A 2008 study showed that children pretty much universally hate clowns. Honestly, most of the adults I know aren’t huge fans, either. So when Yahoo! Shine recently asked, “why do kids hate clowns?” all I could think was, “how is that even a question?” The real burning question here is, is there anyone who actually likes clowns? They’re freaking hideous.
The only upside to my clown phobia (scientific name: coulrophobia) is that it’s a nice bonding experience with my six-year-old son, who hates clowns as much as I do. His fear is made even more extreme by certain aspects of his autism, which make it difficult for him to understand that the clown is only a regular person in make-up. I try to explain it, and he just looks at me doubtfully, as if to say, “why would any regular person possibly want to look like this?”
An added problem for my son is that clowns often have balloons with them, otherwise known as Balloons of Doom, another fear of my son’s. Balloons are unpredictable; they make horribly loud sounds when you least expect it. Clowns, likewise, seem unpredictable to my son: the squirting flowers, the large motions, the the horror of the bicycle horn. There’s just way too much sensory input going on there, and the blurring of the line between reality and fantasy is not helping.
But fear of clowns is certainly not an autism thing. Alex Anderson, a Fort Collins, Colo. counselor, told Yahoo! Shine that popular culture has a lot to do with instilling a fear of clowns. And that fear — from a movie, say, 30 years ago (Poltergeist, anyone?) — can be passed from parent to child. So if you’re freaked out, your kid likely is, too. (See Strange Childhood Phobias: Is Your Child’s Fear Normal? for more on childhood fears.)
Anderson adds that the whole clown persona, from the makeup face to the outlandish costumes, can raise kids’ defenses.
“It’s the unknown,” he says. “They don’t know who’s behind the makeup, and kids are taught to be wary of strangers.”
Uh, not to mention the freakishly large feet. Those are not helping the situation.
Anderson advises that your best bet in beating your kid’s clown phobia is small exposures, leading up to personal interactions. Frankly, my son has bigger fish to fry in the therapy department than getting over a fear of clowns. But for me? I’ve gotten through 38 years successfully avoiding clowns, but perhaps it’s time for some “small exposures.”
Let’s start with these images: 20 excellent reasons everyone can hate clowns. Feel free to share your own personal reasons for hating clowns in the comments! And if you’re that one person who actually likes them, please explain why. Do you have some kind of gene mutation that makes you fearless? I’m jealous.