Arachnophobia: Helping Your Child Overcome a Fear of Spiders
Arachnophobia: Helping Your Kids Overcome Their Fear of Spiders
by Laura Pickford Ramirez
As the weather starts getting colder, spiders and insects will try to prolong their lives by finding ways inside your house. If your children's fear of spiders borders on a case of arachnophobia, now is good time to help them to dispel their fears. If you start now, a spider phobia can be replaced by fascination by the time new eight-legged creatures are born in the spring.
Before we discuss how you can quell a spider phobia, let's look at why most people become afraid of spiders in the first place. A fear of spiders can be divided into two categories. One is born mostly from a dislike or disgust for spiders and the other is based on fears that have little or no basis in reality. People who are afraid of spiders can have reactions that range from shrinking back and screaming to paralyzing cases of arachnophobia. People with arachnophobia arrange their entire lives around the avoidance of spiders.
Many children develop fears early in life that continue well into adulthood. How can you prevent a fear of spiders from lasting a lifetime or turning into a full-blown case of arachnophobia?
One way to prevent the development of arachnophobia is to teach your child to recognize the difference between the nature
of spiders and his beliefs and imaginings. Although we'll delve further into this later, first allow me to share a "spider phobia" story that happened recently at my house.
One day after school, my nine year old son, Dakotah, asked me to play catch in our backyard. While I was looking for my glove, he stepped outside. A few minutes later, he ran back in, crying and screaming hysterically. When I asked him what was wrong, this normally loquacious child, who keeps up a continuously running commentary, could only point and whimper, "Spider ... big!"
I strode outside and was surprised to find a large tarantula on our patio. Since I wasn't aware that we had tarantulas in our area, I was unsure as to whether it was venomous or not and so, I captured it beneath a heavy drinking glass. I asked my eldest son to run and get his younger brother. During the summer, one of the problems my husband and I had with the boys was getting them to wear their shoes when they went outside to play. Although they know that Nevada is a land of black widows, rattlesnakes and scorpions, I thought that the tarantula might provide yet another compelling reason for the boys to remember to wear their shoes.
When my younger and less squeamish child saw the spider, his reaction was similar to his brother's. I'm not sure if he was truly afraid or if he was just modeling his brother's fear of spiders. There I stood with two whimpering boys and a seemingly docile tarantula, imprisoned beneath a drinking glass. I was surprised that the fact of his capture didn't create more curiosity than fear.
"C'mon, city boys!" I teased them playfully. Normally, I reserve this label for moments when I recognized that due to their lack of knowledge, my boys need some guidance on my part. Their sniveling stopped and the corners of their mouths twitched into half-smiles. "Remember that there are other creatures on this planet besides you guys. Spiders are good. Now tell me why."
They eat bugs," offered Dakotah.
"Yes! Can you imagine what life would be like if the world were overrun by bugs? They'd be everywhere. They'd destroy the plants and we'd have to compete with them for food." The boys nodded soberly.
Beginning cases of arachnophobia can be dispelled with knowledge before they turn into overarching fears. (An excellent tip for parents of unusually fearful children is to give them a dose of Kiddie Calmer
which is a natural and holistic supplement that creates a sense of calm. Teaching your child about spiders while he's calm may help with systematic desensitization which means your child will become progressively more relaxed when encountering or thinking about a spider. This may help you avoid expensive therapies.)
I asked Colt, my youngest son, to run into the house and get me a paper plate, which I slid beneath the drinking glass. "Let's take a look at this spider." I held the glass up and we turned it this way and that, inspecting the spider's fangs and the rest of its body. As I handled the glass with confidence, the boys moved in closer.
"Wow, look at his hairy legs!" exclaimed Colt, my youngest son.
"Yes, he's very hairy. I'll bet the hair insulates him from the extreme temperatures of the desert," I said, wincing at my obvious attempt to turn this into an "opportunity to teach."
"Just like the dog's thick coat," offered Dakotah.
I set down the tarantula. We went into the house to look up Nevada tarantulas on the internet. From the research we did, the boys found out that the spider was harmless. Although tarantulas can give a bite that some people liken to a bee sting, their venom creates no medical problems other than localized pain and swelling. While I wouldn't encourage my children to pick up a tarantula, I don't want them to be reduced to hysterics or develop a case of arachnophobia because I failed to help them dispel their fears.
On the web, we looked up the word arachnophobia and learned that it was an unreasonable fear of spiders. (If you're an adult who suffers from this problem, panic attacks or OCD, then the The Linden Method
is a program that will help.) Then we learned about the tarantula's habitat and what it liked to eat. "See," I teased, "they don't eat people. They like cockroaches, crickets, scorpions and mice." The boys smiled. We went outside to take another look at the tarantula. This time, the atmosphere was one of calm fascination, which is precisely the moment at which I snapped the photos that appear below.
Later, after the boys helped me release the tarantula in a vacant lot, my youngest boy, Colt, approached me and said that he missed the spider. While I can't claim I shared his sentiment, I believe that what he tried to say was that next time he encounters a Nevada tarantula, he will do so from knowledge, rather than fear.
Helping your child overcome his fears is one of the many ways you can provide gentle guidance and create a foundation of love and trust. (If you have unreasonable fears yourself, please attend to them because children can sense adult fear and may begin to associate your fear with certain situations which can develop into a full blown phobia. For help with OCD, phobias and anxiety disorders, The Linden Method will help. Don't let your fears become your children's fears.) Teaching your child to live in the natural world, with all its inhabitants, including insects, spiders and the wild creatures of the night is a must for creating a life that is lived from knowledge, rather than fear. This approach fosters a way of being that respects and embraces life in all its forms, rather than denying what is different. As your child grows, his attitude of acceptance and tolerance of nature will transfer to the different people he encounters in his life.
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