A fear of bugs and other creepy crawlies can be one of the most stubborn fears to deal with. Almost all humans have some degree of aversion to insects. But when a child has a phobia that leaves them screaming in fear or flailing their arms whenever a bug comes within a few feet, it can become quite disruptive.
A fear of flying insects is especially common for young kids. Unique insect phobias can also last through adulthood unless addressed early. You can find many adults who scream at the sight of a butterfly, and scores of people have been killed in car accidents caused by someone in a panic over a bee or moth in the car. So it’s best you start helping children conquer such fears early on.
How to deal with a child’s fear of insects
When a child starts to panic, rather than removing them from the situation (say, by picking them up and taking them inside) offer comfort where they are. Go over to where they sit and sit down next to them, or walk over and kneel by their side, wrapping your hand around their waist. Soothe their distress, but do not facilitate their urge to flee. Your picking them up and walking inside can reinforce the idea that there’s a reason to be afraid, and you want to start teaching kids how to manage their distress without catastrophic reactions, which can be deadly later in life.
When a bug or insect gets too close, say something like “Silly bug! He landed in the wrong place!” or “Crazy moth, doesn’t he know you’re not a flower?” Give calm, reassuring statements that make the antics of bugs seem humorous.
Helping children overcome a fear of bugs and insects:
- Talk to your child regularly about what bugs do and what they might be up to. One of the things that can make bugs so scary for kids is that their motives seem difficult to decipher. They buzz around seemingly at random, swarming by a child or landing on them suspiciously. So whenever the opportunity arises, talk about the life of bugs. Explain how bees are busy at work trying to collect nectar from as many flowers as they can. How ladybugs eat tiny critters and help our plants grow by controlling pests. How grasshoppers are looking for tasty leaves (not kids) to chew up. The more you can help them see bugs as busy with their own tasks, the less scary they’ll be to children.
- It often helps to point out the age-old wisdom that “they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” Ask your child to adopt a bug’s perspective for a moment. Imagine how you might feel if you came across a creature that was as tall as the Empire State Building! That’s what we are to bugs. When a moth flies around and lands on us, it’s sort of like touching down onto a moving mountain. When you go hiking, you’re not looking to bite the mountain or hurt the rock you’re stepping on. Bugs are the same way. We’re typically just a huge landscape to them.
- Are there any insects your child likes? If so, find out what these are and learn more about them together. Then use this knowledge to talk about similarities with other insects.
- Raise crickets. When children care for something, they develop empathy towards it, which can go a long way towards relieving anxiety about ALL bugs. So a good way to help kids overcome a fear of insects is to have them raise a cricket colony. Crickets are available at any pet store (you’ll be rescuing them from becoming lizard food) and are typically only a few cents each. Pick up a dozen or two, get a small clear habitat, and task kids with taking care of them. You can do a project to make different homes for the crickets out of toilet paper tubes or other small containers. Have them name the crickets, pick different fruits to cut up and feed to them, or have them search the backyard for different leaves and sticks to place inside their enclosure. If your child is literate, encourage them to keep a journal of any interesting things the crickets do. If they’re preliterate, discuss these things with them at an opportune time: What do they like to eat? Where do they spend most of their time? And so on. The nice thing about this project is that it’s easily disposable once it serves its purpose and the kids grow tired of it. Just take the habitat outside and conduct a ceremony to set the crickets free.
See also: [sibling-pages]