Q: 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 preschool during snack time, and now he gets hysterical every time the class is supposed to go outside.
A: Your child’s panicked reaction may be because of his personality, young age, and/or his lack of understanding. Children’s fears can be due to inexperience – they become paranoid because they don’t have complete or accurate knowledge of the thing that scares them. That can lead them to generalise (“all bugs bite”). Children who are more anxious, and tend to be on “high alert,” need help learning how to handle difficulty, adversity and fear.
A practical strategy would be to make a fun project out of helping your son overcome his concerns. Go online together and check out some websites on bugs. Learn their names and talk about what they do for the environment. Start with harmless-looking critters like ladybugs and caterpillars. Draw pictures of insects together. You might even buy some toy plastic bugs for him to play with. From there, hold some “safe” bugs in your hands to show that they aren’t threatening. The goal, of course, is to take the thing that causes him to panic and make it familiar and fun.
All of this takes patience and genuine connection with your child. It’s likely that your son 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 schedule a full evaluation of your child by a licensed clinical professional.
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