What Kids Are Scared of -- and Why

An age-by-age guide to what causes childhood fears and worries.

Newborn Baby Fears

Crying Baby Reaching Toward Camera

Before Elijah Adamic-Sargeant, then 18 months, could enjoy a smoothie, he'd run into his room and cover his ears while his mom fired up the blender. "He was terrified of the vacuum cleaner, blender, and hair dryer," says Susan Adamic-Sargeant, his Wayland, Michigan, mom. Usually a happy little boy, he would scurry in fright when he heard very loud noises.

Fear -- of loud noises, monsters, strangers, or other objects and events -- is a natural part of childhood. But while experiencing fear is stressful to children and parents alike, it should not be minimized. A part of normal development, being afraid is a sign that she's gaining awareness of the world and trying to make sense of it, says Ari Brown, MD, coauthor of Baby 411 (Windsor Peak Press). Fortunately, most fears arrive at predictable stages, and with some insight, you can help your child navigate her fears and walk more confidently through childhood.

Baby's First Fears

Newborns have two fears: loud noises and falling. "Babies' brains and nerves grow rapidly in the first two years of life, but they are born with very immature nervous systems," says Dr. Brown. "This means that they cannot interpret or handle certain sensory input -- like loud noises or the feeling of falling." That's why passing an infant around to loving relatives may not bother your baby, but set him down too fast or make an abrupt, loud noise, and he'll cry in fright.

As her nervous system matures and she focuses on her surroundings, new fears crop up, and by 8 to 10 months, the concept of "object permanence" comes into play. "Prior to this milestone, when things disappear, they no longer exist in the baby's mind," explains Dr. Brown. "But now, they understand that things disappear and they still do exist. So when Mom or Dad leaves the room, the child wonders where they went and when they are coming back."

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