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Child Care Health Dev. 2009 Nov;35(6):781-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2008.00908.x. Epub 2008 Oct 30.

Children's specific fears.

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  • 1Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK. hm74@le.ac.uk



Most children experience some degree of fear during their development. Specific fears are considered as an appropriate response provided that they are proportionate to the intensity of the perceived threat. Our aim is to present the prevalence of specific fears among children in the Great Britain, their socio-demographic correlates, in particular their association with ethnicity.


Data on the child's experience of specific fears were obtained from parents of a national representative sample of 5- to 16-year-olds using the Development and Well-Being Assessment. Biographic, socio-demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the child and the family were included in the questionnaire.


About one-third of children were assessed by their parents as having at least one of 12 specific fears. The most commonly reported fears were animals (11.6%), blood/injections (10.8%) and the dark (6.3%). Just less than 1% of all children were assessed according to International Classification of Diseases research diagnostic criteria as having a specific phobia. Biographic, socio-demographic and socioeconomic factors were independently associated with a greater likelihood of a child having particular fears. The most marked associations were fears of the dark, loud noises, imagined supernatural beings in younger children and fear of animals among girls and all non-white groups.


Although fears are only labelled as phobias when they impair functioning and interfere with life, they can cause personal distress to children and also can interfere with their daily activities. Children's fears differ in nature across different ethnic groups. Culturally mediated beliefs, values and traditions may play a role in their expression.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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