Anonymous

Toddler has an irrational fear of bugs

My 3 year old recently developed an extremely strong fear of bugs. We aren’t sure what caused it, and are at a loss for how to comfort him. I first noticed it a couple weeks ago when he kind of grabbed and hid behind my leg when he saw a butterfly in the yard. I explained butterflies are nice bugs and we watched it for a bit and he seemed fine. But then this past weekend we were at a friends house. She had a number of flowery bushes next to the sidewalk and he heard buzzing, but didn’t really react until he saw bugs flying all around him. I do not think he got stung (no marks) but I think so many flying around him at once really scared him - he screamed and lunges at me to pick him up. Yesterday we had a fly in the house and he was crying inconsolably while my husband tried to swat it. After that he wouldn’t leave either of our sides and kept saying ‘no bug’. This morning he saw some dust floating in the sunlight and started crying ‘bugs!’ And wouldn’t let me put him down. We are at a loss. We’ve explained about ‘nice bugs’ and ‘good bugs’. Bugs won’t hurt you. Bugs live outside. We watch the butterflies out the window. But he could be playing fine and as soon as he thinks he sees a bug near him, it’s over. I hate seeing him so scared and not knowing how to help. Any tips?

  • Laura
    Jun 05

    Books that show bugs as not scary?

  • Julie
    Jun 05

    My daughter isn’t this bad but she definitely has a fear of bugs too. I just keep telling her that most bugs are okay and are very helpful. But I still remind her some are not and she should talk to me first. There are “bugs” that are not okay, like ticks or mosquitos. And others. There are lots of stories that have pics of nice bugs. You probably don’t even need to go buy one, just look on your shelf. There’s likely a lot of books with bugs in the pictures. Whenever we open one of these books and I spot a pic of bugs I point them out and say things like, “oh that’s a beetle. They are bugs that are so nice, they sometimes eat plants that we don’t want them to eat but they don’t hurt us so we shouldn’t be afraid of them.” Or, “oh that’s a dragonfly! They are so cool, they eat bad bugs like mosquitoes! We love dragonflies!” Also with ladybugs, etc. the hard one is spiders. I have a hard time not being jittery around them but I just try to stay calm and swish them out of the house while telling her that spiders are scary looking but mostly ok. However she shouldn’t try to touch them, she should just let me know when she sees one and I can help her take care of it. Anyway, that was a big long explanation. I think it just takes time and staying calm and being gentle when they get upset about it.

  • Julie
    Jun 05

    Oh I also try to “name” them. Like Sally the Spider, Larry the Ladybug, Bernice the Beetle. Lol. I think giving them a name helps make them seem less scary?? But my daughter is only 20 months so she may not have as complex a fear of them yet.

  • Anonymous
    Jun 05

    That’s a good idea!! He’s always loved being outside and I hate that this fear is keeping him indoors more. I think definitely educating and making bugs more familiar will help - I’m sure it will just take time! Thank you!

  • Julie
    Jun 05

    Oh, another thing you could try is getting something like an ant or ladybug farm...I had an ant farm when I was little but was older than 3. But maybe having something like a controlled environment like that where he could watch them up close and see how cool they *can* be could help?

  • Anonymous
    Jun 05

    Both of my kids went through this. My 2 year old went through it recently. He was absolutely terrified of ants to the point of not being able to go on our deck. There was also a big fly in his room that made him scream a very fearful cry. I read him some books about bugs and spiders. We then sprayed some water all around the deck to get rid of them and say “go away ants”... and he’s so much better now. I really think it’s just a phase. Keep talking to him, model how they won’t hurt her and hopefully the phase will pass soon!

  • A
    Jun 06

    My daughter is like this, she s 3. She doesn’t mind butterflies but pretty much any other bug she ll run away screaming. She ll then cling herself to me and demand we go inside. It’s very frustrating because I love being outside in the Summer as does my son. We try just talking to her about it - we taught her how to stomp on ants and spiders. It’s helped a bit. Hoping it’s just a phase.

  • Anonymous
    Jun 06

    I’m a child psychologist and often work with kids with bug phobias. We work on the fear by making it into a game. For example, I have hid plastic spiders around the office and had kids try to find them (we go on a “bug hunt”. I’ve also collected bugs in a jar with leaves and dirt and had kids try to find the bugs in the jar and give them names. We will also go outdoors and have a competition for who can find the most bugs. Just some ideas…

  • Madeleine
    Jun 06

    I wonder if parents killing bugs makes kids think bugs are something scary that they need to be protected from. Kids pick up so much from our body language- as an adult I realized that my fear of thunder for example came from my parents' tense reactions to thunder. When a bug gets stuck in our house we always catch it in a glass and release it outside, which also gives the kids an opportunity to look at the bug up close before we set it free. Even with scary bugs like bees which I am personally petrified of, I show them the bee in the cup and say, "look! this is a bumble bee! look at the yellow balls of pollen on its legs that it's collecting for dinner, look at its stripes, look how fuzzy it is. Bumble bees are fun to look at but just don't touch them because they can sting you and that would hurt." I started introducing my kids to bugs using bugs that can't move very fast like worms and potato bugs from the garden. I let my kids hold them. I tell them how fragile the bugs are and that they have to be very careful not to hurt them when they're holding them. I talk with a lot of wonder and amazement in my voice about all the cool things that these bugs do, like how potato bugs can roll into a little ball to protect themselves with their armor, or how worms help make the nutritious soil that makes our beautiful flowers grow. Basically just mini science lessons. Now my kids love looking under rocks to see what they will find, and I try to suppress my own horror when we uncover something really gross hahaha

  • Megcm1
    Jun 06

    I agree with the poster above. Kids pick up what you put out there. They aren’t born with a fear of bugs. Don’t teach them to squash bugs like bugs are bad. Let them see you catch and release the bugs outside. There are tons of books about bugs that you probably already own, like The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar and Itsy Bitsy Spider.

  • Damon
    Jun 07

    I agree with lots of posters above, especially the one about communicating our own fears without meaning to. My son is 3.5, and has recently gone through something similar but not as extreme. Mainly focused around bees and wasps. We tend to react when we see a bee or wasp near our young kids with a rescue kind of behavior... Which communicates fear, and all the explaining in the world isn't going to undo that. So for a little while every flying bug became a potential threat. They can't identify an insect that quickly, so the catch all is they all might sting me. A big part of what helped us was emphasizing that nothing in nature is really out to hurt you. Bees and wasps aren't going to randomly fly over and sting you. They sting as their only defense against this huge thing doing something really scary... Like trying to grab me.... Bees often land on people on hot days because they're tired and dehydrated... They get some water and salt from our sweat, which replenishes their electrolytes. Bees especially won't sting unless very agitated, because they die after singing you. It's a suicide attack, which means they see you as such a threat that they need to do something to protect their sister bees. Wasps on the other hand can sting multiple times. Knowing the differences is a good thing. It's surprising how much they can understand at such a young age... And understanding always banishes fear.

  • Raji
    Jun 07

    I just happened to be upon Janet Lansbury’s podcast Unruffled and she had a sessions of big fears. It’s featured on May 29 podcast. Maybe it might help u