I’m sure you’ve seen it: a child cringing and screaming at the sight of Ronald McDonald, Krusty the Clown, Circus Charlie or another clown. Whether the youngster met the clown in person or just saw him or her on television, the reaction is the same: intense dislike, panic, even pure horror. It makes one wonder: how can a mascot designed to bring on fun and silliness end up being a villain?
The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia. This phobia is more common than most think, affecting both adults and children across different cultures. In most cases, coulrophobia is a mild and temporary phobia, one that starts in early childhood and is naturally outgrown by puberty. But extreme cases also exist, with sufferers experiencing severe stress by the mere thought of clowns.
Why Would Kids be Afraid of Clowns?
Most of us recognize that clowns are just ordinary people dressed up in heavy make-up, colorful wigs and baggy clothes. We can also associate their presence with entertainment, magic tricks and comic relief. However, kids – especially really young children – can’t yet make those conclusions.
For them, clowns are strange-looking creatures who interact with them in a way that they are not used to. It’s only natural for children to be wary and fearful of what they don’t understand — it’s part of a person’s natural instinct. Also, consider that kids often meet clowns in loud and confusing settings, such as at a party, a show or a carnival. The context can also make clowns feel very intimidating to young children.
Media images may also play a role in the “villain-ization” of clowns. Television shows and movies today often poke fun at coulrophobia; take Bart’s line of “Can’t sleep, clown will eat me,” in an episode of the The Simpsons, or Sam Winchester’s “Planes crash… and apparently clowns kill,” in the horror series Supernatural. The late Heath Ledger also gave a convincing portrayal of a psychopath clown as The Joker in the movie Batman: Dark Knight. These kinds of images only contribute to feelings of upset and fear that vulnerable children may have.
What can Parents Do?
Fear of clowns that developed spontaneously (that is, was not caused by a traumatic experience involving clowns) will eventually go away on its own. However, clowns are hard to avoid in a child’s life – they show up on T.V., in movies, at shopping malls, at a birthday parties and many other places that children frequent. If a child’s fear is overwhelming to the point where the child doesn’t want to go out or to the point that the child will have a full blown panic attack upon seeing a clown, then professional help is in order. Child psychologists can help a child recover from coulrophobia.
If the fear is annoying but not that strong, then home treatment may suffice; try Bach Flower Remedies like Mimulus for phobias and Rock Rose for panic attacks – 2 drops of each given 4 times a day over a number of months can gently melt fear out of the system. Also, taking the Bach preparation Rescue Remedy along on outings is a useful strategy. Rescue Remedy can quickly calm a child and turn off a panic attack or tantrum – 4 drops in a small amount of liquid, given every couple of minutes usually calms the child very quickly. It also comes in spray form so that it can be sprayed into the child’s mouth (or even right on his or her arms). Teaching the child EFT (emotional freedom technique) or doing EFT on the child can also cure the clown issue in many children. Check out online information on EFT as well as videos showing the treatment of children with phobias through EFT.
Fear of clowns that persist until adulthood, or fear that causes significant stress in a child should be referred to a mental health professional.