Why Some Kids Are Afraid of Clowns and What Parents Can Do to Address the Fear


Fear of clowns is an irrational phobia that grips an overwhelmingly large number of people, especially kids. The phobia has become so common of late, that it has been given a name: coulrophobia. Albeit informal, and not included by the World Health Organisation as a specific phobia yet, coulrophobia is increasingly becoming one of the most widespread phobias in the world.

In a popular Space To Care study conducted by the University of Sheffield, researchers found that all 250 children aged between four and 16, responded negatively towards clowns. The research was aimed at improving the design and decor of hospitals for children and all children opined against the use of clown posters and figures. Researchers found that while all kids disliked clowns, some actively feared them.

Does your child fear clowns as well? There are two things you need to know at this point – 1) It is okay for your child to feel scared of, or intimated by clowns, and 2) There are a couple of things you can do to rid them of this fear.

Understanding the causes of coulrophobia 

Much of coulrophobia is developed as a result of exaggerated media representations of evil clowns. Novels (remember the Stephen King chiller IT?), movies (perhaps the most infamous of which is the eponymous film-adaptation of IT), and so on have indeed contributed to the mass hysteria surrounding clowns.

In children, the cause of coulrophobia is typically related to unfavourable childhood memories or experiences related to clowns. It is widely speculated that Penny-wise the Dancing Clown from IT was inspired by King’s own childhood experience with and fear of, clowns. In children younger than four years of age, the fear of coulrophobia may be a mere manifestation of their general fear of unfamiliar body types and faces. Younger children are highly reactive to these and may end up carrying the childhood anxiety or outright horror late into adulthood.

Helping a child who fears clowns 

One of the simplest things you can do to address your child’s fear of clowns is share positive stories from your childhood, or from the childhood of an adult they admire, about clowns. The goal is to help the kids understand that clowns aren’t trying to be odd, scary or intimidating. They’re only trying to be fun, silly and sweet. Aren’t clowns exactly just that? Fun, silly, and sweet. They exist to entertain us.

A more hands-on approach to addressing coulrophobia is to bring them gradually in contact with clowns. You can do this by hiring a clown for a birthday party or a celebration or any other family occasion.

Speak to the entertainer beforehand about your child’s condition and request them to arrive an hour before the party and get dressed in the clown attire and make up, at the venue. Once the entertainer has arrived, introduce them to your child. Tell them that this is the fun entertainer who will make entertain everyone at the party by being silly. Help the child see the entertainer as they transform from their regular self into their clown persona. A circus in Blackpool, UK adopted a similar approach and with great results.