Childhood fears are relatively common and can have a number of different causes. The onset and course of phobias and anxiety disorders have been associated with a concept known as anxiety sensitivity - subjectively-held beliefs about the negative consequences of being or becoming anxious, a 'fear of fear'. As well as factors in the children themselves their parents' problems and style of child-rearing can also influence children's levels of fear. Heightened parental anxiety is related to the onset and course of phobic and anxiety disorders in children and several studies have shown that children whose parents have panic disorder and/or agoraphobia are at high risk for the development of these disorders. Other studies have shown that parenting strategies typified by overprotection and overcontrol are related to the presence of fear and anxiety in children and parents of anxiety-disordered and phobic children have been rated by observers as granting less autonomy to their children than parents of non-anxious children. A U.S. study of 156 children found that overall age, gender, anxiety sensitivity and maternal ratings of an overly controlling parenting strategy were significant predictors of levels of fear but that maternal phobic anxiety was not a significant predictor. Anxiety sensitivity was a significant predictor of fear levels for both older and younger children and boys and girls. However, having an overly-protective mother was significant only for younger children and only for girls. Younger children and girls were more likely to be fearful than older children and boys.
Ollendick, Thomas H. and Horsch, Laura M. - Fears in clinic-referred children: relations with child anxiety sensitivity, maternal overcontrol, and maternal phobic anxiety. Behaviour Therapy December 2007, 38(4), 402-411