How can I help my small child deal with his overwhelming fear of insects? He's always been a little scared of bugs, but recently he was bitten by something at school during snack time, and now he gets hysterical every time the class is supposed to go outside. What's the solution?
It sounds like your child has developed his own version of entomophobia, which is a fear of insects. As you're finding out, it's tough to be four or five years old and bugged by bugs. A phobia like this can really put a cramp in your style if you're a kid who has always enjoyed playing outdoors. Here's what we suggest.
If your son was already afraid of bugs and then actually suffered an insect bite, it's only natural that his fears would escalate. That part is understandable. At the same time, his reaction seems pretty extreme, so we're guessing that he may be naturally anxious or high-strung. This could be a matter of inborn temperament, in which case he is probably always going to be the kind of child who needs a lot of extra re-assurance and comfort from you. You don't need to feel hesitant about supplying this need in appropriate measure, but neither should you baby him unnecessarily. Instead, look for ways to help him conquer his fears.
As you tackle this challenge, remember that your child's panicked reaction stems from two causes: his young age and his lack of understanding. Adults who suffer from phobias are usually aware that their fear is irrational, but continue to struggle with anxiety and avoidant behavior in spite of what they know to be true. Children's fears, on the other hand, can often be attributed to simple inexperience – they become paranoid because they don't have complete or accurate knowledge of the thing that scares them.
A very practical strategy you can adopt would be to make a fun project out of helping him overcome his fear. Go to the library together and check out some books on bugs. Help your child identify the different species of insects. Learn their names and talk about how they live. Start with harmless-looking bugs such as lady bugs and caterpillars. Get out the crayons and draw pictures of insects together. Giggle and laugh as you draw. You might even buy some toy plastic bugs for him to play with. The point of all this, of course, is to take the thing that causes him to panic and make it familiar and fun.
If you follow this course of action, our guess is that this phase will pass and your child will eventually learn that most bugs are harmless. If this doesn't happen – if the problem persists beyond a few months or seems to get worse – you may want to consult with a child psychologist. Call us. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can supply you with a list of referrals to qualified Christian therapists practicing in your local area. They'd also be more than happy to discuss your son's situation with you over the phone.
Common Childhood Fears