This is a story of learning that a fear in a toddler may not be how it appears.
Our 21mo recently developed a deep fear of bees. We haven’t been around bees or wasps since last summer so we aren’t sure where he got the idea that bees might be scary. On the first occurrence he started panicking, crying, and crawling as fast as he could towards us saying, “bee, bee, bee.” It was a month or two ago and he was playing near where we used to have a wasp nest. At the time it seemed to be an isolated incident. But last week he did it again. He started with one panic, then two and three, then he had a hard time getting to sleep that night. The next day it continued.
The first time it happened, we showed him comfort and acknowledged that he saw a bee and he was afraid. After he panicked a few more times it became obvious that there weren’t any bees. We asked him to show us the bee and at first he wouldn’t, but after awhile he finally pointed to what it was. Once it was a piece of bird seed, another time a piece of lint, and yet another it was a cookie crumb on the floor. We were reading books and doing the bedtime routine and our son would stop every so often and say, “bee, bee.” It wasn’t in quite as much of a panicked voice, but there was still fear.
My husband remembered that our son had a stuffed bee that was given to him some time ago. We pulled that out, gave it to him and told him that it was a friendly bee. That seemed to help. I also told our son that there were no bees in his room. I pretended to spray bee repelant and said, “no bees, no bees.” I don’t think that really convinced him but he did eventually go to sleep after a half hour.
The bee fear continued the next day. Grandma and Grandpa were in town staying with us and after several episodes I realized he was using the bee fear as an excuse to run to me. He greatly enjoyed playing with Grandma and Grandpa but I think he was afraid of spending less time with Mommy. That night it took over an hour to get him to bed as he was afraid of the bee. The next day, Grandma and Grandpa left and we spent lots of quality time together. The bees suddenly disappeared. Not completely, but for the most part they were gone.
He still brings up the bees when he is in a situation where he feels scared. He showed it when I went into another room and he wasn’t sure where I went, when we had a playgroup to go to and he was anxious about it, and a few other times when I’m not sure what the fear was. There is still a problem every time I take a shower, but he isn’t in a panic, he just stands outside and says, “bee, bee, bee, bee,” and when I get out the bee is not mentioned again. Luckily I now know it is not a real bee he is fearing but that he does need me to draw him close and comfort him the best that I can.
Toys, stories, and pictures with bees where the bees are happy and friendly seemed to dissipate the immediate anxiety. (Thanks to some folks on a mama forum for thinking of this!)
Acknowledging his fear and anxiety of whatever the bee is symbolizing, drawing him close and letting him know that I am there and will stay with him until the fear is gone.
Finding other ways to release the energy he is spending on the anxiety, particularly playing hide and seek games that make him laugh.
What didn’t work:
Telling him the bee wasn’t there.
What I would do differently:
I would address the fear more intently immediately. If we had found pictures and toys before it was near bedtime, the bedtime troubles may have been avoided.
Now it’s your turn. Have you had a child with fears? What worked for you?
Relevant links, books, and websites:
Helping your child with fear of bees – Phobia?
Easing Your Toddler’s Fears
Chronicles of a BabyWise Mom
Preschoolers and Fears
Sleep Talk for Children