and protection. For a while, their worlds will start and end with you. (Though for you in relation to your little heart stealers, it will probably always be that way.) 

•   Strangers.

Here’s why: An awareness of strangers will peak at around 6-8 months. This is a good thing because it means they are starting to recognise the difference between familiar and unfamiliar faces. By this age, babies will have formed a close connection with the ones who take care of them. They will know the difference between you and the rest of the world, not only because of what you look like or the sound of your voice, but also because of what you mean for them. For many babies, strangers and ‘sort of strangers’ – actually anyone outside of their chosen few – will need to move gently. Babies will be sensitive to their personal space and will be easily scared by anyone who quickly and unexpectedly enters that space. 

(At this age, separation anxiety and stranger anxiety can be a tough duo for any parent. Your little person doesn’t like being away from you, but they might not be too fond of the person you leave them in the care of. It can be tough, but hang in there – it will end.)

•   People in costume.

Soooo lemme get this right – you’re putting me in front of a big man in a red suit with a white beard the likes I’ve never seen before and you want me to sit on his lap? Nope. Not today. Probably not until I’m like, five. Or 72. Or when I figure that out he brings stuff. Then I might get close enough to tell him want I want, or maybe I’ll throw him a letter or something. And I don’t get the point of the big people-sized rabbits that carry baskets of shiny wrapped thin- … actually, wait. No to the rabbit people. Yes to the shiny wrapped things. Just put them where I can reach them and leave. K?

•   Anything outside of their control (exuberant dogs, a flushing toilet, thunder).

Here’s why: At around age one when your child starts to take little steps, he or she will start to experiment with their independence. This might look like moving small distances away from you or wanting to play with their food or feed themselves. With this, comes an increasing need for them to have a sense of predictability and control over their environment. Anything that feels outside of their control might seem frightening.

Preschoolers (3-4)

•  Lightning, loud noises (the bath draining, thunder, balloons bursting, fireworks, loud barking dogs, trains) and anything else that doesn’t make sense.

Here’s why: They will become very aware of their lack of control in the world. Because of this, they might show a fear of things that seem perfectly innocent to the rest of us to make no sense at all to a grown up. It can be a scary world when you’re new to the job of finding your way in it!

•  Anything that isn’t as it usually is – (an uncle who shows up with a new beard, a grandparent with different coloured hair).

Here’s why: It’s hard enough when strangers are strangers, but when favourite people look like strangers … whoa! Familiarity is the stuff of happy days. There’s so much in the world to get used to when you’re fairly new to the job. When things change unexpectedly, it can feel like being back at the beginning and having to get comfortable all over again. Massive ‘ugh’.

•  Scary noises, Halloween costumes, ghosts, witches, monsters living under the bed, burglars breaking into the house, burglars making friends with the monsters living under the bed and ganging up  – and anything else that feeds their hardworking imaginations.

Here’s why: Their imaginative play is flourishing and their imaginations are wonderfully rich. At this age, they will have trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

•  The things they see on television or read in books might fuel their already vivid imaginations and come out as scary dreams. This might bring on a fear of the dark or being alone at night.

Here’s why: At this age, kids can struggle a little to separate fantasy from reality. If they hear a story about a pirate for example, as soon as the lights are out they might imagine Captain-Russell-With-The-Boat-Who-Steals-Toys-From-Sleeping-Kids is waiting under their bed, ready to cause trouble. A calming bedtime routine and happy, pirate-free stories can help to bring on happy zzz’s. 

•  People in costume (Santa, the Easter Bunny, story or cartoon characters.)

Here’s why: At this age, grown-ups in dress-ups are no more adorable than they were in the baby days. If Santa doesn’t know what they want, he might just have to work harder, because there’s no way they’ll be telling him in person. Lucky he’s magic and has people on the ground who know the important stuff.

•  Being separated from you or being away from the people or pets they love.

Here’s why:  They might worry that something will happen to themselves, the people they love or a pet, particularly if something happens to someone close to them.

•  The dark and being on their own at night, particularly if they hear a strange sound or see lights or shadows on the wall.

Here’s why: The dark can feel scary at this age. With their imaginations running wild and free, they might put their own explanations to strange night-time noises or shadows on the wall. They might convince themselves that the sound of a moth hitting a lightbulb is definitely a robber, because no other explanation makes any sense.

5-6 years.

•  Being separated from you.

Here’s why: At this age, children might show a strong reaction to being separated from one or either or their parents. This comes as they start to see outside of themselves and realise that bad things can happen to the people they love. They might want to avoid school or sleepovers so they can be with you and know that you’re safe and sound.

•  Ghosts, monsters and witches – and anything else that bumps around in their wonderfully vivid imaginations. This can also show itself as a fear of the dark – because we all know the spooky things love it there.

Here’s why: Their imaginations are still hard at work so anything they can bring to life in there will be fuel for fear.

•  The dark, noises, being on their own at night, getting lost, getting sick. 

Here’s why: As well as being scared of things that take up precious real estate in their heads, they might also become scared of things could actually happen. These are the sorts of things that might unsettle all of us from time to time.

•  Nightmares and bad dreams.

Here’s why:  Because of the blurred line between fantasy and reality, bad dreams can feel very real and are likely to peak at this age.

•  Fire, wind, thunder, lightning – anything that seems to come from nowhere. 

Here’s why: They are still trying to grasp cause and effect and their minds are curious and powerful. They might scare themselves trying to explain where scary things come from. Lightning might mean the sky is about to catch fire. Thunder – who knows – but anything that loud surely doesn’t come in ‘cute’ or ‘chocolate coated’.

7-11 years. 

•  Monsters, witches, ghosts, shadows on the wall at night.

Here’s why: Though their thinking is more concrete, children at this age will still have a very vivid imagination. 

•  Being at home alone.

Here’s why: They’re still learning to trust the world and their capacity to cope with small periods of time on their own, without you. Staying at home alone might be exciting, scary or both – then there’s that imagination of theirs that might still ambush them at times. 

•  Something happening to themselves or the people (or pets) they care about.

Here’s why: They start to understand that death affects everyone at some point and that it’s permanent. They might start to worry about something happening to themselves or the people (or pets) they care about.

•  Being rejected, not liked, or judged badly by their peers (buckle up – this one might stay a while).

Here’s why: This can show up at any age but it might ramp up or towards the end of these years. This is because they will start to have an increased dependence on their friendships as they gear up for adolescence. 

Adolescents (12+)

•  What their peers are thinking of them.

One of the primary developmental goals of adolescence is figuring out how they are and where they fit into the world. As they do this, they will start to worry about what other people think. They also have the job of moving towards independence from you. What their friends think will take on a new importance as they start to make the move away from their family tribe and towards their peer one. They will always love you (though it might not feel that way if you’re weathering one of the storms that comes with adolescence!), but their dependency on you will shift. This is healthy and important and the way it’s meant to be. It’s all part of them growing from small, dependant humans into capable, independent, thriving bigger ones. 

•  Themselves or someone they care about getting hurt, becoming sick or dying. 

Here’s why: They will be very aware that accidents happen, people get sick, and sometimes you just can’t see it coming. This fear will probably have more muscle if they hear of someone around them becoming sick or getting hurt. Realising that people can break isn’t all bad for them. During adolescence, they will be particularly prone to taking silly risks. It’s all part of them extending into the world and learning what they are capable of. What’s important is keeping their fear at a level that it doesn’t get in the way of them being brave, learning new things, and finding safe ways to discover what they’re capable of.

•  how they’re doing at school, exams, failure, getting into college or university, not being able to ‘make it’ after school.

Here’s why: They’re thinking about life after high school . They want to do well, live a good life, and chase the dreams they’ve been dreaming.

•  Strangers getting into their room at night, war, terrorism, being kidnapped, natural disasters – and any other frightening thing they might hear about in the news.

Here’s why: They realise that bad things happen sometimes but don’t understand the likelihood and the rarity of such events. With their increasing time on social media, they will tend to hear about bad news more often and come to believe that the risk of it happening to them is greater than it actually is. 

•  Talking to you about important personal issues.

Here’s why: It’s their job during adolescence to learn how to need you less. Adolescence isn’t always gentle with it’s developmental tasks and needing you less might be felt as ‘loving you less’. It’s not this – they love you as much as ever and however they might act towards you, what you think really does matter to them. They want you to be proud of them and they don’t want to disappoint you. 

•  Fear of missing out. 

Here’s why: Being connected to their friends and being a part of what’s going on in their friendship group can feel like a matter of life or death. It sounds dramatic and for them, it is – but there is a good reason for this. For all mammals throughout history (think cave-people) and in nature, exclusion from the tribe means has meant almost certain death. For our adolescents, that’s how it feels when they feel on their outside of their tribe – it feels like death. In time they will learn that they will still feel connected to their friends even if they aren’t a part of everything that happens.

What to do:

For babies.

•  Play peek-a-boo.

It will start to teach your baby that even when your face disappears, you’re still there. (That, and because the way their face lights up when they see you is gorgeous.)

•   Teach them that separation is temporary, but go gently.

Practice leaving the room for short periods at a time so your baby can learn that you will always come back. Start with a minute, then, when your baby is ready, move up from there. When you are ready to leave them in the care of others, start with people they are familiar with for short periods, then work gently up from there.

•  Always say goodbye.

Saying goodbye is the most important thing to do when you leave them. Making a quick dash while they are distracted might make things easier in the short term, but it will risk your baby being shocked to find you’re not there. This can add to their fears that you’ll disappear unexpectedly and it also runs the risk of chipping away at their trust. Have your ‘kiss and fly’ routine ready – tell them you’re leaving, a quick kiss, and let them know you’ll be back soon – or whatever works for you. It will be worth it in the long run. 

For kids and adolescents.

•   Give them plenty of information.

Even though kids at this age are aware of their environment, they don’t understand all of the things that go on in it. Thunder feels really scary – it’s unpredictable, it’s loud, and for a curious, powerful, inquisitive mind, it can surely feel as though the sky is breaking. For the child who is still getting used the world, it’s not so obvious that they won’t be sucked down the plughole when the bath drains. Point out what they can’t see. (‘Water fits down the plughole, but my arm won’t fit, neither will this boat, or the vacuum cleaner, or the car, or a hippo, or my foot, or my elbow. An ant would fit – wait – maybe that’s why ants don’t have baths! If I’m away from the plughole, nothing happens to me. See?’) 

Give them all the information they need to put their scary things in context, where they belong. There’s no such thing as too much talk and at this age, they’re so hungry to learn. Make the most of it. By the time they reach adolescence, you will no longer be as smart (or sought after) as you think you should be. Celebrate their curiosity and feed it. They love hearing the detail of everything you know. You’re their hero and if anyone knows how to make sense of things, it’s you.

•   Meet them where they are. 

Some kids will love new things and will want to try everything and speak to everyone. Others will take longer to warm up. Unless it is a child who races towards the unknown like it’s the only thing to do, introduce new things and people gradually. There’s so much to learn and little people do a brilliant job of taking it all in when they’re given the space to do it at their own pace.

•  Play

Play is such an important part of learning about the world. So much of their play is actually a rehearsal for real life. If your child is scared of something, introduce it during play. That way, they can be in charge of whatever it is they are worried about, whether it’s playing with the (unplugged) vacuum cleaner, being the monster, or having a ‘monster’ as a special pet. Give them some ideas, but let them take it from there. Through play they can practice their responses, different scenarios, and get comfortable with scary things from a safe distance.

•  Be careful not to overreact.

It’s important to validate what your child is feeling, but it’s also important not to overreact to the fear. If you scoop your child up every time they become scared, you might be inadvertently reinforcing the fear. Rather than over-comforting, get down on their level and talk to them about it after naming what you see – ‘That balloon scared you when it popped didn’t it.’

•  Don’t avoid.

It’s completely understandable that a loving parent would want to protect their child from the bad feelings that come with fear. Sometimes it feels as though the only way to do this is to support their avoidance of whatever it is that’s frightening. Here’s the rub. It makes things better in the short term, but in the long term will keep the fear well fed. The more something is avoided, the more that avoidance is confirmed as the only way to feel safe. It also takes away the opportunity for your child to learn that they are resilient, strong and resourceful enough to cope. It’s important for kids to learn that a little bit of discomfort is okay and that it’s a sign that they are about to do something really brave – and that they have what they need inside them to cope. 

•  Let them explore their fear safely. 

Introduce the fear gently, in a way that your child can feel as though they have control. If your child is terrified of the vacuum cleaner, explore it with them while it isn’t plugged in. If your child is terrified of dogs, introduce them to dogs in books, in a movie, through a pet shop window, behind a fence. Do this gradually and in small steps, starting with the least scariest (maybe a picture of a dog) and working up in gently to the fear that upsets them most (patting a real dog). The more you can help them to feel empowered and in control of their world, the braver they will feel. (For a more detailed step by step description of how to do this, see here.)

•  Don’t give excessive reassurance.

If your child has had a genuine fright or is a little broken-hearted, there is nothing like a cuddle and reassurance to steady the ground beneath them. When that reassurance is excessive though, it can confirm that there is something to be worried about. It can also take away their opportunity to grow their own confidence and ability to self-soothe. Finding the scaffold between an anxious thought and a brave response is something every child is capable of. Understandably, it can be wildly difficult to hold off on reassurance, particularly when all you want to do is scoop them up and protect them from the world that they are feeling the hard edges of. What is healthier, is setting them on a course that will empower them to find within themselves the strength and resources to manage their own fear or anxiety. Reassure them, then remind them that they know the answer, or lovingly direct them to find their own answers or evidence to back up their concerns. Let them know you love the way they are starting to think about these things for themselves.

•  Understand the physical signs of fear.

Fear might show itself in physical ways. Children might have shaky hands, they might suck their thumbs or their fingers and they might develop nervous little tics. When this happens, respond to the feelings behind the physical symptoms – fear, insecurity, uncertainty.

•  Something soft and familiar makes the world feel lovelier. It just does.

Toys or special things might be a familiar passenger wherever your child goes. Let this happen. Your child will let go of the toy or whatever special thing they have when they are ready. Security blankets will often be the bridge between the unknown and familiar, and will form a strong foundation upon which they will build confidence and trust in their own capacity to cope with new and unfamiliar things.

•  Be alive to what they are watching on tv or reading in books.

If you can, watch their shows with them to understand how they are making sense of what they see. Some kids will handle anything they see, and others will turn it into a brilliant but terrifying nightmare or vivid thoughts that become a little too pushy.

•  Remember they’re watching.

They’ll be watching everything you do. If they see you terrified of dogs, it will easy for them to learn this same response. Remember though, if you can influence their fears, you can influence their courage. Let them see you being brave whenever you can.

•  Validate their fears and let them put word to their fears.

Let them talk about their fears. The more they can do this, the more they will be able to make sense of the big feelings that don’t make any sense to them at all. Talking about feelings connects the literal left side of the brain to the emotional right side of the brain. When there is a strong connection between the right brain and the left brain, children will start to make sense of their experience, rather than being barrelled by big feelings that make no sense to them at all.

•  Acknowledge any brave behaviour.

Because they’ll always love being your hero and it will teach them that they can be their own.

And finally …

It can always be unsettling when fears come home and throw themselves in your child’s way. Often though, fears are a sign that your child is travelling along just as he or she should be. The world can be a confusing place – even for adults. Of course, sometimes fear will lead to a healthy avoidance – snakes, spiders, crossing a busy road. Sometimes though, fear will be a burly imposter that pretends to be scarier than it is.

Fears are proof that your child is learning more about the world, sharpening their minds, expanding their sense of the world and what it means to them, and learning about their own capacity to cope. As they experience more of the world, they will come to figure out for themselves that the things that seem scary aren’t so scary after all, and that with time, understanding, and some brave behaviour, they can step bravely through or around anything that might unsteady them along the way.

You might also like …

‘Hey Warrior’ is the book I’ve written for children to help them understand anxiety and to find their ‘brave’. It explains why anxiety feels the way it does, and it will teach them how they can ‘be the boss of their brains’ during anxiety, to feel calm. It’s not always enough to tell kids what to do – they need to understand why it works. Hey Warrior does this, giving explanations in a fun, simple, way that helps things make sense in a, ‘Oh so that’s how that works!’ kind of way, alongside gorgeous illustrations.





I have a granddaughter turning 4 in Feb. In the last couple of weeks she has expressed anxiety around taking things she loves to places thinking they will be stolen/taken from her.

She refuses to wear her nice shoes or take her nice bags to places, whether to homes of friends and family or on holiday.

How can we help her? She becomes very distressed. Also we are not sure where and how she came to this fear. Any ideas where it can come from and is it normal for a 4 year old to have such fears?


Hi, I’m 13 years old and the 2nd semester just started. I have all new classes and all new teachers and I’m terrified. what do I do?

– Cayleigh


Great article that makes me understand my 10 years old daughter fear and anxiety. A year ago she started to feel some panic attack like heartburn, palpitation, since then she takes some pills before sleeping like Tums to feel better (i told her this s normal and what u r feeling is called reflux caused by food) also she refuses to sleep alone ( a new habit) she s afraid from the dark, add to it she keeps calling me and her dad at night to come back home ( even though her 2 older brothers and the helper are with her at home, we never leave her alone) she’s afraid of loud noises like thunder, fireworks…
Any solution?! Or as you mentioned that this fear is normal and it will disappear soon?


My child has had several ordeals he has been through. However none have effected him turning off his light and saying goodnight to our knowledge. He was recently in a bullying/assault/suspension incident. He’s no angel, he has turetts and gets teased often ending in him getting violent. He’s in a special instructed program for behavior. He recently asked for a night light… no biggie. Then I noticed accidentally left his light on a few times. Now he says I WANT THAT LIGHT ON! I bought him a nice mood lamp, a cool lava lamp and Ill see if we can light up other ways besides 100 watt, lol. I seen a neat solar system light for the ceiling. Is it okay to to try and supplement another form of lighting that’s much lower so he can get a deeper sleep? I don’t find it healthy to have the lights on sleeping especially since he has sleep issues at times. I’m “thinking” as long gone as he’s going for these neat ideas it should be okay? I never have said were replacing your light… I just say look at the cool new alarm clock!! Some days he uses the ceiling light some he doesnt now. We did replace some negative video games with some he picked that are much less. They are creative and one is all about animals. When his doctor said he was scared of the dark our mouths dropped. I said since when? His dad said, is that why he wanted a night light recently? We stared blank so confused. I was scared of the dark until I was 22. But my mother said, “be scared of the dark monsters will get you n bad people” My husband told me your grown n a tad old to be scared of monsters based on your “paranoid mom alone” I gave it thought and began immediately placing myself briefly alone in the night. Then walks alone so scared. Now I fear thier are some bad people in the world 24 hours a day that harm others for no reason but that is out of our control. Stay in safer areas be careful of your day and night surroundings MOM so far no monsters in 16 years! Lol Now I need to help my son at 12/13 feel cozy w a jump here n there. Not wait for his wife to do my job in 2 decades while he suffers. He’s now getting anxiety, depression and less sleep. I now feel like a crazed mom on Google who refuses to sleep until my son can peacefully. My days are a nightmare as we discuss pulling him now from school because we are NOT teachers… not special education teachers…. yeah. Ummmmm I have no skills but the ability to not let my son get teased for now only. I have fears. Are my fears valid or bizzar? I fear my young son can not take the teasing at 12 any longer nor should he. Potentially and many would assume and hope although the teasing still hurts when he’s older he can likely cope with and understand things better at 16-19 than 12-15. The timing of the last inncident is very close to his new fear of the dark. Days after his suspension is when he asked his dad for a second night light. Idk

victoria w

Trust your instincts about your son. He does need assistance dealing with the teasing/bullying issue. Without assistance, such as professional counseling with someone specializing in his age group, he could turn to more difficult behavior to correct in the future. Now is the time, if not already, to get him professional help. Again, trust your instincts. You can see some of what is challenging him. Help him deal responsibly with this now.

Ami d

Thank you for this article. My 5 year old is dealing with school refusal. She just dont want to go to the school. She is regularly having nightmares about bad guys hurting me or her. Earlier she always have insisted on staying home alone when i have to go out for daily errands. Usually it only takes 15 minutes. Now she dont want to be alone in the house. She is now afraid of dim litted rooms of our house even if she is with me. She wants to learn karate to protect me from bad guys. There are so many small things like this and i was just lost on this and was thinking that my girl have been traumatized by something and i was unable to fix it. but now after reading this article it is clear to me that it happenimg because she is learning the ways of our gray world. Now i will be there to support her and give her courage to deal with her fears☺


Hello everyone,

This article is so important, it helps me prepare for what comes ahead…

I have carried my baby girl for her first year. It allowed me to feel and respond to her fears very quickly, and without overemphasizing (is that a word ? english is not my mothertongue…), I would tell her, “that’s a motorbike it makes a lot of noise isn’t it ?, it suprised me too..but we’re safe”.

We always try to be precise with my husband about vocabulary, suprise is not fear, we thought it help not to throw aroud the world fear too easily, and just use it when needed.

I still carry her a lot, but when I do not, she walks, (she has just turned three). She is free of her mouvment and comes for refuge into my legs whenever she needs it (that’s the silverlining to having our stroller stollen…).

And on listening : I remember one night, it was impossible for her to fall asleep, she was getting up every 3 minutes, it was getting on everyone’s nerves, and to tone was less friendly by the minute. After a while I realised someone had to take a step back otherwise we would not get out of that situation.
I went to her room and asked, “baby, is something bothering you, you are not acting like yourself tonight, did something bother you today ?” I kept retracing what we had done that day, but before I had finished my first sentence she had rolled up and fallen asleep peacefully.

I wish you all a peacefull childwood for your little ones !


Such a great article. My 15 year old has recently started having anxiety of the future. College and picking a great school to achieve her dreams. But she’s also experienced fear of the unknown and she’s realizing soon she’ll be doing everything on her own. She hugged me tonight and shared her fears with me. I reassured her we are here for her and she should welcome adulthood and not fear it. I love her and I also told her I will always be there to support her decisions. Thank you for this article.


My daughter refused to go to school after 4 days at a new school in 3rd grade, the refusal was so bad that she ended up being home with me all year. We worked with a therapist on setting goals and doing new things and she was able to go back to 4th grade and have a great year. Now the same behavior is reoccurring having recently started middle school. Everything I read about school refusal says to get them there but in some cases that isn’t possible. Do you think a semester or year off is a bad thing as long as we continue to work with a therapist? She is also refusing to sleep alone. Will she eventually outgrow this behavior?


Thank you for posting this information! I have a just turned 5 year old who has been displaying some irrational fears of woman with thick black hair and bangs. The kind of bangs that go straight across the forehead. We saw a woman at a bouncy house place that did have an odd look to her with that kind of hair. She was with her kids. She didn’t smile much; her face was mostly expressionless but there was nothing physically wrong with her. He kept looking at her and trying to get away from her. At first I didn’t know what was going on then figured it out. I tried talking to him about it away from the lady, acknowledging his fear of her but then explaining that she was born looking like that and that she chose to cut her hair that way, that she was a mommy here playing with her kids, etc. we had to leave. Then a few days later we were at s birthday party and there was someone there who looked similar. He wouldn’t go near her. We had to go into a little room for the cake and she was in there. He wouldn’t go, and he loves singing happy birthday. I was in there as he was in the other play area. I didn’t make a big deal out of it but wanted to show him that it was ok to be in there and that this was the right thing to do for the bday boy. He said I was “in the jungle” (a possible association from a book?) Later when she went out he went into the smaller room. As I was talking to other moms I had to get him out of there twice. Again he kept scanning the room for her. We stayed but had to be away from her. Other children asked him to go in other areas (areas where she was) and he refused. We came one and later I googled images of woman with straight black hair and bangs and showed him. He got immediately upset and asked me to shut it off. Then I painted a face like that with his paints. He was playing with a sprinkler outside. I showed him my painting and he turned from it as well. I said let’s let the water wash it away and we did that but he was half way across the yard looking back. Two other things – there are two pictures at my hairdresser that he doesn’t like. They also have bangs but one has red hair. Out if the blue he was afraid of them and my hairdresser had to cover them up to go in there. I also know there were some busts the older kids painted st school that scared him. The teacher had a hard time convincing him to go in the library where they were. She did say they were scary looking tough.
Im trying to figure out what to do, if anything. Some people said to ignore it and let him work it out. Not bring attention to it. I’d like to desensitize him somehow. I’m planning to talk to him about to see if I can find out the root. Any suggestion? Thank you!

Anna S

Outstanding post! You explain everything in such a simple yet perfect way…thank you! I feel a lot more confident dealing with my children’s fears now.


Hi, my 10 year old son got a bit of lolly stuck in his throat a couple of weeks ago, and it really frightened him. Since then, my usially happy, confident, funny boy keeps breaking down in a nervous wreck! He has developed an anxiety about getting stuff stuck in his throat and getting sick.

I have an anxiety disorder that started the same age, but I was never treated somit got worse and worse. This has really shook me, and Ive explained what anxiety is and teassured him, given him lots of cuddles etc.

What can do I do to help him? 🙁

Ps this article was really helpful too

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Belinda it sounds as though you are doing a wonderful job of reassuring him. It sounds as though your son got a fright and has had an understandable response. They key now is to help him to not generalise this experience to other situations. Here is an article that might help https://www.heysigmund.com/phobias-and-fears-in-children/. It explains about where phobias come from and strategies to manage them. I hope this helps, and that he is able to return to his happy confident self again.


What a generous article. There’s lots of insightful information here, and your genuine care for young people comes through clearly. Thank you for writing this.


Brilliant read. Having a lot of separation anxiety from my near four year old and wondering if this has resulted from an incident at her nursery when she was 1 1/2 (would they remember that far back). Do you have anything specific for separation anxiety for that age group? When I try to discuss with her she clams up. Maybe I should roll play with her dolls? Any suggestions or links would be very appreciated.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Separation anxiety in a four year old isn’t unusual, though I completely understand how distressing it is. Kids generally can’t remember from before about 3 years old. The memories are made, but the way the brain develops at that age overlays the memories. Separation anxiety doesn’t necessarily come from anything specific, but tends to be because they are worried that something might happen to you if they aren’t with you. Most kids tend to grow out of it eventually, but in the meantime it can be pretty tough. Role playing with dolls is a great idea. Kids can engage with play and can often project their fears and feelings onto external things. If you ask her questions about the doll, but with your daughter in mind (such as, ‘Why doesn’t the doll want to leave her mummy?’ or ‘What do you think might help your doll feel better when she isn’t with her mummy?’ – or something like that), you might get great insight into what’s happening for your daughter. Then, you can take on board the suggestions she makes (though you might need to help her out with this).

Speak to her beforehand about what the drop-off will look like. ‘So we’re going to put your bag in, take out your lunch, and I’ll stay for two stories, and then I’ll give you a kiss and a cuddle and say goodbye. I know how brave you are, and I know you’ll have a great day.’ Be definite about the goodbye – she needs to ‘borrow’ your courage and confidence. If you’re okay, it will be easier for her to be okay. Also let her know that you’re going to have a great day too and that you can’t wait to see her this afternoon and hear all about her day. Here is an article that might also help with what to say https://www.heysigmund.com/building-emotional-intelligence-what-to-say-to-children-with-anxiety/. I know how hard it is to leave them when they’re so upset. Hang in there – it does get better.


Perhaps you could discuss the newborn and infant period in this article – the womb is the only environment a newborn knows – all needs met – nutrition, warm, snug, movement, taste of amniotic fluid, Mum/Dad’s voice and other close and regular noises.
Once born, the safest, securest, most loving, most familiar environment is in the arms of Mum/Dad/trusted other human, preferably skin to skin and with breastmilk, warmth, movement, Mum/Dad/other familiar sounds and smells – and this is what babies need (and seek) for quite a long time to feel safe and secure and loved which supports their optimal development …..in nature our ancestors and primate relatives would ever have put their baby down as it would have been unsafe and stressful, would have made noises and eventually cried to get back into safe arms.
Stress hormones, breathing, temperature, crying and sleep are all moderated if a baby is skin2skin and close to Mum/Dad.


I have 2 boys, a 9 month old and a 4 year old. This article really helped me understand the reasons behind their fears and empathize with them. Thank you very much.


the bit about “At around 8-10 months, babies become aware that when things disappear, those things still exist.” is actually known as Object Permanence. It’s why babies find games of “peek-a-boo” so entertaining. It’s also used as a movie device, usually in horror movies where the killer suddenly appears out of nowhere.

Remember the scene at the end of Jurassic Park when the main characters are about to be eaten by the velociraptors, but then suddenly the T-Rex shows up out of nowhere and grabs one of the mid-jump? Ever thought about how when it first showed up earlier in the film they could hear that thing coming a mile away despite being inside cars in the middle of a storm? And now it’s just showing up at the last second and nobody heard it coming? Object Permanence.


im raising my 13 year old grandson he is a twin which is girl he i afaid of the dark and the biggest thing right now is he leave the shower door open and takes a towel in the shower to use i case something comes in to get him but he floods the bathroom floor he showers twice a day i dnt know hw to handle this can you suggest anything he is a IEP studentand ADD

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Bette here is an article that might help https://www.heysigmund.com/phobias-and-fears-in-children/. Is there an incident which started this? Did he get stuck in the shower? Frightened by something in the bathroom and felt as though he couldn’t escape? There might not be, but if there is, have him discuss the incident. Don’t push him if he doesn’t want to though. If he’s happy to talk about the incident (if there is one), listen to him but if he’s not, let it go. The idea behind talking about a frightening incident is explained here https://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-anxiety-in-children-calm-anxious-brain/.

Also have a look at the stepladder approach in the article https://www.heysigmund.com/phobias-and-fears-in-children/. This is a way to gently take away the safety behaviours, or replace them with something less intrusive. Get your grandson on board so he can help with planning the steps. For the shower door for example, you might start encouraging him to close it a quarter of the way for a week or so until he feels comfortable then close it a little more, then a little more. Start with whatever he is comfortable with, but which feels a bit challenging too. I hope this helps. All the best to you.


I would like to add that it could have started with something he saw in a movie or tv series. If that’s the case he might feel ashamed to tell because his rational mind knows that it is fiction so there shouldn’t anything to worry about. He might think that it is too childish and be ashamed of that fear, which is, obviouly, very real. If that’s the case he will be afraid to tell you for fear of being teased. I know this because I had one of those fears in my early teens because of one of the “Space 1999” episodes. I managed it all by myself but it took me several years. If this is the case, make sure to ensure him that any kind of origin for his fear is a valid one, he might feel safe enough to tell you. Best of luck.


Thank you for creating this article. I am currently doing a research project on how age and fear correspond, and this was so helpful. I can also say that I relate to many of these fears. This has helped me better understand my own generation and continue to help others. Once again thank you!!


Just read the relevant bits with my almost 12year old grandson who has lived with me since he was 3 …his mum died when he was 3 1/2 and I found your whole article reassuring that myself and his Aunty have been scaffolding good things along the way.


Great article! Gives me a better understanding to help my little toddler to overcome some of her fears that she experiences now. My daughter just turned 3 years old. She has fears of bugs and most especially birds, loud noises, planes flying by. Etc. it’s a work of challenge everyday but, I will continue to do the best I can to help her. Thank you for this article, it was helpful.

Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased this was helpful for you. The fears your little one has at the moment sound like common fears for her age. It’s still difficult watching them go through it though, isn’t it. It sounds like you understand her and what she needs. Keep doing what you’re doing. Sounds like you’re doing a great job.


I’s like to show this article in a custody dispute I am currently involved in.

Can I get the information on the writer of this article? I’ll need to disclose where it came from.

Also, is it okay for me to do this?

Thank you for your time.


Excellent, Excellent post! I am a hypersensitive 60 year old adult who was never taught to handle fears and anxiety.
My Dad actually terrorized is just for laughs. Three of us hardened up to the world, my older sister and I were traumatized by rejection. Still working on it with counseling and meds. I still have PTSD and certain situations can set off SEVERE anxiety attacks. young Parents don’t realize the importance of this article! Older People DO! If parents don’t deal with and work through their anxiety, they will continue to reexperience it as their children become the age of our anxieties. Something traumatic happened to me in the 5th grade that was brushed aside. When my Granddaughters went through 5th grade, I was traumatized for them for no reason. Even responding to this article and the fear of rejection that comes with it is terrifying, but necessary, because I know I’m not the only one out there. ~M~

Hey Sigmund

Margaret thank you so much for sharing your story! I understand that it took courage to respond to this article but I’m SO glad you did. Your experience and insight are valuable and I’m grateful to you for sharing them here.


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When you can’t cut out (their worries), add in (what they need for felt safety). 

Rather than focusing on what we need them to do, shift the focus to what we can do. Make the environment as safe as we can (add in another safe adult), and have so much certainty that they can do this, they can borrow what they need and wrap it around themselves again and again and again.

You already do this when they have to do things that don’t want to do, but which you know are important - brushing their teeth, going to the dentist, not eating ice cream for dinner (too often). The key for living bravely is to also recognise that so many of the things that drive anxiety are equally important. 

We also need to ask, as their important adults - ‘Is this scary safe or scary dangerous?’ ‘Do I move them forward into this or protect them from it?’♥️
The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️

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