Family

When children are afraid of clowns

Dear Diane, A child at my twins’ birthday party last week became utterly terrified when the clown I’d booked turned up.
When children are afraid of clowns - children with a clown

Dear Diane,

A child at my twins’ birthday party last week became utterly terrified when the clown I’d booked turned up. She trembled and blubbered, then she screamed and ran away. Luckily her mother had stayed with her so it wasn’t my responsibility but I’ve never seen anything like this before. Although it’s weird, I felt really guilty and it totally ruined the party for me. Even the clown seemed a bit put out and when I tried to ask if he’d seen this happen before, he was very noncommittal. I don’t suppose I’m likely to have a clown again but do you think this justifies a word of warning on invitations in future? I’ve heard of kids having irrational fears but I thought they all loved clowns!

Perplexed, by email

Dear Perplexed,

Fear of clowns is real for many children and grown-ups and is known as coulrophobia. For those of us who are entertained by clowns, it may be quite hard to identify with those who find the mere sight of a clown terrifying. One explanation that I like is a cartoon showing a dad cuddling his child who has just spotted a clown. The child is saying, “Gee! Dad! Why wouldn’t I be afraid of a grown man wearing misfitting clothes, garish makeup and a freaky wig.” From the time we are born, eyes are the first thing that we look for. We are hard-wired to search for the familiar and be very cautious about the unfamiliar – particularly in faces that we see. Children are also learning to understand facial expressions and the emotions that they are portraying. Clowns can have very distorted eyes so no wonder some children are mistrustful (“Is he happy, sad, angry or out-and-out dangerous?”) and even fearful of them. So, let those of us who enjoy the fun and delight of clowns continue to do so – but let’s also have empathy for those who find the very same experience scary, or even downright terrifying.

Diane Levy provides expert answers to your parenting queries. Send your questions to: [[email protected]](mailto: [email protected]) Diane’s parenting books are available in book shops.

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