Understanding Real Fear and Perceived Fear in Kids and How to Dispel Your Kids’ Fear

Human beings are born with the natural tendency of fear. Fear begins to build up right after the birth. The newborn child is afraid of loneliness, darkness, loud noise and strange faces. As the child grows older, fear also continues to grow. Kids are more imaginative than you are, they begin to imagine things and they become more fearful.

Help Your Kid Overcome Fear

Teach your kid about fear, what it is exactly. Tell them what is real and what is unreal. Also tell them about flight or fly response, when they have to fight their fear and when they have to flee. Never tell your kids, “Hey, don’t be afraid.” Because when the kids are scared, their mind and body already go through symptoms like rapid heartbeat, fast breathing, nervousness etc. First, give them time to calm down and then engage in conversation.

Real Fear Vs. Perceived Fear

Fear is basically two types: real fear and perceived fear. Real fear is something like the fear of snakes, perceived fear is the fear of monsters. Interestingly, the brain cannot segregate between the real fear and perceived fear. While as an adult you might be able to tackle perceived fear, for instance, you might settle peacefully after being scared watching a horror movie; nonetheless, for a kid, both of these fears are real. They cannot differentiate between rational and irrational. You as a parent must help kid understand real fear and perceived fear. Teach your kids about the fears that re irrational.  Give examples of perceived fear and real fear. A door bell rings, is it a real threat? Or is it just that they are imagining things. A window suddenly opens, did the ghost open the window or was it the wind?

A simple breathing exercise like deep breathing can be a great way to help kid normalize after the fearful state. Sit with your child and together perform breathing exercise. Just a couple of minutes breathing exercise can help in many ways. It calms the mind, soothes the nerves and palpitation. This is a technique to condition the brain to calm itself whenever the child is afraid.

Whether for an adult or for a child, most of the perceived fears arise from “what if” question. What if I am fired (for adult), what if monster is actually living under the bed (for child). What if comes from subconscious mind that we are not aware of. What is is perceived fear.  You need to answer what if questions from your kid. You must have response to all what ifs. For example, you kid might ask, “Mummy, what if I get lost in the street?” And your answer should be, “sweaty, mummy is always watching your back. Remember, your answer should always convince your kid. If your response does not convince your kid, you will have to add further, “I will run to the street and look for you, ask people if they have seen Tommy.” You must reassure your kid. Reassuring the kid does not mean you just tell them nothing bad can happen because you are there for him. “What if” can still arise in the child’s mind. Also, never lie to your child about real fear, but then you should also have appropriate answers to the perceived fear.

Symptoms of Fear

When your child is feeling fearful his heart begins to pound faster, his lungs begin to contract and expand faster, his hands and legs shake, his body shivers. The child has an urge to hide in the places that make me feel secure, for instance hiding in the closet, under the blanket.

Everyone is afraid of something. What is that your child is afraid of, getting lost in the crowd, nightmares, scary movies? What does a child do when he is scared? Does he call for a help, share with parents and elder siblings, cuddle with his favourite toy?

You always have to watch for the symptoms of fear and response to the fears to understand fear in your kid and help your child get over fear.

It is not wrong to be scared, it is perfectly ok because everyone is scared of something. Emotional management is very important. It is as important a sending your kid to school. However, in order to manage the emotions related to fearfulness, you need to understand the different age related fears and how you can handle these fears properly according to the age group.

Is your child afraid of darkness, does he believe there is a monster under the bed? Is your child afraid to take bath? Is he afraid of cockroach on the kitchen counter? While these fears are common in kids, as a parent it might really get to your nerves to see your child panic and you being unable to help your child.

Fear of Monsters and Ghosts

Whether you are preparing for Halloween or watching a horror movie, you know both of these things are not real. You know Halloween is just a tradition filled with fun activities and movies are man-made. Even when you get scared watching horror movies, the emotion of fear is temporary. However, for kids fear is real. Kids’ mind cannot differentiate between facts and fictions, real and artificial. They believe in monsters just like they believe in Santa. Therefore, it is very important that you help your kid learn about the reality. Here are some of the things you can do:

Sit and have a calm conversation. While having a conversation, first of all you need to become a listener.

Ask questions. If there is a monster under the bed, ask what does the monster look like, where did you hear about the monster first, what you can do to help. Questions like these will help the kid engage in conversation and find solution. Your kids solutions are always more effective than your own solution.  It is okay to come up with imaginary solutions but it should be your kid’s solution.

If your kid has been through traumatic experience recently, or had some major loss, it is more important to get more information from the kid before deciding on solution.

When your kid is afraid and you tell him “There is nothing to be afraid of” or “Don’t be silly, this is unreal” it simply does not work. Your kid is unable to understand when you dismiss the fear of monsters and ghosts as unfounded.

While for younger kids things like flashing light, hitting with the stick in the air might work, for older kids you might have to come up with more rational solutions like changing the bed position, letting the kid sleep with the light on etc.

When the fear of monsters last long or recurring, you might even have to consult a child psychologists.


Fear is common in kids and it is good that your child should know that there are things in the world that he needs to be afraid of, for example, street traffic. However, too much fear can be a great problem as it may make the child timid and shy, may not engage in normal activities (for example, not getting a bath). Contrarily, when the child is afraid of nothing, it might harm him as he might become careless (for example, not watching the vehicles while crossing the street).


  1. cmoneyspinner

    Fear in young children must be recognized and acknowledged by the adult taking of the care of them. Do not dismiss it. If the child is able to communicate then the adult must engage the child and ask them to express what is troubling them. If the child is unable to communicate then from my own personal experience I have found that soft music and/or soft lighting can calm a child. If you don’t have music or can’t get rid of a bright light, then simply holding them close or letting them hear the sound of your soothing voice will let them know they are not alone. For both children and adults it is very frightening to feel like you are all alone and therefore, helpless. Excellent article!

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