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April 23, 2024

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Fear Factory: How to Manage It in Kids

No, he's not a scaredy cat. He has genuine fears. Help him keep them under control.

Plenty of young children can develop fears this time of year. With spiders, ghosts and wicked decorations sprouting up in neighborhoods, this may be a good time to tend to your nervous nellie if you have one.     

"Parents might find themselves faced with a 2-year-old who used to sleep just fine but now is having a hard time settling down, or is waking up and asking to come into the parents' room in the middle of the night," says Robert Sears, M.D., coauthor of The Baby Book (Little, Brown).

Sometimes, even the most unusual of things can scare your child. This includes the vacuum, the "Birthday" song, Moana, a roomba and more as seen in a recent post, "20 Hilarious Things Parents Never Imagined Their Kids Would Fear."

Likewise, older kids prone to worrying may find their feelings triggered by seasonal decorations.

LITTLES: Fears of Things That Go Bump in the Night

By the time a child is 2, his imagination will kick into gear as she imagines things she can't see, which opens the door to fear of the dark and monsters.    

Try asking your child what she's afraid of and what she thinks will help her overcome those fears," Sears says. You can also establish calming night routines and skip bedtime stories with villains or scary pictures. Help them to view nighttime as a pleasant time, not a scary time.

Simple fears in little kids don't need to develop into bigger fears, so if your young child is showing some kind of fear, nip it in the bud. Here are ways to do that, from the book Seven Steps to Help Your Child Worry Less, by Kristy Hagar, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.


  • Play detective. If your kid can't tell you what's scaring him, look for clues.
  • Be creative. Experiment with ways to help your child feel safer. 
  • Change your child's perception. If your child's frightened that there's a monster under the bed, show him there isn't one, says Stephen W. Garber, PhD, coauthor of Monsters Under the Bed.
  • Clear up false beliefs. When your child voices what he worries will happen, tell him what's really going on. For instance, a thunder storm is NOT the world being angry at us.
  • Teach coping skills. A simple lesson like "breathe slowly, in and out" can truly help.
  • Shelter your child's awareness of scary events on TV, according to his age. Because children's worldview is limited, they don't know how often hurricanes hit or how many kidnappers exist. 


One of the best ways for your child to deal with fear is to see how YOU deal with fears. In other words, if YOU'RE the nervous type, it's likely you will pass that on to your child. Here are ways to help your child become brave:

  • Let your child borrow your confidence. Children will look to you for how to behave under circumstances they are unfamiliar with. Help your child through difficult situations with confidence and faith. Have confidence in his ability to cope.
  • Easy does it. Feeling brave and getting past fear doesn't happen all at once. Acknowledge it when your child shows bravery and give him opportunities to do so.
  • Read and tell stories of struggle and triumph. Remind your child of moments he has shown bravery. Pick out books that will encourage him.


About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.