Genes Drive Kids' Changing Fears
Child Fears Change Over Years as Genes Shift Gears
Child's Development, Environment Affect Fear Genes continued...
"Phobias represent an extreme where the fear is high and then it begins
to either incapacitate or substantially interfere with life," he says.
"I cannot say for certain the patterns we saw in this study extrapolate to
phobias, but from other data I can say that the same factors that govern normal
fears seem related to predisposing a person to having more phobic
Joanna Ball, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences
at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, works with fearful children. Kendler's
findings are in line with her clinical experience.
"As kids get older, their ability to make sense of things matures,"
Ball tells WebMD. "Maybe they are frightened of thunder at age 8, but as
they get older, they see people don't typically die in thunderstorms. So they
can call on their experience when faced with thunder. But as they get older,
they understand other frightening things and may develop fear of illness, fear
of death, or even fear of money issues."
Genetic influences, Ball says, are just one of many factors that contributes
to a child's fearfulness.
"Everyone is predisposed to a lot of things, but how that manifests
depends on what environmental experiences you have and what developmental stage
you are in," she says. "If you are prone to something, whether it is anxiety or phobia, a lot has to
do with where you are developmentally and in terms of your
Helping Children Deal With Fear
When children are afraid, just telling them to get over it doesn't help. But
it also doesn't help to give in to a child's fear.
"Listen to the kids, let them express themselves. If they feel heard, it
makes a big difference," Ball says. "But the more parents give in to
the fear and make accommodations, it gives the fear more credibility. Parents
come to me, and the kids are sleeping in the parents' bed, the parents are
sleeping in the kid's bed, and the parents have so accommodated the fear it
seems valid. Instead, help the kids produce evidence: Look under the bed with
them, for example."
Being fearful is a normal part of childhood. There really are a lot of
things to be afraid of, and a lot of things kids need to be reassured
Professional help is needed if a child's fears impair his or her normal
"Warning signs are when a child starts to be fearful about leaving the
house, is unable to go to school, gets very clingy, has sudden changes in mood,
or is fearful of a lot of different things," Ball says. "When fears get
in the way of them being a kid is when you want to seek help."
The Kendler study appears in the April issue of Archives of General