Bugs and Helping Kids Overcome Fears

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.

19 thoughts on “Bugs and Helping Kids Overcome Fears

  1. I love the gentle and supportive approach you took to support T with his fears. It sounds like he now has some interest in learning about bugs That is an excellent current outcome.

  2. It’s amazing how alike T and my grandson are. He is 7 but wanted to do nothing but squish them too. For his birthday in August I bought him an insect kit. It came with a hat, magnifying glass, small mesh cage for the flying bugs, a net etc. He was so excited and headed outside to find the insects. He could look at them without the fear of being stung. Just a thought for T.

    1. That sounds very cool, Diane and a great idea. Is it something you found online? If you have a link, I wouldn’t mind taking a look. It sounds exactly like something T would enjoy!

      1. I’m sorry I can’t figure out how to copy the link from Amazon but this is what it is. Type this in the Amazon search box and it should come up. Adventure Kidz Outdoor Bug Exploration Kit, Binoculars, Magnifying Glass, Bug Container, Viewers, Critter Cage, Net, Backpack, Hat. I hope this helps, there are many to pick from but this is the one I ordered.

      2. Thanks so much, Diane! We will take a look. T and I spent an hour after daycare pickup yesterday exploring trees and muddy areas for bugs. It had stopped raining after a day of rain so lots of bugs out. He was having a blast. Saw a potato bug for the first time!

  3. Thank you. Your approach to overcoming fear with information, creativity and lots of kindness and patience are what is missing a lot in our world now. A must and need. Insects, Rodents, Shadows, Total Darkness, Delta variant, closed spaces, so many fears and phobias in our world more than ever. Adults and kids are so scared and fearful of many things and acknowledging their fears and getting the right information are the first steps to overcoming them. I truly enjoy reading your journey and that of T. It mirrors so much of my world and I’m learning a lot on how to navigate life in a healthier way. 🙏 Thank you. As for cockroaches, once when I was younger, I woke up slapping my face when I notice something was crawling on it, it was a mega cockroach. I get paranoid after that sleeping, I hope my mouth is not open when I sleep. My other fear, a lizard landing on my face when asleep.

    1. Thank you as always for the kind feedback. 🙂 I do think a lot about your pandemic posts and see a lot of similarities in how to combat misinformation and how dangerous it can be when it weaponizes fear.

      I can relate about the cockroach. When we first went back to Philippines in 2008, after almost 19 years, I was so paranoid about roaches. But they were not as horrible as I remembered.

      My spouse saw a lizard for the first time, while using the bathroom. And let’s just say it made quite the startling impression. 😆🤣 Things we thankfully don’t have to worry about in our colder climate here!

  4. That sounds like such a terrifying experience to not only have a big cockroach crawl on your leg, but for it to then fly after you! I love the approach you are taking with T to provide more fun facts about the various insects that he’s afraid of and to show him that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Maybe I should give this a try as there are certain bugs and creepy crawlers that I am terrified of!

    1. Thanks. Roaches are just gross in general. No redeeming qualities. 😆

      I think you have the best way to overcome your fear of bugs, through real-life immersive outdoor experience! 😊

      Good luck with back to work today!

  5. I don’t know if you can get Hey Duggee over there, it’s a short cartoon aimed at T’s age where the animals earn badges by learning about and trying new things. Anyway, there’s an episode called the Stick Badge with a dancing stick insect and your post made me think of it. It’s really funny.

    1. Thanks Juliette. I have not heard of this show although we get lots of wonderful imports from the UK, including Peppa Pig which T loves. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Hey Duggee!

      1. Haha Peppa Pig gets everywhere! Hey Duggee is brilliant, my favourite episode is the tadpole badge where they learn about tadpoles turning into frogs, then the frogs leave the pond and one says “I’m going to work in the city!” and another says “I’m going on a gap year!” 😂

  6. Good job, Papa! I think this is a good message for kids and adults! I didn’t realize wasps were setting up camp in my mailbox this summer – so they (and I) were quite surprised when I went to get my mail. I got stung twice on my leg and my leg blew up twice its size and stayed that way for about a week. I do the scream thing now when I see one. I should just calm down and recognize the same message you gave to T. I’m good about bees and can reinforce the same message to my guys. I need to calm down when it comes to wasps though!

    1. Thanks Robyn.

      I think in your case, your scream and fear of wasps is justified. Yikes, that is just intense getting stung twice and swelling up like that. I’m definitely not sharing this story with T or he’ll never calm down. 😆

      Bees are friendly and lovable and helpful to nature. But I agree, wasps and hornets are just a nuisance!

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