Bug Phobia or Normal Fear?
Most of us have a naturally avoidant reaction to bugs, with some crawling critters like cockroaches at the top of the list. But how do we know when our relationship with insects is normal, or phobic?
Part of the way we react has to do with age. Young children may experience trauma, like a bee sting, and develop a strong aversion to not only bees but any flying insect – or, for that matter, any insect at all. Older individuals are unlikely to acquire a fear of bugs later in life.
With children, it’s important to understand the stage of development they are going through. Between the ages of about four and seven, a child may not have the cognitive tools to discern cause from effect. If she was bitten by ants at a picnic, she may make the mistake of thinking all outdoor activities with family mean danger. But most children naturally outgrow these fears.
What can you do to support a child who is frightened of bugs? First, be patient. Understand that it may just be a phase. Second, monitor and adjust your own reaction to bugs: be sensible, but don’t show undue fear. Also be cautious about how you react to your child’s fear – avoid getting impatient if she or he seems to be regressing. As with all child rearing, show praise when she encounters bugs and behaves appropriately.
As a last resort, systematic desensitization is effective with many phobias. This technique involves slowly exposing the fearful individual to insects are increasingly more anxiety provoking situations. You can start with a picture book that includes bugs in the storyline.