Watching your child struggle with fear is incredibly difficult for any parent. And it can be hard to tell whether your child’s fear is just a normal phase that all kids go through, or something more serious. 

A phobia is an extreme fear of something specific, like:

  • a person or animal of person (like clowns or insects)
  • a place or type of place (for example, a hospital or graveyard)
  • a type of object (such as needles or knives)
  • an activity (like swimming or riding in an elevator)
  • a situation (for example, being alone in the dark) 

Many kids struggle with a specific fear of being physically separated from their parents or other family members. This is known as separation anxiety disorder (SAD).  


  • are a type of anxiety disorder, a condition that activates the “fight or flight” response and creates feelings of imminent danger that are out of proportion to the reality of the situation

  • can affect kids of all ages

  • are different from the passing phases of fear all children go through; phobias cause an extreme degree of fear that lasts for an extended period of time

  • are very treatable with prompt treatment from a licensed mental health professional 

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches phobias

As one of the largest pediatric psychiatric services in New England, Children’s has a team of expert psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers ready to help you, your child and your family cope with a phobia. 

Our Department of Psychiatry team members are leaders in researching, diagnosing and treating phobias and other anxiety disorders, as well as:

Our approach to mental health care is evidence-based—which means that our treatments have been tested and proven effective through scientific studies, both here at our hospital and by other leading institutions worldwide. We use “talk therapy” as our primary method of treatment for phobias and other types of anxiety, focusing on teaching children helpful thinking and coping skills to overcome symptoms and adopt new, healthier thought patterns and behaviors.

In certain instances, we might recommend that your child begin an anti-anxiety medication regimen—always in conjunction with talk therapy. Children’s has a dedicated Psychopharmacology Clinic to help you determine whether medication might be a helpful addition to your child’s treatment plan.

Our team is always aware that your child is, first and foremost, a child—and not merely a recipient of care. You and your family are essential members of the treatment team, and our compassionate mental health professionals will include you in the therapeutic process at every step of the way.

Phobias: Reviewed by David R. DeMaso, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011