Friday, October 17, 2014

Overcoming Nature Anxiety

Queen Composter needs your help.

I am passionate about gardening as a way to connect us to our food, and I enjoy spending time in the outdoors, connecting with the plants and animals that live amongst us. I believe that this may be the only way to have people truly care about protecting the environment and see that our well being is tied to a healthy planet. I also believe in the power of modelling and education to shape children's perceptions and behaviours. The best way to desensitize children to the "ick" factor and sensitize them to the diversity of life around us is to spend time in nature.

My daughter mistakes any flying insect for the stinging
variety, even harmless flies. 

However, I am also aware that children often come out with their own fully developed personalities and temperaments, and this has been one of the most challenging aspects of parenting for me.

This past summer I struggled with a daughter who does not want to spend time outdoors; "I've had enough fresh air, can I go inside now please?" She has always preferred indoor pursuits, but in the past has been willing to engage in outdoor play with some encouragement (usually because her sisters are outdoors and she wants to be with them). She is a sensitive person who can have strong sensory reactions to situations. This past summer a series of events occurred that affected her deeply (multiple insect bites and stings), and she refuses to go outdoors. When she does, she constantly scans the air and ground for insects, and imagines insects crawling on her when she feels an itch or breeze on her skin. While her anxieties are understandable, it presents many challenges.

The dreaded wasps. This variety is especially aggressive.

I have continued to encourage her to spend time outside in our backyard and at parks. Together we read information in books and on the internet about insects, animals and plants that we see in our backyard garden. We have talked about the important role that each insect plays in the ecosystem. I make sure to limit her exposure to situations where I know she will be stressed (and made the decision to cancel a camping trip because of her extreme anxieties). We have also limited eating food outdoors because of the insects that food attracts.
Many insects are hibernating or dwindling
for the colder seasons, but the sight of this
sends my daughter into fits.

When we find insects in the house I make sure to remove them in humane ways. For example, despite pleading on her part to squish any spider we find, I use a glass to capture them and put them outside. As I do this I take the opportunity to make observations about the spider with my girls (all while squelching my inner desire to scream and run away). Already I have seen spin-off benefits from this; my oldest daughter has taken on the role of spider whisperer when I am not available, and I am so proud of her. Incidentally, overcoming my fear of spiders began when I had children.

You know a spider is big when you can see the stripes
on its back. We find these inside all the time.

My fearful daughter has made some growth and occasionally will join me in my garden for very brief periods of time, but I fear that if I don't help her, next spring and summer will continue to be torturous for both her and me.

So I turn to you now for some suggestions to help me help my daughter overcome her fears and begin to enjoy time outdoors again.

Have you overcome a fear of creepy crawlies? What has helped you? Do you have any suggestions to help me?


Green Bean said...

I feel your pain - sort of. One of my kids we have dubbed "nature boy." He is always happiest when outside. The other would totally say something like yours "I've had enough fresh air ..." He is not as anxious as your daughter seems though.

We have made some progress in the last few years. Taking photos of bugs (like you do), talking up how important and interesting they are. You are already doing all those things though. The other thing we tried was sending him to outdoor camps - just basically forcing the issue. That did work quite well. Maybe in time, her anxieties will lessen with all that you are doing for her. Good luck!!!

Christy said...

Thanks! I've tried so hard to be sensitive to her anxieties and be gentle, but perhaps it may be time to just force the issue (although I do admit to making her stay outside with me and locking the door for 20 minutes so she couldn't go back inside on one particularly challenging day, not my proudest mommy moment for sure). I think when the weather starts warming up next spring I may encourage her to do more reading and drawing (preferred indoor activities) outside instead.

Green Bean said...

Totally had to laugh and the locking the door thing. I've been guilty of not finest mommy moments too. The camp was great for us because it was other people making him be outdoors. Our favorite summer camp was in a local nature preserve and you dropped the kids off there at 9 and picked them up at 3. He did things I could never coax him to do at that park and loved it. Still brags about the 4 mile hike.


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