3-11 years: Understanding children's fears

It is common for young and growing children to become frightened of people, events or possible disasters during childhood.  Usually, these worries don't last for long because children understand things better as they get older.

Sometimes a fear becomes so strong that it stops a child from living normally - sleeping, playing, going out or going to school.

Fear Is About....

believing something bad might happen.  Some fears are sensible and help to keep children safe.  Others concern unreal or very unlikely events, though at first a child won't find it easy to accept this.  A child may also become generally anxious about many things.


Try & Stay Calm

Losing your cool will only increase a child's distress

Be Understanding

Fear feels very real to children - not just something they've dreamt up.  Whatever the fear, say you accept it is real for them and don't tease them.

Talk About It

Once you realise how the fear started and how it makes them feel, you'll see useful ways to tackle it.

Describe What Will Happen & Always Tell The Truth!

Be honest about tomorrow's injection and explain that thunder will follow lightening

Help Them To Feel Successful & Competent

So they approach problems confidently.  Praise them, invite friends over and solve problems together.

Try Not To Pass On Your Fears

Try and be brave or get help with your own fears

Keep Their Life As Predictable, Safe & Loving As Possible

Anxious children have often just been through difficulty and uncertainty.

Avoidance Never Works.  Face Fears Gradually & Make A Plan

  • Learn about dogs, spiders or thunder storms
  • Reduce the light in, or outside, the bedroom gradually
  • Teach road safety
  • Talk about likely dangers and waht to do

Be Aware Of The Signs

Sometimes fears come out as physical symptoms such as headaches or tummy pains

Talk To The Teacher

If your child is scared or worried about school

Encourage Them To Try New Things & Situations

Such as food, new activities and social occassions, but let your child set the pace

Stay Close For Reassurance, But Don't Over-Protect

They need to manage their fears on their own or alongside friends

4-7 Year Olds Often Fear....

  • The dark/nightmares/monsters
  • Dogs or other animals
  • Being left at school, uncollected
  • Fire, flood, thunder storms, deep water
  • Blood, injections
  • Losing the adults they love
  • Scenes from computer games or films

8-11 Year Olds Often Fear....

  • Burglars in the house
  • Unsafe streets/stranger danger
  • Death of and separation from parents/carers
  • Car, plane or rail crashes
  • Getting lost, being alone or locked out
  • Doing badly in school tests
  • Bullying/losing friends/changing schools/being left out
  • Bugs, spiders and insects


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