Fears, worries, and scary dreams in 4- to 12-year-old children: their content, developmental pattern, and origins

J Clin Child Psychol. 2000 Mar;29(1):43-52. doi: 10.1207/S15374424jccp2901_5.


Investigated anxiety symptoms in normal school children 4 to 12 years of age (N = 190). The percentages of children reporting fears, worries, and scary dreams were 75.8, 67.4, and 80.5%, respectively, indicating that these anxiety symptoms are quite common among children. Inspection of the developmental pattern of these phenomena revealed that fears and scary dreams were common among 4- to 6-year-olds, became even more prominent in 7- to 9-year-olds, and then decreased in frequency in 10- to 12-year-olds. The developmental course of worry deviated from this pattern. This phenomenon was clearly more prevalent in older children (i.e., 7- to 12-year-olds) than in younger children. Furthermore, although the frequency of certain types of fears, worries, and dreams were found to change across age groups (e.g., the prevalence of fears and scary dreams pertaining to imaginary creatures decreased with age, whereas worry about test performance increased with age), the top intense fears, worries, and scary dreams remained relatively unchanged across age levels. An examination of the origins of these common anxiety phenomena showed that for fears and scary dreams, information was the most commonly reported pathway, whereas for worry, conditioning experiences were more prominent.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dreams / psychology*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychology, Child
  • Social Environment