Dear Dr. Bill,
My son is 4 years old and he just started preschool. He’s always been a little bit afraid of bugs, but recently he was bitten by something at school during snack time. Now he goes into complete hysterics anytime the class is supposed to be outside. Whenever he sees a flying bug, he screams, cries, and flings his arms around. What should I do?
It sounds like your son has developed his own version of entomophobia, which is a fear of insects. It’s tough to be four years old and to terrified of bugs!
His reaction seems fairly extreme, so I’m guessing he tends to be more on the anxious side. This may be an inborn temperament, which means he will be a child that will need extra re-assurance and comforting from you.
On the other hand, you don’t want to baby him, but instead help him to conquer his fears.
Your son’s panicked reaction stems from both his young age and his lack of understanding. Adults who suffer from phobias usually know that their fear is irrational. Children’s fears, on the other hand, often stem from the fact that they don’t have complete or accurate knowledge about the thing they are afraid of.
I suggest you make a fun project out of helping him overcome his fear. Go to the library together and check out some books on bugs. Help him learn their names and how they live. Start with the harmless looking bugs like lady bugs and caterpillars. You might even buy some plastic toy bugs for him to play with.
If the problem persists or seems to worsen, you may want to consult a child psychologist. But my guess is that this phase will pass and he will eventually learn that most bugs are harmless.
Who knows…your son may someday grow up to become a world-renowned professor of entomology!
Thanks for writing, Nicole.
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