My child is afraid of bugs and I don’t know what to do about it

This summer, my child is suddenly afraid of bugs.

I’ve spent years carefully cultivating appreciation for and curiosity about the creepy crawlies that share our world. We’ve watched ants, we’ve saved drowning beetles, we’ve picked up and examined Daddy Long Legs, earthworms and even (gulp) slugs. We rescue spiders and put them back outside and gently shoo moths away from our cat.

Our kids don’t panic at the sight of bees or mosquitoes.

I was feeling pretty smug.

Naturally, that all came crashing down one afternoon.

About a month ago, my daughter was out picking blueberries with my sister when she stumbled into a ground wasp nest. Within moments, she was screaming and covered in a swarm of angry, stinging insects.

Thanks to the quick action of her aunt and the fact that she was wearing thick fleece pants, she ended up with only three stings on her upper body. Painful, swollen stings, but [thankfully] not life-threatening for her. They were barely visible by nighttime and completely gone the next day.

But fear was now there.

Now, the buzzing of a deer fly circling around her head causes panic. A fat bumblebee investigating a flower sends her inside instantly. And a hornet–attracted by the sandwich she holds during a picnic–results in a complete, teary-eyed fear paralysis.

It hasn’t helped that this seems to be a particularly wasp-y summer. We’ve got wasp nests hanging from trees and various spots on our roof and have found two more ground nests in our travels. Every time we turn around there’s another one. I don’t know if it’s our heightened awareness, the dry summer, or both. But there are little stinging critters everywhere and they just seem to be drawn to her.

She’s a wasp magnet.

I’m not really sure what to do. I’ve been handling this with a combination of gentle understanding and slightly stern pep talking. As time goes, I’m moving farther from gentle and closer to stern. Becoming afraid of bugs just isn’t an option for us. It isn’t an option for her. She loves being outside too much and I’m not going to have “being afraid of bugs” the reason she stays in.

About a week ago, we were at the beach near a couple of teenage girls. One of them–the perfect age and personality for shrill drama–suddenly started running and shrieking because a bee flew by. My daughter watched it unfold with wide eyes. My husband leaned over to her.

“That’s what we don’t want,” he said quietly. “I know you are scared right now, but that’s really not okay. That bee is not going to hurt her.”

She nodded slowly, not taking her eyes off the girl.

Yesterday, she quietly called me out on the porch. “Mom,” she said. “There’s a wasp on my hand. Can you please help me?”

I gently shooed the bug away and brought her inside.

“You okay?” I asked.

She nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

Then she took a deep breath and headed back out.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.