Where do our fears come from?

NikkiNikki Robertson works at People's Postcode Lottery and volunteers with our Parentline family support service. As it's Halloween, a recent eight-legged encounter got her wondering: where do we get our fears from?

Picture the scene…child is in bed, all is calm, bedtime is going well…until…SCREAM! I run to Emily’s bedroom, as any parent would, to witness a spider running over her bed. My initial reaction was to also scream and shout for my other half – Daddy would come and save the situation!

Fortunately, or unfortunately, all the screaming scared the spider which scarpered under the bed never to be seen again. But this led to a multitude of questions: where did the spider go? What if it comes back? What if it climbs on my bed when I’m sleeping? By this time my initial reaction had calmed down and I was able to answer each of the questions rationally: "the spider won’t hurt you. Look at the size of you and the size of the spider – it’s more scared of you that you are of it. Spiders (well that one at least) don’t hurt you. It won’t touch you if you don’t touch it." The situation had calmed down and bedtime (eventually) was back to normal.

But this got me thinking - why was Emily scared of spiders? And was it my reaction to the seeing them that had sparked her fear? I remembered back to a story my other half told me about his fear of heights and how it was either brought on or made worse by the fact his mum was scared of heights. He clearly remembers whenever him, or his sister, got too close to something that triggered his mum’s fear of heights that she would panic and pull them away from, what she perceived as, danger. This has got worse for him in adult life and he does exactly the same with Emily.

I’ve researched the subject and there are a plethora of articles online about this very subject. They examine why children share the same fears as their parents: is it genetic or do they pick up on their parents' behaviours? 

The conclusion seems to be that is a bit of both. Children are definitely influenced by their parents' behaviour but sometimes fears cannot be explained or rationalised easily. I know I want Emily to grow up being fearful of as little as possible so, for me, on this one at least, I think I can learn to put on my big girl pants and try and tolerate spiders. I hope that if I can control my overreaction, Emily won’t be as scared. My other half and heights? Probably more of a work in progress!


It’s been 10 years since players of People’s Postcode Lottery started working with Children 1st to protect children from abuse, neglect and harm and help families and communities keep children safer. It's thanks to players that we are able to create partnerships between People's Postcode Lottery staff like Nikki and Children 1st services like Parentline.