You’ve probably heard the saying that a child’s brain is like a sponge. Indeed, as they grow, they soak up so much knowledge and understanding of the world around them. But this happens with time and, before they mature, kids can also pick up irrational fears of the things they see — or the things they can’t explain. What was your biggest phobia as a kid? Perhaps it matches up with these 20 hilarious-yet-harmless concerns that adults admit to having had as children.
The history of sprinkles is certainly a uh…colorful one. Some say the sweet ice cream topping came from France. Others trace it back to roots planted firmly in the United States. And as for the original name of the sugary shards: some know them as “jimmies,” while others say “sprinkles,” and that’s just in the U.S.
Whatever you call them, one thing’s for sure: kids love sprinkles. Well, all but one whose parent shared their little girl’s fear of the sweet stuff with BuzzFeed in 2015. They said, “When my daughter was three years old, she would wake up screaming and tell me it was because she was afraid of sprinkles.”
19. Stepping on the sidewalk cracks
You probably have a memory of hopping over the sidewalk cracks as a kid. Why you did this, you may not have known. But there’s plenty of folklore in both Europe and America that cautioned people against touching these fractures with their feet. And it wasn’t because such a misstep would cause chaos in this realm, either.
People believed that cracks in the floors or soil or walls were openings to another dimension — an otherworldly one. Dipping one’s toe into this space could therefore bring misfortune or danger to the unlucky person who stepped there. That fear has somehow transcended the generations, which is why you might have stepped over sidewalk cracks in your day, too.
Even the tiniest songbird can have up to 3,000 feathers. And they sometimes shed those plumes as they grow, move and fly. You’ve probably picked up a shedded feather in your day, but did it spark fear inside of you as a kid? If so, you weren’t the only one who felt this way.
One Redditor explained how they became petrified of plumes. They explained, “I was really afraid of feathers when I was little. It started out when I was like two or three. I think that I thought they were moving on their own.” As they grew up, though, the commenter realized that feathers couldn’t move on their own, but that only managed to downgrade their fear “from terrifying to creepy.”
17. Cracking their head open… like a watermelon
Any parent will know that kids fall… a lot. Two-year-olds topple over 38 times a day, on average. And, up until the time they turn four, children will keep habitually stumbling, even when walking on flat ground. So, it’s natural for grown-ups to hover while their brood go walkabout. It’s also normal for kids to fear falling over themselves.
One Twitter user had an even more specific concern about falling over. They wrote about how they worried “that I would fall down the stairs in my elementary school gym and my head would smash open like a watermelon.” That might not have been the mental image every kid had, but falling over was a very real fear.
16. Monsters under the bed
Most kids get scared of the dark, and some of them worry about what lurks beneath their bed after the sun goes down. It’s not a totally irrational fear, though — and not because monsters are real. It turns out that little ones have evolved to get nervous when the lights go out, and it’s for a good reason.
Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray explained to the Fatherly website in 2018, “It’s no surprise that infants have some fear of the dark. Throughout our evolutionary history, the dark was dangerous. Monsters represent predators. Lions and tigers, and the sort of slimy monsters like snakes — to me, it’s not surprising that we would have a natural fear of these kinds of things.”
Just over 3 billion dollars worth of dolls were sold in the United States alone in 2019. Needless to say, these timeless toys are still pretty popular with kids — well, some kids. Others find the life-like playthings to be a bit too creepy for comfort. And, in the case of one particular family, the fear was understandable.
As Ilse Nightwalker shared with BuzzFeed, “My kids were afraid of dolls. I found this out one day when I brought a doll up from the basement (for the umpteenth time) and my son asked in a worried voice, ‘Mommy? How does that doll keep getting back up here?’” Terrifying, indeed.
Back in the day, quicksand was a go-to scare tactic in movies and media — Slate journalist Daniel Engber found that one in 35 movies in the 1960s featured this terrifying death trap. Animated shows continued the tradition, and many former kids have said that they were petrified of falling into it themselves. As one Twitter user wrote, “Cartoons made me think quicksand would be everywhere!”
Research has determined that quicksand wouldn’t likely kill us, though — at least, not on its own. The real danger is getting stuck in quicksand, which is a clay, sand and saltwater combination, and then having the tides rise. This situation could lead to drowning, but would they ever sink down into the quicksand as an old movie or cartoon might suggest? That’s very unlikely.
Dinosaurs roamed the earth for a very, very long time. If the lifespan of earth was compressed into one 365-day calendar, then the prehistoric reptiles would have emerged on January 1st and disappeared one week before the end of September. On that same calendar, humans would have arrived on December 31st, which shows just how long dinosaurs lasted and dominated their landscape.
Nevertheless, dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago — they have never been a threat to humans. And yet, many adults admit that they used to fear the massive reptiles thanks to cartoons and movies that portrayed the meat-eating beasts with startling ferocity. We’re looking at you, Jurassic Park.
12. An errant limb hanging outside of the covers
Experts have attempted to understand why children fear the dark — and, specifically, monsters hiding under their beds. As psychology professor Peter Gray told the Fatherly website, it could be down to what kids can and can’t discern when the lights are off. He explained, “My guess would be that the monster could be any place where you can’t see.”
But little ones can make out what’s in their bed — and perhaps that’s why so many of them bundle up under the blankets. Lots of people recall having a very real childhood fear of leaving their limbs hanging over their beds or outside of the covers. In their minds, an exposed arm or leg would make it easier for any monsters under the bed to snatch them up.
Every other year, one person in the United States dies due to shark attack. To put that in perspective, more than 40 people die after being struck by lightning every year — and the rarity with which a person gets struck by lightning is a cultural touchstone. And yet, kids of all ages have long feared the predatory species.
And the way grown-ups remember their one-time fear of sharks is hilarious in retrospect. One shared via Reddit, “After watching Jaws, I was convinced I couldn’t use the toilet because the shark was going to swim up through the pipes and eat me.” Another tweeted that they thought a shark would try and eat them while swimming in an enclosed, shallow pool.
10. Ants – and where they might colonize
Ants don’t live alone. These little insects gather in colonies ranging in size from a few dozen to a few thousand — and, in very rare cases, a few hundred million. These super colonies have been uncovered across the continents — Europe, North America, Asia — although there is at least one place that they have never colonized.
And yet, in 2014 Ariane Lange told BuzzFeed that she feared ants — and where they might build a nest. She said, “I once overheard my mom [saying] that when she was a child, she feared that an ant would crawl into her ear and establish a colony in her brain. I did not internalize the fact that her story was a joke […], but I did immediately become deeply afraid that an ant would crawl into my ear and establish a colony in my brain.”
A wolf’s howl is more than just a scary sound that shatters the peaceful night time silence. These intimidating wild animals use their voices to warn rivals to stay away. They also communicate with their pack this way, keeping tabs while they hunt together and catch big game: deer, moose and elk included.
8. Still pictures coming to life
It was a go-to tactic for the bad guys on Scooby Doo — they’d cut out the eyeballs of painted portraits and stand behind them, peeping through at the gang. Pictures came to life in other kids’ series, too, including Harry Potter. The wizarding world had living photos with subjects that talked and moved.
Because of this and other impossible imagery, plenty of kids developed a fear of their own photos coming to life. One Twitter user described her own nightmares, writing, “I had a copy of Smash Hits which had an advert for Edward Scissorhands in it. One night, I was so scared but didn’t want to tell the babysitter my fear, so instead, I ripped the picture out and ate it.”
7. Invisible cars at intersections
Learning how to safely cross the street is a rite of passage for kids all over the world. Whether they live in cities or suburbs, little ones look to one side of the street then to the other to ensure that no cars are coming before they step into the road. It’s simple enough, but some children worried that other obstacles might hinder their passage.
Strangely, one Twitter user admitted to fearing a magical type of vehicle that would wipe him out, regardless of how many times he looked right and left. He tweeted, “I was scared that someone had invented invisible cars but I didn’t know about it yet so I couldn’t cross the street.”
6. Reflections of themselves
You’ve probably seen videos of kittens and puppies catching sight of themselves in a mirror and getting scared. Well, it turns out that some kids had the same fear of their reflections. One Twitter user explained, “I thought if I stared into the mirror too long my reflection would start to do stuff I wasn’t doing.”
As it turns out, this is a very real phobia — eisoptrophobia, to be precise — and it can manifest in a multitude of different ways. Some people fear reflective surfaces, while others do not want to see themselves in mirrors. Others think that a looking glass gives a glimpse into a supernatural realm — and that makes them nervous.
It’s no secret that lots of kids become fascinated by scary things. In some ways, it’s a coping mechanism for little ones as they grow. If they can embody a monster or a dinosaur while they play, they can express their own aggression or fight away the fears they face. Sometimes, though, these terrifying tropes don’t become parts to play — instead, they remain figures of fear for kids.
One such creepy character is the vampire, and lots of kids held onto their fear of these fanged villains. Macy Foronda explained to BuzzFeed, “When I was younger, I thought that if I cut my hair short, vampires would come and suck out all of my blood from the exposed skin on my bare neck. Not sure why.”
4. Accidentally killing their teddy bears
Any parent who has had a child lose their favorite toy or blanket knows just how upsetting such an experience can be for kids. In 2007 scientists revealed the results of a study that explained why. Little ones think their soft toys have a life force — one that cannot be replicated by an exact replacement if they lose their cherished accessory.
Perhaps that’s why some kids feared what might happen if they let their teddy bear’s head slip beneath the blankets overnight. One Twitter user said they worried their “teddy would suffocate in [their] bed if his head went under the covers.” A gentle tucking-in would likely assuage this fear, though.
There’s a reason why kids have a fear of ghosts. Their minds have evolved to fear the things they see and hear that might be out of place. And in trying to make sense of those experiences, little ones become convinced that they’re seeing ghosts. After all, such spirits are “real” things to children who see them in books and cartoons.
Of course, everyone’s childhood fear of ghosts manifested itself differently. One Twitter user described hers, saying, “I had a room in the basement where it was quite dark. I always had a fear that if I sneezed at night while I was alone, I would hear a mysterious voice say, ‘Bless you.’” To be fair, that would scare us, too.
2. Losing their teeth
By the time a child turns three, all of their baby teeth — a set of 20 — should grow in. Within two or three years, though, these teeth start to fall out to make room for their grown-up pearly whites. For most kids, this is a fun experience — hello, tooth fairy. But others come to fear the day their teeth begin to wiggle.
One mom told BuzzFeed, “My daughter received a tooth fairy box from her grandma when she was four years old, which made her terrified that she was going to lose her teeth. She brushed multiple times a day and cried during the whole process.” The fear eventually went away, but, on a positive note, the little girl maintained her dental hygiene into her adult life.
Beards have long been a fashionable facial fixture, and a 2016 study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology uncovered one reason why: women prefer men with a bit of facial hair. They ranked their preferences, revealing they loved heavy stubble most, followed by light stubble, beards and, in last place, a clean-shaven face.
That’s great news for hairy men, but tough for little ones with the irrational fear of beards. Andrew Ziegler knew someone who had such a phobia. He told BuzzFeed, “My older brother had a crippling fear of beards. […] I distinctly remember one night when he woke up in tears because of a nightmare he had about having a beard.” Nowadays, he might wish he could grow a little stubble.