“Mama, there’s a wasp in my room!”
“I think there’s a tick in my hair! Get it out! GET IT OUT!!!!”
“Help! There’s a spider on the door!”
Fear of bugs, even among the most nature loving children, is extremely common. It’s so common that it pops up regularly in online parent groups and internet search queries.
Why are so many children afraid of bugs?
Fear, or being afraid of something, is actually a very important reaction. It protects us from dangerous situations that could end in injury, or worse. Some bugs can definitely cause pain or serious harm if they bite or sting. In fact, insects (like mosquitoes and ticks) make millions of people sick every year. One theory is that humans have evolved to be leery of creepy crawlies to help us survive.
But not all bugs are bad! There are more than 1 million different types of insects that have been identified and the majority of them (>90%) are considered to be good or “neutral”. Insects are incredibly important for our planet and our very own survival. They pollinate plants, break down organic matter, and are an important food source for animals and humans.
If most insects are good, why are children, and many adults, still so afraid of them? Maybe it’s because insects are so different than humans. They creep, crawl and buzz. They look weird, and behave strangely. Many children don’t like what they don’t understand.
And for many children a fear of bugs can develop after a negative experience like being stung by a wasp. This reaction is especially true among young children.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to realize that a fear of bugs is very common among children, so if your child has a fear of bugs – it’s very normal!
Strategies for Raising a Child that Loves Bugs
There are several different strategies to help children overcome their fear of bugs, but it’s important to realize that there is no quick fix. It will take positive experiences, gentle learning and maybe even a little growing up before your child’s fear turns to curiosity and wonder. However, I encourage you to be patient and persistent. The world of bugs is magical and should be an important part of every childhood. Here are some strategies you can use to help your child go from fear to fascination.
1. Model calm and curious behaviour around bugs.
The first step to helping your child overcome their fear of bugs, is to think about your own feelings and reactions towards bugs. Do you screech and hide at the sight of a bug crawling up the wall? Or do calmly shoo bugs back outside? Modelling calm and curious behaviour around bugs has a very significant impact on the way your child reacts to bugs. Your child looks up to you and likes to copy the way you act and behave, yes even around bugs!
Tip: The next time you see a bug, take a moment to be aware of your reaction. If you notice fear bubbling up inside you take moment to calm your fear before taking action.
2. Learn about the fascinating world of bugs with your child.
The unknown can be very scary for a child, but a little knowledge can go a long way towards quelling your child’s fear of bugs. Reading books about bugs, especially when there are no bugs around, can be reassuring and positive experience for most children. For a child that is particularly fearful of bugs, books are a great place to start.
Ages 0 to 5+
- Bugs Galore by Peter Stein
- Hank’s Big Day: The Story of a Bug by Evan Kuhlman
- Mrs. Peanuckle’s Bug Alphabet by Mrs. Peanuckle
- The Backyard Bug Book for Kids: Storybook, Insect Facts, and Activities by Lauren Davidson
- The Big Book of Bugs by Yuval Zoomer
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, The Very Lonely Firefly, The Very Quiet Cricket and The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle
Ages 5 to 8+
- A Butterfly Is Patient and A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Aston
- A Way with Wild Things by Lariassa Theule (new! 2020)
- Backpack Explorer: On the Nature Trail: What Will You Find? by Editors of Storey Publishing
- Bonkers About Beetles by Owen Davey
- Bug Hotel by Libby Walden
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (*a great read aloud)
- Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs by Carol Murray
- Encyclopedia of Insects: an illustrated guide to nature’s most weird and wonderful bugs by Mr. Jules Howard
- Little Explorers: Bugs by Little Bee Books
- Little Kids First Big Book of Bugs by Catherine D. Hughes
- Peep Inside Bug Homes by Anna Milbourne
- Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi
- The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins
- The Book of Brilliant Bugs by Jess French (new! 2020)
- The Bug Girl: A True Story by Sophia Spence (new! 2020)
- The Mosquito, The Spider and The Fly by Elise Gravel
- The Usborne Big Book of Big Bugs: And a Few Little Ones Too… by Emily Bone
- Ultimate Bugopedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever (National Geographic Kids) by Darlyne Murawski and Nancy Honovich
Ages 8 to 12+
- Bug Lab for Kids: Family-Friendly Activities for Exploring the Amazing World of Beetles, Butterflies, Spiders, and Other Arthropods by John W. Guyton
- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
- The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
- The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
3. Seek out positive and fun bug experiences with your child.
Providing your child with fun experiences with bugs (positive exposure) will help your child replace their fear or bugs with curiosity and wonder. There many great activities that allow children to interact with bugs:
Go on a bug hunt.
Discover the magical world of creepy crawlies by searching for and observing insects with your child in a backyard, a local park or garden. Look under rocks and logs, around flowering plants, under leaves, in tall grass and along ponds and creeks.
A bug hunt is a great opportunity to show your child which bugs are a safe for touching and which bugs might bite or sting.
Bugs that are safe for children to touch and hold are:
- Pill/roly-poly bugs (these are actually terrestrial crustaceans, not insects)
- Grasshoppers and crickets (grasshoppers can bite, but they aren’t poisonous)
Bugs that your child should avoid touching are:
- Spiders (black widow, brown recluse are definitely poisonous, but some spiders are safe to touch)
Some children enjoy using a magnifying glass, a bug catcher and a field guide to more closely examine the bugs they find, but these tools aren’t necessary. You can use websites like Bug Facts or an app like Picture Insect.
Make an bug hotel.
An bug hotel is an easy project for your child that will help good insects thrive. There are some very fancy bug hotels out there, but bugs aren’t picky. Try using whatever materials you have on hand. Feel free to find some ideas from the internet:
- Bug hotel for Kids: Cheap, Simple & Stunning! from Mother Natured
- Simply Bug Hotel for Kids from Red Tent Art
- Build a DIY Insect Hotel For Kids from Little Bins for Little Hands
- How to Make a Bug Hotel from Fireflies and Mud Pies
Set up an ant farm indoors.
Ants are really amazing insects. They search for food, care for eggs and protect their queen in a highly organized way. Children can watch ant close up by setting up an indoor ant farm. You can buy indoor ant farms or make your own.
Rear and release butterflies.
Rearing butterflies is a wonderful activity that teaches children about the life cycle of butterflies. Many educational stores will bring in butterfly rearing kits and you can even take it a step further by planting a butterfly garden.
Visit an apiary with a beekeeper.
Going on an apiary tour is a fun way to learn about honeybees in a safe way. Children will be given proper gear to protect them from stings and may even get to taste some honey too! Of course, you may want to skip this activity if your child is severely allergic to bee stings.
I would love to hear from you! Does you child like creepy crawlies? How do you help your child overcome their fear of bugs?
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