If you have a child who is scared of bugs or insects, it’s best to start helping them deal with that fear as early as possible.
Is your child afraid of creepy crawlies? While it’s natural for some children to be scared of bugs or insects, phobias can develop if issues aren’t addressed early on in your child’s development, keeping your child from spending time in nature and playing outdoors, both of which are extremely important for children.
Here are a few things parents can do at home to help their kids work on their fear of creepy crawlies.
Acknowledge the fear
Fear of insects and other creepy crawlies is natural and normal. A child’s fear should never be ridiculed, taunted or dismissed. When your child sees and feels that you take their concerns seriously, they feel closer to you and are more ready to work through their fears.
Keep your reactions in check
The fear of insects or other creepy crawlies is commonly conditioned by parents and immediately sets them up to continue the cycle. If your child has seen you run screaming from the room with arms flailing at the sight of a spider, it’s natural that they will be terrified too. So, as hard as it might be for you, try to keep from squirming and panicking. If your child sees you reacting calmly, they will be more likely to adopt your behaviour.
When a child starts to panic over a bug, offer them comfort where they are. Resist the urge to remove them from the situation (i.e. take them inside) and “out of harm’s way”. Instead, sit beside them and help soothe their distress. Help them overcome their fear of insects and bugs in the present location by remaining calm and demonstrating that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Explain that bugs are helpers
Teach your children about the benefits of bugs and the purpose they serve. Explain how bees are busy at work trying to collect nectar from flowers to make honey and pollinate flowers. Talk about how ladybugs help plants grow. Teach kids that worms aerate the soil and help make dirt. Explain that these animals aren’t gross. They’re good guys! The more you can help your child see bugs as helpers, the less scary they’ll be to children.
Help a child overcome their fear of insects by using humour. When a bug or insect gets too close to your child, turn it from a scary experience into a funny one. Say something like “Silly grasshopper! He hopped into the wrong place!” or “Crazy bee, doesn’t she know you’re not a flower?” or “What’s that frog doing? Maybe he thinks you’re a princess!” Give calm, reassuring statements that make the antics of bugs seem humorous so the child realises they aren’t out to harm them.
Talk about size
It may help some children overcome their fear of insects by pointing out the age-old wisdom that “bugs are more afraid of you than you are of them”. Ask your child to consider the bug’s perspective for a moment. Imagine how you might feel if you came across a creature that was as tall as a giant! That’s what we are to bugs. Ask your child who is bigger and stronger, them or the bug?
Similarly to talking about size, inspire empathy for the insect by telling your child how much bugs have to worry about. Bugs constantly fear being hurt or stepped on by humans or eaten by other insects, small rodents, and birds.
Counteract the negative
Some creepy crawlies (like spiders, snakes, and leeches) get a bad reputation from humans. They are seen as evil, scary, sinister and out to get us. Throughout books, fairytales, and movies, they are depicted as the bad guys and are frequent stars in horror scenes. Try to balance this negative perspective with more positive information and examples. Find a book or show where the insect is the hero (e.g. Charlotte’s Web, The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Teach your child all the cool facts about what that particular type of bug does.
Sometimes a child’s fear is based on misconceptions they’ve heard or untrue ideas they’ve gotten into their head. Children can pick up a lot of bad information about bugs and other creepy crawlies through television, stories or other kids at school. Counteract some common myths with fact. For example, spiders do not crawl in your mouth while you’re sleeping. Mosquitos will not suck out ALL your blood. Most snakes aren’t venomous. Snails don’t have teeth. Frogs won’t give you warts.
When children care for something, they develop empathy towards it, which can go a long way towards relieving anxiety about ALL bugs and creepy-crawlies. An excellent way to help kids overcome the fear of insects is to have them take care of a bug and observe it. Roly-polies, beetles, crickets, and ladybugs are good candidates for observation. Although snails aren’t insects, they’ll cohabit peacefully with these bugs and are also fun to observe. Or start a wormery with your kids where they can take care of them and help them grow.
Overcoming a fear of creepy crawlies will not happen instantly or overnight. This is something that you’ll need to work on together over time. Let your child set the pace. With knowledge and patience, and constructive bug interactions, your child’s fears should ease over time.
When to get help
If your child’s fear of bugs or insects affects their quality of life, it’s time to get help. The best place to start is with your family’s paediatrician, who may recommend a referral to a child psychologist.