6 common fears for kids who learn and think differently

By The Understood Team

At a glance

  • Kids who learn and think differently might have more fears than other kids.

  • The fear often stems from something they struggle with.

  • Understanding what your child is afraid of can help you find solutions.

Trouble keeping up. Difficulty socializing. Being “found out.” The challenges of learning and thinking differently can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. And those feelings can give way to fears that affect kids in and out of school.

You can help. Here are some common fears to look out for and talk about with your child.

1. Fear of failure

When kids fail at something the first time they try it, they might want to give up right away. If they struggle with self-confidence, fear of failure can keep them from charging forward to tackle anything new or different.

It can be a painful cycle — kids don’t take risks or have new experiences because they don’t want to “fail.” But without trying, they can’t make progress, either.

Get an expert’s advice on how to help your child overcome fear of failure.

2. Fear of social situations

Struggling with social skills can make kids fearful of social situations or group interactions. They might have trouble picking up on social cues or following social rules.

Some kids who have trouble making conversation might feel like they don’t know what to say or how to say it. They might be afraid of saying or doing something embarrassing in front of others, especially if they’ve had bad experiences before.

3. Fear of not being able to keep up

This fear often shows up in grade school. In the elementary years, kids tend to start comparing themselves to their peers. They might notice that they’re not keeping up or fitting in the way they want to.

In studies, kids who learn and think differently often report feeling “stupid” or anxious about being different. Find out what to say if your child says “I’m dumb.”

4. Fear of leaving home or family

Kids who learn and think differently often drag their feet about going to school or being away from their parents. They may avoid overnight trips, sleepovers, or any other experiences that take them away from home.

5. Fear of being “found out”

Kids — especially tweens and teens — want to be accepted by their peers. They want to fit in. They may worry that if their friends find out about their learning and thinking differences, they won’t be considered cool or fun anymore.

As a result, they might refuse help in school. Or they might avoid situations where their differences could be on display, like reading out loud.

6. Fear of the future

This fear can take many forms. Kids might be afraid of doing poorly on an upcoming test, music recital, or sports event. Or that they won’t be able to get into college or find a job. They may be anxious about the outcome of a family situation, like a parent’s job loss.

You can help your child manage fear. If your child seems especially anxious, use an anxiety log to track what you’re seeing.

Share your concerns with your health care provider, a teacher, or a friend. Sharing your concerns with a trusted adult is a good first step to finding solutions to reduce your child’s fears.

Key takeaways

  • Fear of failure and fear of the future are common for kids who learn and think differently.

  • Working through fears can help boost kids’ self-esteem.

  • Keep an eye out for signs of anxiety, and connect with your health care provider if you’re concerned.

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    About the author

    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.