With cicadas coming: Signs a child might have an authentic bug phobia

Massive numbers of Brood X, 17-year cicadas will emerge out of the ground in the coming days and weeks, and some folks might find them disturbing.

“Bug phobia is a real thing,” said Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente, who practices in Burke and Falls Church in Virginia.

“It affects about 5% to 6% of adults and 10% of children,” she said.

Cicadas are near thumb size, have bulging bright red eyes, huge wings and a loud, buzzing song. Because you don’t know how kids might react to swarms of cicadas, Patton-Smith recommends making an introduction. Help kids learn about the insect’s unusual life span and appearance.

“And kind of make it a fun thing, and see how your child reacts,” she said. “Provide as much information as possible because that can significantly reduce anxiety.”

Things to tell children about cicadas: “These bugs are not harmful. They don’t bite. They don’t have some sort of serious venom, and they’ll only be around a few weeks.”

Noting that it’s OK to be a bit uncomfortable around bugs, such as spiders or other things, Patton-Smith said caregivers can watch for signs a child may have an authentic bug phobia.

“If a child is seeming to be inconsolably crying when they see a bug, or if a bug gets on them — having rapid heart rate, panic symptoms, chest tightening, dry mouth, shaking, trembling, or really significant emotional outbursts, especially in younger kids, it may be an issue that needs to be reported,” she said.

Parents who are uncomfortable around bugs should approach a cicada conversation with kids in a calm way to avoid transferring their concerns to children.

Strategies to help reduce anxiety include self-care, meditation and mindfulness.

“Whatever anxiety reduction or stress reduction things you do as a parent — help your child create their own, so this is not a thing that will be debilitating,” Patton-Smith said.

You can find fun, informative answers to questions about cicadas here.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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