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tackling fear: shifting perspective

A city bus rides around my town with a larger-than-life ad sporting a gigantic picture like this: 

Scream - Edvard Munchs

SAW A BUG???  Call (not-to-be-named Exterminator)!

Think of the message this sends.  If I see a tiny bug, I should immediately freak out and call in the troops?  Even if it’s just a fly?  What if it’s a ladybug?  Have we gone so far that the sight of any bug should lead us to fog our house with pesticides, never mind the other risks of infusing this insect-killing chemical in our home?

Now let me be clear:  I’m no big fan of most bugs, and I’m not afraid to swat my shoe or pick up a can of Raid when the situation arises.  I did grow up in the New Mexico desert where tarantulas and scorpions visited upon occasion, and I did not enjoy it.  But I don’t want to overreact to every bug that flits by.  More importantly, I don’t want to teach my suburban kids to freak out at the sight of a benign bug.  That’s just silly.   They were here first, after all, and some bugs are meaner than others.  That’s my expert opinion on the biological technicalities.  For more information, check out Be Nice to Spiders, one of my favorite childhood books. 

Awhile ago, I witnessed a beautiful reaction to a bug “invasion” by my daughter’s second grade teacher.  A small, nondescript bug–it might have even been a spider–lighted on the shoulder of an oblivious student.  The other children began noticing and getting agitated.  When Mrs. K realized what was happening, she immediately stopped the class and said,

“Oh my goodness!   Look at this. . . you are so fortunate!   What an honor that he chose to land on you. . . let me just help you . . .” as she swept up the offending vermin with her bare hand, showed it to the children, pointed out its bug anatomy, walked to the door and gently released it outside. 

The children stopped in their tracks, instantly shifting from fear to fascination.  The targeted child never flinched and seemed privileged to be in the spotlight, rather than embarrassed.  They carefully observed the insect (or arachnid, I can’t quite remember) and actually learned something about it.  And they learned a critical lesson:  you don’t have to go into hysterics just because something unexpected happens. 

Insead of whipping up more fear, Mrs. K transformed the situation into an honor.  A great opportunity.  I’m so glad I was present for the lesson. 

Creative Commons License photo credit: Claus Rebler

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6 comments to tackling fear: shifting perspective

  • Satchel Pooch

    Very nice indeed. Kudos to the teacher for a masterly re-framing.

  • Carol H.

    I wish that I could think on my feet that fast.

  • I LOVE that! What a great teacher. Just because I don’t like bugs, doesn’t mean I need to pass that mentality on. If I’m presented with the opportunity, I’ll copy her. But, honestly, I just might use a stick or a piece of paper.

    (I usually use a paper towel or a tissue and squish and flush. I suppose that doesn’t send the same message.)

  • That really is a great teacher. And truly a good lesson in NOT freaking out.

  • Ah — what a great teacher. Thanks for sharing her approach; I will try to remember it next time I see a bug land on a frightened child — or even a scared grown-up!

  • A great teacher indeed, and a lovely story. I’ve been trying to teach myself greater tolerance towards spiders. I’ve always been afraid of them (as was my father – speaks volumes, eh?).

    So when I saw one had made a web inside my kitchen window a week or so ago I thought it would be a good opportunity to study it. It’s been there ever since and I’ve even fed it the odd fly I swatted. There is something horribly fascinating watching the way it deals with its prey.

    But there’s one thing I really hadn’t thought of: like all of us, spiders have to excrete their waste. My kitchen windowsill is now covered in spider poop. Oh yuck! It’s got to go…

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