When we think of someone wearing funny-color hair, big red boots and a bright red nose, we think laughter, silliness and fun. Who doesn’t love to see how many clowns come out of a Volkswagen Beetle?
Who doesn’t love to watch one clown chasing all the other clowns with a bucket of water only for the audience to discover that the bucket is really only full of confetti?
For many young children and many adults, however, these physical attributes and antics can turn trips to the circus, fairs, and birthday parties into a terrifying experience.
What is fear of clowns?
The name for the unnatural fear of clowns is coulrophobia. The term first appeared in the 1980s and has since come to be recognized as an “official” phobia. (2)
Interestingly, unlike most other phobias, coulrophobia is the fear of something that is manmade and not naturally occurring. Santa Claus and other costumed characters (even on Hallowe’en) fall into this category.
Symptoms of Coulrophobia
The symptoms of coulrophobia are very similar to those associated with other anxiety symptoms. Clown anxiety symptoms include:
• Feelings of dread
• Fast or irregular heartbeat
• Crying or screaming
• Anger or defiance over being taken to or placed in the situation (3)
Some attribute clown anxiety to the appearance of killer clowns in movies and TV shows, but toddlers and preschoolers would not have seen these movies.
Why are children afraid of clowns?
So, why are children afraid of clowns? There are several reasons.
First, toddlers and preschoolers are unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. In fact, phobias are quite common in this age group.
Second, “a clown can be a very unusual and somewhat imposing figure. Then you add ... fairgrounds, circuses, and parties. All of these environments can be very hectic, noisy, and crowded ... Now add in a large person with a painted face ... and you can understand why this might upset some children.” (1)
Third, the painted face.