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Aethelwine's avatar

How do you calm the fears of a child who is terrified of insects?

Asked by Aethelwine (42961points) June 20th, 2011

My daughter has screamed bloody murder several times the past few days when driving in the car with me and she noticed a bug in the backseat with her. It almost caused an accident!

I’ve done everything from being upset to calmly telling her that mom and dad have survived 40 years of insect abuse.

Do you have any whimsical ways of calming a child when they are terrified of insects?

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26 Answers

sarahtalkpretty's avatar

I don’t know of whimsical ways, but I would take her on a nature walk and let some bugs crawl all over my own hand and read her lots of books about friendly bugs (how old is she?).

Aethelwine's avatar

@sarahtalkpretty She’s 7. We live on a farm. We have plenty of bugs to learn about. =)

The funny thing is, this just started this year. We also just moved this past year, but the amount of bugs have not changed.

snowberry's avatar

I have done this, so I can only tell you it’s worked for me. Get a bug (a slow moving one is good) and put it in a jar with food and water and it’s her job to keep it as a pet. Suddenly it changes from something scary to something that’s totally dependent on her for its life.

A good one is get a pill bug, cut a potato, and put the pill bug on it. It won’t move off of the potato because that’s its source of food. You will probably have to cut it again from time to time because it will dry up, and the pill bug won’t be able to get the food. From there you can graduate to praying mantises (she gets to go to the pet store and help you pick up new food (which are crickets), It’s a whole different ball game when they are “IN CHARGE”. Also, be very matter of fact, but pick up lots of picture books on bugs (when she’s ready).

faye's avatar

I’m 56 and have been scared of spiders for 55 years. There’s not anything anyone can say or do that would change this, though I would like to be free of it. As kids, if anyone chased me with a spider, I ran away like the wind. I really don’t want to go to Ontario because they have spiders that can jump!! Not very helpful, am I?

snowberry's avatar

And as for pure fun, all you need is a cat, a bathtub with sliding glass doors, and a few neighborhood children who are NOT afraid of bugs. Send the kids outside with a clear plastic jars with good lids, and tell them to bring back as many grasshoppers as they can. Then you put the kitty in the bathtub, shut the doors, and dump all the grasshoppers over the top of the doors. It’s the best fun ever! And the cat has fun too.

Then you get to clean the tub.

JLeslie's avatar

Is it all bugs? Or, bugs she perceives as ones that will sting or bite her? Someone might have said something to her, and now she is terrified of anything that looks like a fly or bee. That happened to children of a friend of mine. They were terrified.

By the way insects do cause many accidents.

_zen_'s avatar

This too shall pass.

Aethelwine's avatar

@JLeslie Pretty much all bugs. June bugs have appeared and she won’t go outside as soon as they appear. A lightning bug, which she’ll catch outside, is apparantly terrifying to her if it’s inside a car or the house.

@Zen Not always. @faye is a good example. =)

JLeslie's avatar

@jonsblond Well, I empathasize with the girl. I really am ready to have a nervous breakdown because I don’t have a screened in patio. I pulled out all of the flowering bushes at the back of my house to discourage any bees flying around back there.

Several years ago I was in the passenger seat of our car, window open, on a very busy 6 lane road. Suddenly I felt something on my chest, up near my neck, on my bare skin. I freaked, thinking it was a bug, grabbed it with my fingers and threw it out of the window. That is when it all became slow motion, and as the bug left my fingerips I realized it was smooth and shiny. Yup, my earing, right out the window. Lol.

I think I would reassure her the bug does not bite, won’t hurt her. If you are calm around the insect, eventually she will be more calm also most likely. As @zen said, this too shall pass. The ones that do sting and bite, well, they do.

Prosb's avatar

Try to explain to her that she has the power, and this insect can do nothing to her that she can’t return 100,000 fold. (Usually) As a child, I made a game out of watching, and attempting to kill flying insects. Since it can be so hard to do, it doesn’t get boring soon. Just make sure you tell her to clean off her hands whenever she makes a kill.
(Or she might start receiving extra protein on accident)

Aethelwine's avatar

@Prosb lol. You just reminded me of my dogs trying to catch flying insects in their mouth. This is how they spend their time outside in the summer. I can hear their jaws clamping shut as I type this. ;)

Coloma's avatar

Other than trying to get her interested in learning more about them in books, animal shows etc. I don’t know. She will probably outgrow most of her anxiety.

I had the OPPOSITE problem, my daughter wanted to BE an Entomologist for years, she was hatching wasps in her dresser drawer in dixie cups covered in tinfoil and giant Millipedes. In 8th grade her science teacher gave her a bunch of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, I got used to them but, we had knotty pine floors and I always thought one of the knotholes was an escaped roach. It was backwards for me. haha

Bellatrix's avatar

Unless you think this phobia needs some professional help in terms of helping her manage her fear, I think education is the key. If you understand something, you take away its power. So, building on the idea presented by @snowberry, one at a time choose a bug and research it. Read on it, find an example of the bug, as was suggested put it in a jar, let her investigate it in her own time. The more she learns about the bug, what it does, why it does it, how it mates, what its natural predators are, what it does that’s good for the planet, perhaps the less fear she will have.

When I was a kid I was freaked out by moths. Even a tiny moth would have me insisting my dad came in my room to remove it. Then I came here. The moths here can be huge. It was either spend my life freaked out or learn to get over it. I am no longer bothered by moths. Grasshoppers, cicadas and some beetles still leave me cringing though. Perhaps I should take my own advice!!

BarnacleBill's avatar

Is it the erratic movements? I don’t like birds for that reason.

snowberry's avatar

When my kids were little someone (probably me) mentioned to them that bugs were OK, but it’s best to not touch them because some of them can bite. Although that information was accurate, it was enough to push them over the edge, and boy did I pay for it!

I used to have long hair, and I had come up with a strategy to deal with loose hairs that I found here and there. Rather than always putting each loose hair I found in the trash, I would roll them up into little balls, where I could safely drop them on the floor to be vacuumed up later, and thus they would not clog the beater bar on my vacuum. My children decided that my little balls of hair were spiders, and no amount of explanation would reassure them otherwise. Eventually they grew out of their fear.

A few years later I ended up baby sitting for a little girl who was absolutely terrified of spiders. That’s when I pulled out my glass jars and putting a spider in each one, I made her their keeper (as in a spider zoo). Since it was summer, I put her in charge of catching their food (spiders only eat live prey), and I made sure she knew which kind and size of bugs were appropriate spider food, and how to catch them. This not only kept her busy, but within an hour she was so busy playing zoo keeper she did not have time to be scared.

If they are ready to outgrow their phobia, the answer truly is all in education as @Bellatrix said.

ucme's avatar

Sit & watch A Bug’s Life with her, worked for my kids.

Coloma's avatar

@BarnacleBill

Good idea! Give her a bugs perspective. I think it;s importnant that kids respect all life, understand that everything, big or small is just trying to survive, like us! :-)

mattbrowne's avatar

Catch a caterpillar, put it in a large glass, let your kids feed it, watch how it turns into a pupa and finally a butterfly. I remember as a kid how my views about insects changed after this experience.

Another idea is visiting a beemaster asking for a guided tour.

Judi's avatar

I haven’t read the other responses, so I hope I am not repeating. First is to acknowledge her fear. It might not be YOUR fear, but it’s hers, and it’s real. Next. Pull over! Get her out of her car seat, take off your shoe and kill the bug.
After a few times, get her to take off HER shoe and kill the bug. When she feels less powerless, she will not freak out so bad.
I WAS your daughter and the fear and panic are very real. No amount of rationalizing will fix this, and it will only make it worse by belittling her feelings. It was not until I found the courage to take control of the situation for myself that I stopped panicking. (Still hate bugs, but I no longer scream bloody murder.)
If you want to help her, empathize, don’t criticize, and help her gain control.

Coloma's avatar

@jonsblond

Send your daughter over here for a week, it is the summer bug & frog fest. Last night I had about 5000 crane flies in my house, 100’s of leaf hoppers, moths big and small fluttering around the porch light and all the tree frogs hanging on the wall and feasting. It is so cool to watch, you can actually watch them pouncing on bugs. The tiny baby frogs are hilarious, they nab a bug that is too big to swallow and it takes them about 10 minutes to get it down.

Soubresaut's avatar

I would actually, instead of killing bugs that freak her out (particularly ones that don’t bite,) do something similar to what @snowberry suggests but on a smaller scale. Especially if your girl is already taking care of a bug and seeing it’s life too. So if/when she freaks out, if you can do so, gently and calmly catch the bug with you bare hands, if it’s something that bites/stings I always use a cup+paper, or whatever I can get it to crawl on… even though I know it won’t really hurt me. And let it free somewhere. My sister wish we’d known the bug-keeper-idea! has been scared of spiders, turned to anything that’s little and crawls, since a spider fell on her head in the shower when she was little. After her fear, she use to squish them, and I got her to find me so I could let the bug outside, and it could keep its life. Now, although it’s been slow, it’s to the point where she’ll catch them, so long as she’s got a cup and paper, and let them outside. And then, she’s saving their lives, too, letting them live out in the wild where they can find food (and if they’re a spider, eat other bugs!) They don’t bother her less, so it’s not perfect, but she appreciates their life, now, at least, and has a way of dealing with it, and is willing to get close-ish.
I think what @snowberry said would work better at lessening the fear. Mine’s just moving it.

When I was little, my dad actually introduced my sister and me to daddy longlegs spiders, and we had no fear of insects. We’d actually search for the poor daddy longlegs to let them crawl on our hands. Free pets! (Careful not to harm them, though.) Same with my mom outside in the garden, she’d explain to use how bees and ladybugs and butterflies all help the plants, and when we found ladybugs, we’d get to let them crawl on us. Pillbugs too, although we called them rollie pollies. And actually, june bugs too… and mayflies (although I’m not confident anymore that what I know as june bugs and mayflies are the true ones.) They made a game out of saving the indoor/in-water insects; life, and showed us bugs don’t want to harm us.
Mosquitos, though, we squish.
That all worked until we learned from other kids to be scared of bees and wasps, spiders, etc, and my sister had her traumatic incident. We were even told by one kid that daddy longlegs had the most potent poison in the world, just their fangs aren’t strong enough to puncture our skin… I wonder if it wasn’t things like this, little stories, or watching other kids be scared, that scared your girl? Just a guess, though, because that’s what happened with us.

snowberry's avatar

Regarding Daddy long legs being poisonous: once again, education is the key.

I have copied and pasted the information below because I know there are some who would refuse to click on this link thinking they might see a picture of a spider. (They would be correct). http://spiders.ucr.edu/daddylonglegs.html

Daddy-longlegs (Opiliones) – these arachnids make their living by eating decomposing vegetative and animal matter although are opportunist predators if they can get away with it. They do not have venom glands, fangs or any other mechanism for chemically subduing their food. Therefore, they do not have poison and, by the powers of logic, cannot be poisonous from venom. Some have defensive secretions that might be poisonous to small animals if ingested. So, for these daddy-long-legs, the tale is clearly false.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@jonsblond As a kid I was pretty leery of the June bugs myself. The fact that they flung themselves all over our screen door didn’t help. Then, I realized they kept making that noise only if they fell on their backs. I started flipping them over with a stick. They were “saved” and I was spared that noise they made.

I agree with others…allow her to gain some control over a bug friend or two. The lightening bugs are out where we live now. Let her have some in her room. Each night my dad would fill a jar with fresh grass, then we’d go to a field behind our house and collect a handful. In the AM, I’d gently shake them out into the grass.

With the June bugs, possibly if she sees you or @Blondesjon holding one, she’d be willing to? Once I knew they didn’t bite or sting I was fine with them.

snowberry's avatar

Please keep us updated on how your girl is doing.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

Catch one in a jar and let the kid examine it at his/her own convenience. Don’t rush it. Make funny comments and educate the child. My two little ones were very afraid of entering a swimming pool for a long time, until I used humor and patience to get them in. Now they no longer have to hang onto me when they get in!

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