Being brave in bee season

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 4, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

We are struggling with our 4-year-old who is suddenly terrified of bees. (He wasn't last year, we don't know anyone who got stung, I don't know where this is coming from!) He will be having fun at the playground and suddenly want to go home. When I ask why, he'll say, "There may be a bee." Over the weekend, we were on my in-law's deck and he suddenly started to cry, "I want to go inside!" He got very agitated and practically jumped into my arms. "Bee! Bee!" We went inside and he wouldn't come out the rest of the afternoon. I'm afraid he won't want to go back! Or that he won't want to go outside at all! Is this the makings of a phobia?!

From: MJ, Scituate, MA

Relax, MJ,  most likely this is a normal phase of development. At 3, 4, and 5, kids typically develop fears of things that they realize are beyond their control: dogs, monsters, bees, lightening, and thunder, to name a few.

Most likely, he's learned to be afraid of bees in particular from another child at preschool or the playground, or maybe from something he's seen on a video. Possible there's a child who's allergic to bees in school; ask the teacher. Meanwhile, validate his judgment: "It's true, bees sometimes sting. They sting when they are afraid, when they think they are in danger. Most of the time, they don't sting." If you discover he's learned about an allergic reaction to bees that can kill you, tell him, "It's true. Some people are allergic to bees. If a person is allergic, there's special medicine that helps them get better."

Always take this or any fear seriously. Don't try to talk him out of it or offer long explanations, you're wasting your breath. If he needs to be with you, or go inside, do it. Tell him that many people are afraid of bees, and that even though bees sometimes sting, it's still safe for people to be outside. Show him that you are not afraid and that you can be outside without getting stung. Remind him that if you see a bee, you can walk the other way and be safe. When he is able to be outside, tell him he's brave. (Some children feel better carrying a spray bottle with them, even if it's only filled with water. It gives them a sense of control.)

Books on bees and insects are one way to help a child 4- to 6-years-old master their fears. She might learn coping skills: for instance, to not wear perfume (most children don't! Lucky her!) because that attracts bees.

The fear will worsen if you belittle him for it. It will gradually go away if you reassure him -- and he sees -- that you will do everything you can to keep him safe from bees. Gradually, the fear will ease up as he sees that other children have fun being outside without getting stung, and as he moves on to a new stage. Sure, some children do not outgrow a fear like this. I'm betting it's because their parents are insensitive and don't respond as I've discussed.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.
 



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10 comments so far...
  1. The most important thing to drill into all children is to STAY CALM AND QUIET around bees and wasps. Don't say it--but that is how to NOT get stung. Tell the kids that if they are quiet, the bee won't hear them...

    The bumblebees this spring seem to be HUGE--about twice as big as in other seasons--good reason to be careful. Over the weekend I had to remind myself of this "stay calm" business while they visited the next-door apple tree.

    Posted by Irene May 4, 10 08:33 AM
  1. My 4 year old had a similar reaction to seeing ants, we were in the yard and all of a sudden he wanted to some in because of ants. Last summer one got into his bathing suit and bit him so now he does not like them. We will use these techniques to make him feel safe outside even if there are ants. Thansk Barbara.

    Posted by Terry May 4, 10 09:39 AM
  1. A note to follow up on Irene's comment -- the very large bees you are seeing are likely carpenter bees. Carpenter bees are larger than bumble bees and have a shiny black abdomen; bumble bees have a hairy abdomen and some yellow coloring. Male carpenter bees cannot sting (though they may follow you) and the females will only sting if they are really provoked -- i.e., handled.

    I love you advice to tell the kids to be quiet so that the bees won't hear them!

    Posted by gastrogal May 4, 10 10:04 AM
  1. Bumblebees rarely sting. Knowledge is power. A spray bottle filled with anything the child might spray is a bad idea; if yellowjackets are sprayed they become agitated, and unlike bees who can sting only once (their stinger and venom sac pulls out, and the bee dies) wasps can sting multiple times and tend to be more painful.

    And yes, while passing phobias are part of the development of 3 - 5 year-olds, it sounds like this child is having an extreme reaction, and that is something to monitor.

    Posted by Jackie May 4, 10 11:23 AM
  1. Kids do go through phobias like this all the time. We all have fears about something or other. My 3 year old is afraid of shadows right now. It will be something else next week no doubt.

    Posted by jd May 4, 10 12:03 PM
  1. I beleive I was about 5 when a raging fear of bees and alligators had me frightened and confused. How, I wondered, could there possibly be a God if he made alligators and bees? I found it a profoundly disturbing question that no grow-up could answer. Of course, I had been bitten by a bee from a hive in a tree right between our house and the neighbor kids where we played. I think I fussed enough that one of the dads burnt it down. Never made much headway with extinguishing alligators, though.

    Posted by elli May 4, 10 03:15 PM
  1. my children 3 and 5 were very weary around bees last year and for the little spring we've had so far. I recently took them to an event where one of the exhibitors was a beekeeper. He had a glass case, to show the children the bees close up, he answered many questions, and taught the children how important bees are. They also tasted the bee's honey
    Since then we have taken books out of the library on honey bees and my kids are no longer afraid of them. Instead they are are fastinated by the job honey bees do.

    Posted by cb May 4, 10 09:20 PM
  1. "Sure, some children do not outgrow a fear like this. I'm betting it's because their parents are insensitive and don't respond as I've discussed"

    An uncharacteristically sweeping and unhelpful statement. Did you run this theory by several child psychologists? There are many reasons fears turn into phobias. In most cases at this age they don't. However, disproportionate childhood fears can be a warning sign of generalized anxiety problems or predisposition to phobias. I would recommend that the parents keep a watchful eye on this. Most likely it will pass. If the fear begins to severely impact normal life over a period of time then PLEASE mention it to your pediatrician or a qualified professional.

    Posted by CeeCee May 4, 10 09:38 PM
  1. My two-year-old is terrified of insects and spiders and freaks out if she sees anything moving in her sandbox. I have tried books about bugs and showing her that I am not afraid (I routinely let visiting bugs out of the house, rather than crush them). So far, it's not working, but I'm still trying!

    One thing that has helped a little is that I got her a tube of play insects at Target (Michaels also carries them). She plays with them and has little adventures with them, and now she is at least not scared of ladybugs, butterflies, moths, and dragonflies. I have seen tubes that contain bees - perhaps that would be helpful for this little one?

    I remember that when my older daughter was 4 and afraid of bees, I happened to take her to a farm that had a working beehive. It was behind plexiglass, so she could see the bees working in the honeycomb and was not at risk for being stung. Once she understood why bees are helpful and good, she wasn't so afraid of them anymore. But that might not work for all children. ;)

    Posted by Momof2 May 5, 10 09:42 AM
  1. CeeCee -- Thanks for commenting on my last two sentence. You're right, they are terribly unhelpful, uncharacteristic (I think/hope) and I can't believe my fingers let me type them.

    Barbara Meltz

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page May 5, 10 01:22 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. The most important thing to drill into all children is to STAY CALM AND QUIET around bees and wasps. Don't say it--but that is how to NOT get stung. Tell the kids that if they are quiet, the bee won't hear them...

    The bumblebees this spring seem to be HUGE--about twice as big as in other seasons--good reason to be careful. Over the weekend I had to remind myself of this "stay calm" business while they visited the next-door apple tree.

    Posted by Irene May 4, 10 08:33 AM
  1. My 4 year old had a similar reaction to seeing ants, we were in the yard and all of a sudden he wanted to some in because of ants. Last summer one got into his bathing suit and bit him so now he does not like them. We will use these techniques to make him feel safe outside even if there are ants. Thansk Barbara.

    Posted by Terry May 4, 10 09:39 AM
  1. A note to follow up on Irene's comment -- the very large bees you are seeing are likely carpenter bees. Carpenter bees are larger than bumble bees and have a shiny black abdomen; bumble bees have a hairy abdomen and some yellow coloring. Male carpenter bees cannot sting (though they may follow you) and the females will only sting if they are really provoked -- i.e., handled.

    I love you advice to tell the kids to be quiet so that the bees won't hear them!

    Posted by gastrogal May 4, 10 10:04 AM
  1. Bumblebees rarely sting. Knowledge is power. A spray bottle filled with anything the child might spray is a bad idea; if yellowjackets are sprayed they become agitated, and unlike bees who can sting only once (their stinger and venom sac pulls out, and the bee dies) wasps can sting multiple times and tend to be more painful.

    And yes, while passing phobias are part of the development of 3 - 5 year-olds, it sounds like this child is having an extreme reaction, and that is something to monitor.

    Posted by Jackie May 4, 10 11:23 AM
  1. Kids do go through phobias like this all the time. We all have fears about something or other. My 3 year old is afraid of shadows right now. It will be something else next week no doubt.

    Posted by jd May 4, 10 12:03 PM
  1. I beleive I was about 5 when a raging fear of bees and alligators had me frightened and confused. How, I wondered, could there possibly be a God if he made alligators and bees? I found it a profoundly disturbing question that no grow-up could answer. Of course, I had been bitten by a bee from a hive in a tree right between our house and the neighbor kids where we played. I think I fussed enough that one of the dads burnt it down. Never made much headway with extinguishing alligators, though.

    Posted by elli May 4, 10 03:15 PM
  1. my children 3 and 5 were very weary around bees last year and for the little spring we've had so far. I recently took them to an event where one of the exhibitors was a beekeeper. He had a glass case, to show the children the bees close up, he answered many questions, and taught the children how important bees are. They also tasted the bee's honey
    Since then we have taken books out of the library on honey bees and my kids are no longer afraid of them. Instead they are are fastinated by the job honey bees do.

    Posted by cb May 4, 10 09:20 PM
  1. "Sure, some children do not outgrow a fear like this. I'm betting it's because their parents are insensitive and don't respond as I've discussed"

    An uncharacteristically sweeping and unhelpful statement. Did you run this theory by several child psychologists? There are many reasons fears turn into phobias. In most cases at this age they don't. However, disproportionate childhood fears can be a warning sign of generalized anxiety problems or predisposition to phobias. I would recommend that the parents keep a watchful eye on this. Most likely it will pass. If the fear begins to severely impact normal life over a period of time then PLEASE mention it to your pediatrician or a qualified professional.

    Posted by CeeCee May 4, 10 09:38 PM
  1. My two-year-old is terrified of insects and spiders and freaks out if she sees anything moving in her sandbox. I have tried books about bugs and showing her that I am not afraid (I routinely let visiting bugs out of the house, rather than crush them). So far, it's not working, but I'm still trying!

    One thing that has helped a little is that I got her a tube of play insects at Target (Michaels also carries them). She plays with them and has little adventures with them, and now she is at least not scared of ladybugs, butterflies, moths, and dragonflies. I have seen tubes that contain bees - perhaps that would be helpful for this little one?

    I remember that when my older daughter was 4 and afraid of bees, I happened to take her to a farm that had a working beehive. It was behind plexiglass, so she could see the bees working in the honeycomb and was not at risk for being stung. Once she understood why bees are helpful and good, she wasn't so afraid of them anymore. But that might not work for all children. ;)

    Posted by Momof2 May 5, 10 09:42 AM
  1. CeeCee -- Thanks for commenting on my last two sentence. You're right, they are terribly unhelpful, uncharacteristic (I think/hope) and I can't believe my fingers let me type them.

    Barbara Meltz

    Posted by Barbara F. Meltz Author Profile Page May 5, 10 01:22 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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