Arachnophobia & Fear of Spiders in Children
Arachnophobia is a common fear. Few of us care much for spiders, and most of us would be inclined to squirm with fright if we discovered one crawling up our leg. So this is another one of those fears where the goal isn't total annihilation, simply tolerance. You want to build up a child's coping skills to the point where they aren't hysterically panicked whenever a spider is discovered intruding upon their personal space. In addition to the general suggestions for fear of bugs that we already discussed, try these additional tips for those especially stubborn spider fears:
Helping a child overcome their fear of spiders
1. Counteract the negative image of spiders
Spiders get a bad reputation from humans. They are seen as sly, sinister, and out to get us. Throughout various forms of media they are depicted in an adversarial role, and are frequent stars in horror scenes. Try to balance this negative perspective with more positive information.
For example, did you know that scientists have discovered a vegetarian spider? Or that many spider species play a major role in eating mosquitoes and other pests? Or that for as much as they scare us, spiders themselves have to worry about being hunted by other insects, small rodents, and birds? Talk about how a number of birds and other creatures will eagerly put spiders in their mouth and swallow them alive, so they can't be that threatening. Read books such as Charlotte's Web which portray spiders in a more favorable light.
2. Address false conceptions about spiders
Children can pick up a lot of bad information about spiders, either through television or other kids at school. So ask them what they know about spiders and what specifically scares them. Then counteract some common myths with fact: Spiders do not crawl in your mouth while you’re sleeping. Most spiders ARE NOT venomous to humans. Even if spiders do bite, it's generally more akin to a mosquito than a bee or scorpion. It may cause itching or irritation, but seldom significant pain. The mandibles of many species aren't even strong enough to pierce human skin.
3. Arm kids with knowledge
Only a few spider species are highly venomous, and teaching kids how to identify these can go a long way towards alleviating their anxiety. Often it's the uncertainty of not knowing which spiders are dangerous that will feed into this fear.
4. Catch daddy long legs
For some reason, daddy long legs don't inspire the same type of fear in children that other spiders do. They are the ladybugs of the arachnid world. So they're a good spider to start with if you want to help a child confront their fears. Try to catch one and let them look at it in a jar. Then have them stand back at a safe distance while you let it crawl on your hand. After a while, if they're comfortable, let it crawl onto their hand. Instruct them not to pick up other spiders, but if you can help them get close and personal with this one, it should help them better tolerate the presence of other spiders.
5. Try exposure therapy
You can also do some exposure therapy at home by catching any old spider and keeping it in a clear jar for children to observe. (Avoid jumping spiders.) Try to have them incrementally get closer to the jar. Then have them stand by the jar while the lid is off. Finally, dump the spider in a tub and have them lean over to look at it. Don't force these things kicking and screaming – you can always catch new spiders and go as slowly as you need to with this process. Once you get to the point where they can stand over and look at a trapped spider without panicking, they'll have been effectively cured of arachnophobia.
6. Keep your own reactions in check
This fear is one that is commonly conditioned by parents. If your child has seen you run screaming from the room with arms flailing at the sight of a spider several times before, they are going to be terrified too. Children catch anxieties from adults like they catch a common cold. So you'll need to get your own reactions under control before you can hope to help children overcome their fear.