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How can I cure my daughter's fear after being stung by a wasp?

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I was out at the park with my two children last week. A wasp stung my two-year-old daughter on her eyelid. The poor thing was in agony and ever since she is absolutely terrified any time there is a fly or a bee or anything near her.

She is nervous all the time and I don't know how to reassure her. Her older sister, who is three, is a little monkey and tells her there are bees around when there aren't, frightening her further. What can I do to help her?

 

David replies:

Your two-year-old has a very rational fear of buzzing insects. At her age, she is unlikely to differentiate between flies, wasps and bees. Their wings all buzz and so any one of them could be about to attack her like she was attacked last week.

It makes good sense for her to try to avoid wasps, bees and flies as her actual experience was that they hurt, a lot! I am sure the sting and the swelling of her eyelid were indeed terrifying for her.

Fear and anxiety are very physiological things and we experience them in a range of different parts of our body. Primarily, anxiety and fear cause the release of adrenalin into our systems. That adrenalin increases our heart rates, may speed up our breathing, may lead to flushing, tension in various muscles and the 'butterflies' in tummies that we can experience.

So, when your daughter now hears the buzzing of insect wings, or gets told that a wasp or a bee is nearby, she will get a jolt of adrenalin released into her body. The more adrenalin in her system, the more frightened she will feel. Similarly, the more frightening she believes a situation to be, the more adrenalin will be released.

It can very quickly become a very debilitating cycle of fear leading to adrenalin, leading to increased fear, leading to increased adrenalin. Sometimes the effects of the adrenalin are so strong it can feel like we are having a heart attack and that is what we usually describe as a panic attack.

Understandably, such extreme fear and the distressing nature of the physical symptoms can themselves become the thing we are anxious about. So we can develop a pattern of becoming scared of being scared.

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It is well worth avoiding such escalation with your two-year-old.

A good starting place is to deal with your older daughter and her teasing. It definitely doesn't help your two-year-old to have her anxieties raised so regularly. So be very firm with the three-year-old that she is not allowed to tease.

If she does tease, then suggest that she needs to play, or be, somewhere else until she can play with her sister without winding her up.

You cannot fully reassure your two-year-old that she will never be stung again. However, you could help her to process just how terrifying and distressing the original sting was.

So talk to her about what you witnessed. Talk about the wasp, talk about the sting going in. Talk about the swelling or pain afterwards. Talk about how it was very bad for a while, but . . .

The 'but' here is the opportunity to try to reassure her somewhat. However, you can't even begin to try to reassure her until you have fully shown her that you understand just how bad the sting was.

You do that by empathising like I have described above.

Then you can say to her something like, ". . . it was awfully painful and you were crying lots, but then after we got the right cream/medicine/time (or whatever took the pain down) you began to feel better. It is good to know that even with a sore sting you will always feel better in a little while".

What you are trying to help your daughter realise is that while we can never guarantee to avoid stings, she can cope with the consequences of the sting.

The more confidence you can help her to achieve about her own ability to cope, the less strength her fear will have.

However, I can imagine she will always, wisely, be wary of stinging insects!


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