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Overview of fears and phobias in children and adolescents

Marilyn Augustyn, MD
Section Editor
David Brent, MD
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD


All children have fears at some point in their lives [1]. Children are particularly susceptible to learning fear from their parents. Most childhood fears are normal, temporary, and eventually outgrown. Some fears, however, may be symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Studies show that anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders in childhood/adolescence.

Fears and anxiety are on a continuum, with phobias at the more severe end of the spectrum where symptoms are accompanied by functional impairment. Children with this presentation warrant additional evaluation for specific phobia or other anxiety disorders.

This topic describes the pathogenesis, clinical presentation, course, differential diagnosis, and initial management of fears in children and adolescents. The epidemiology, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis of anxiety disorders in children are discussed separately. Pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy for anxiety disorders in children are also discussed separately. (See "Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and course" and "Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Assessment and diagnosis" and "Psychotherapy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents" and "Pharmacotherapy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents".)


The etiology of childhood fears and phobias is not well understood [2,3]. A number of factors may be at play, including [2,4-8]:

Genetic predisposition

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 02, 2017.
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