Our 6 year old was bugging out and we tried to help him find a new way to look at his fears.
We first noticed this behaviour in July, when he’d hyper-focus on flying insects: everything was a “bumblebee”, including flies, dragonflies, mosquitoes and yes, bees, wasps, hornets.
He’d become frozen in fear, asking for our help to walk down our front steps because he was afraid he’d get stung.
The hubby and I were not sure how it all started and we also knew fear of insects is normal.
But we also just began summer and we didn’t want it to affect plans we had to explore the outdoors, where there were bugs everywhere!
Thankfully, T was still game to do our outdoor activities – hikes, roadtrip, swimming in the wild. But unlike previous years, a lot of his attention was on the bugs, either not wanting to be stung or wanting to swat them.
And the kid wonders why they could ever want to sting him!
I did have a lot of empathy for T.
When I was 7 in the Philippines, I was watching TV on my parent’s bed when I felt something crawl on my leg. It was a big cockroach!
I screamed and swatted it off my leg and then its wings spread open. I jumped off the bed screaming as the roach flew after me out of the room and into the living room. I jumped on the couch and turned around and saw this roach flying towards me.
I felt so creeped out about insects for many years after.
So it was with this mind that I knew we had to try a different approach other than, “Relax, they’re not going to hurt you.”
It was important to validate T’s feelings, while trying to find a productive healthy way to help him face his fears.
As someone who works in information services, I thought the best way was to share factual and fun information about insects – and to show T that insects are nothing to be afraid of and in fact, are very cool.
So I first found a few age appropriate videos about bees and we watched them.
We learned about why the bumblebees buzzed about busily in our garden next to our front steps. What a surprise: they were collecting nectar and not waiting to attack T!
We learned that bees do sting people, but they only do so when they are afraid or angry. We learned that when bees sting, they die. So they have to be really scared or angry to sting someone!
So every time we were outside and T got into one of his perseverating moods about “bumblebees,” I reinforced the same message, “Bees only sting you when they are angry or scared, so just leave them alone and you’ll be fine!”
In addition to watching videos, we tried to read books about insects.
Books are a great way to convey a message in non preachy ways. Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s The Darkest Dark is one of my favourite books that we’ve read to T as it conveyed the message out the dark in T’s room at night is nothing to be afraid of.
To be clear, T still gets creeped out by bugs… and the dark at night. We never expected nor received an overnight cure.
But over the summer, we slowly saw a calmer T around bugs. By learning more about them, he even started to find them interesting.
He became curious and less fearful and approached them to observe them… and yes, to squish them. He is a six year old after all!
Daycare staff report that he enjoys looking at ant hills when they play outside.
At home, he likes to look at the spiders and cobwebs outside our disgusting old living room windows.
Most recently this week, he became very fascinated with walking sticks, insects that look like, well, walking sticks – after they were very briefly mentioned in a bedtime story we read called, “Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn.”
It was all he could talk about this week.
So I found a short video about walking sticks that we enjoyed together before bedtime. It was a nice way to show him just how amazing insects are, in this case, camouflaging themselves to increase their odds of surviving predators.
When I think about what is going on in the world, with spineless politicians and groups waging a disinformation campaign against COVID safety protocols and vaccines, using fear as a weapon, I can’t help but think about what our T has taught the hubby and I about facing one’s fears.