Pedophobia (Fear of Children)

A traumatic experience involving an infant or child may cause pedophobia, a fear of small children. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or mysophobia (fear of germs) may be more at risk. You may get anxious or fearful when you see children or are around them. Exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you overcome pedophobia.


What is pedophobia?

People with pedophobia develop an irrational fear of babies and small children. The word pedophobia stems from “paida,” the Greek word for children. “Phobos” is the Greek word for fear.

Someone who has pedophobia may take extreme measures to avoid being around small children. Even the thought of being near children can cause anxiety and fear.


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What is a phobia?

A phobia is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to become unreasonably fearful of something that won’t harm them. Pedophobia is a specific phobic disorder. A person becomes afraid of, or anxious around, something particular. In this case, it’s babies and small children.

How many people have pedophobia?

It’s hard knowing exactly how many people have a specific phobia disorder like pedophobia. Many people may keep this fear to themselves or may not recognize they have it. We do know that about 1 in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, though.


What is the difference between pedophobia and pediophobia?

It can be easy to confuse these two phobias, which have similar spellings. Pediophobia is a fear of dolls or inanimate objects that look real, and pedophobia is a fear of actual children.

People can suffer from both phobias, so someone who fears children (pedophobia) may also fear the childlike features of dolls (pediophobia), and someone with pediophobia may also have pedophobia.

Symptoms and Causes

Who is at risk for pedophobia?

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who need things to be neat and orderly may develop specific phobias, like pedophobia. They may view children as messy and disruptive. They fear the chaos that often comes with being around small children.

Certain factors increase your risk for developing a specific phobic disorder:

  • Gender: Women are more likely to have a phobia than men.
  • Family history: Growing up with a parent or loved one who has a phobia or anxiety disorder may predispose you to the same fears or a different phobia.
  • Genetics: Some studies suggest that a genetic change (like a gene mutation) may make people more likely to have an anxiety or phobic disorder.


What other phobias are associated with pedophobia?

Having more than one phobia is common. Phobias are often tied together. For instance, someone with a fear of germs (mysophobia or germaphobia) may view children as tiny germ carriers and develop pedophobia. And someone who fears young children may also develop a fear of teenagers (ephebiphobia).

What causes pedophobia?

A harmful or negative experience with an infant or child might cause you to fear children. That bad experience could happen during childhood or adulthood.

You may have a direct experience or witness an event, such as:

What do people with pedophobia fear?

Pedophobia affects everyone differently. You may be:

  • Able to be around children you know, such as relatives, but not other children.
  • Unable to be around any children without experiencing panicky symptoms.
  • Anxious just thinking about being near children or seeing visual images of them.
  • Afraid or worried about any situation that puts you near children.

What are pedophobia symptoms?

Phobia symptoms range from mild to severe. You may recognize that fear of children is irrational, yet still be unable to control your physical responses.

Pedophobia symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Extreme feeling of dread or terror.
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate.
  • Shaking or trembling.
  • Shortness of breath.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is pedophobia diagnosed?

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) helps mental health professionals like psychologists diagnose phobia disorders based on symptoms and how the symptoms impact your quality of life.

Healthcare providers use these criteria to diagnose a specific phobic disorder like philophobia:

  • Intense fear of infants and small children that persists for at least six months.
  • Symptoms that start as soon as you’re near children or simply think about being around children.
  • Extreme fear or anxiety that makes you avoid situations where you might be near infants or children.
  • Symptoms that affect your quality of life.
  • Intense feelings of fear, anxiety or dread that don’t match the real danger.

Management and Treatment

What are ways to treat pedophobia?

A mental health professional can help you overcome the fear of being around small children. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) often works for people with pedophobia.

Treatments may include:

  • Exposure therapy (desensitization): You slowly face your fear of babies and small children through gradually increasing exposure to images or situations that involve children. The goal is to desensitize you to the fear through repeated exposure. Most people with specific phobias see symptom improvement with exposure therapy over time.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy helps you analyze why you fear children. CBT helps address traumatic events that may have led to this fear. After you discover the cause, you learn how to change your perceptions and responses to situations involving children.
  • Medications: Anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants may help while you’re getting psychotherapy. These medicines ease symptoms, making it easier to be around children.

What are the complications of pedophobia?

An extreme fear of children can make it difficult to function in society. You may miss out on social events, struggle at work and develop depression. Some people have panic attacks, which feel a lot like a heart attack. Your heart may race, and you may have noncardiac chest pain.

Anti-anxiety medications will help you to cope while you work on ways to make the fear less intense.

Living With

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Panic attacks.
  • Persistent anxiety that interferes with daily life or sleeping.
  • Signs of depression.
  • Substance use problems.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What’s causing this phobia?
  • What’s the best treatment for me?
  • Should I try exposure therapy?
  • How long will I need therapy?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Children are everywhere: in grocery stores and neighborhoods, on buses and sidewalks. It’s almost impossible to avoid seeing these youngsters. Having a fear of infants and small children can make it difficult for you to shop, travel, socialize, attend gatherings and do things most people enjoy. Avoiding children altogether isn’t realistic or healthy. A mental health professional can use psychotherapies like exposure therapy and CBT to help you overcome pedophobia.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/15/2022.

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