Fear and Anxiety in Young Children PDF Print E-mail

Fear and Anxiety

Article from the Indiana Association for Infant & Toddler Mental Health


Halloween can be an exciting time for watching scary movies, wearing spooky costumes, and enjoying delightful tricks along with delicious treats. For some young children, however, being scared is not fun--their fears are chronic, excessive, and debilitating.

Fearful behaviors can be developmentally appropriate, part of a slow to warm temperament, or occur in response to change. Because it is normal for young children to have some fears, it can be useful to know the difference between age appropriate fears, phobias, and anxiety. Typical fears for babies include intense stimuli, like loud noises or fear of something that could be harmful, such as separation from caregivers, encounters with a stranger or falling. In the toddler and preschool years, common specific fears include dogs and the dark. In this age range, many children also fear vague scary things, like “monsters”. A fear that is specific, persistent, occurs outside of a typical age range and is resistant to reasoning may be a phobia. Finally, anxiety is a general sense or feeling of unease, usually without a specific source. An anxiety disorder may be diagnosed when the non-specific fear is exaggerated, age inappropriate, and interferes with functioning.

A young child who is struggling with anxiety may be so fearful that his or her learning is affected, leading to developmental concerns. In toddlers, fears may result in aggression or other reckless behavior that can result in injury to themselves and to others. Sleep, and feeding problems or physical complaints, like head or stomach aches are also common.


When you need help to support a young child with fearfulness or anxiety, contact a First Steps mental health provider !


How to Help Anxious Children:

  • Provide safety and security
  • Monitor content of television, DVD and video game exposure
  • Increase structure and routine
  • Introduce new things slowly and with support
  • Avoid forcing children—-“sink or swim” approaches
  • Teach words to express worries and fears
  • Teach relaxation methods, like yoga and breathing.

Read More!

Honig, A. (2010). Little Kids, Big Worries. Baltimore: Brookes. Anxiety Disorders.http://www.macmh.org/publications/

Piacentini and Roblek, (2002). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071700/

Indiana Association for Infant & Toddler Mental Health
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Indianapolis, IN 46202
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