Is Your Kid Afraid Of Bugs Or Nature? Here's How To Help Them Get Over It
When you live in a city, often the only exposure your kid can get to the outdoors is the local park, which might not even have grass. So a big outdoor adventure may seem intimidating to a youngster. Or you don't even have to live in a city: If you live in a suburban area, your kids might have limited experiences in the outdoors. And, really, any kid can have a fear of certain aspects of the wild, be it bugs or animals. Being intimidated by nature is totally normal. But, since we know the massive benefits of spending time in nature, we highly recommend encouraging your kid to do the same if you have the resources.
"Some kids are born super adventurous and risk-taking, and some are born wary, cautious, and prone to anxiety. It really just boils down to kids being scared of something new or addressing a phobia," says licensed psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS. "You address it like you might address anything new for a kid: gently."
"You need to look for opportunities where you can find them," says Beurkens. And you do need to seek them out since they won't be as readily available to you.
It might seem counterintuitive to plan "wild time," but for many families it's necessary, notes author and parenting coach Caroline Maguire, PCC, M.Ed. Working it into your routine, be it daily or weekly, shows that you have prioritized the activity and helps you follow through. Set plans are harder to skip out on than "maybe" plans.
This will also help city-dwelling parents, as exposing your kid to wildlife does take more forethought. It might require you to get out of town for a day trip, which will mean planning transportation and packing essentials.
Expose them with ease.
There is some truth to the fact that you should address fears head-on. Say, for example, your kid gets squeamish around worms. And when you're out gardening (at home or in a community garden), you should try to show them one—but don't force it on them. Maybe all it is, is a quick look at first, and then you can build up to having them touch it. Eventually, they'll likely overcome some of the fear and be able to be around bugs more easily.
"Many kids do well with these things; they just need a little push to go and do it," says Beurkens. "But the second they do, they're usually fine. Kids are actually really good about this stuff. Many learn easily."
And one key point, says Beurkens, is you need to model enthusiasm. Kids can pick up on any anxiety you might have, so if you are jittery while doing something, they will too. So when you give them a little nudge—whatever the activity—express your excitement.
There, of course, is a limit. If you can sense your kid is having a real fear of what's happening—be it on a new hiking path or confronted with a critter—you need to sense when not to push them. "If your kid is really having a panic or shutting down over it, you should stop; no growth happens in that moment," she says.
Look for small opportunities inside and out.
"Sometimes it's just about tweaking their daily habits or what they are already doing to making them more comfortable with change," says Beurkens. "Even just exposing them with photos or a book can help," she says.
For example, she says, if they like reading: Get them an adventure series that deals with the wilderness or a nonfiction book explaining animals and plants. Or if they like arts and crafts, take them to a local park to draw flowers. If they like museums, take them to a bug exhibit. Or if they are into Legos and building blocks, try building something in a yard or park. "Just find something they are interested in and expand from there," she says.