Responding to Fear Through Killing vs. Compassion: The Crane Fly and the Three Year Old

My 3 year old was crying in the bathroom. She said there was a bee in the bathroom and she was scared of it. She said she hated it and it was going to hurt her. I informed her that this is not a ‘bee’. That it is not an ‘it’, but a living being.  At the time, I do not know what type of insect this is, but the insect looks like a very very big mosquito (which I later will learn is a Crane Fly). I know they are harmless… I explain to her that the insect must be really scared: “I mean, just imagine you are lost, away from home, from your family, and this huge being is hooting and hollering about how they are scared of you and want to squish you. I mean, how terrified would you be when all you want to do is find your family and friends and be safe again?”

A few minutes later, she comes to me, calmly and says, “Mama, I want to help the bug find his family.” This is a very very awesome thing for her to say, because since she was about 14 months old, she has always conveyed to me how she is scared of spiders and insects; ‘hates them’. And for nearly 2 years I have explained to her that you can’t go around scared and hating beings just because they ‘scare you’ or ‘look funny’. “It’s not the being’s problem that you have issues…and you shouldn’t try to stomp or kill the insect or spider unless they’re trying to hurt you” I would say (or similar).

It is hard for her to fully understand what I have been telling her for the last 2 years, and for her to put the philosophy into practice. We live in a US culture in which most children’s parents are telling them that if a bug or spider scares them, “kill ‘it'”. Many of the parents at the playground I have encountered do kill the bugs and spiders their children are hooting and hollering about. Dealing with one’s fear of another being that means them no harm, by “killing it”,  is cruel and problematic on many levels. This method does not teach children compassionate and critical engagement with the beings they share the planet with. And how does this rhetoric infiltrate how they engage with human beings they fear who mean them no harm?(i.e., cisgender kids who ‘fear’ children who are not cisgender, due to learning this rhetoric in a cissexist society, so their response may be to bully and harass these children they are taught to fear.)

Also, I have observed that it is mostly girls in the USA, who are taught to be scared of insects and arachnids and to not find anything worth learning about these beings. I’d even argue that this has been one of many ways to socialize cis-girls into “proper” girlhood (whereas cis-boys are socialized to not be scared of these little beings and/or expected to be ‘brave’ enough to kill them to impress girls or ‘save’ them from these little creatures = “proper” boyhood).

I am teaching my 3 year old (and other 3 kids) a way to interact with insects and spiders that my father taught me when I was a little girl (I talk about this in Sister Species). One day, I was about 9, and I had been hooting and hollering about a spider I wanted him to kill because I was scared of the little creature. He told me it wasn’t the spider’s problem that I was scared of them and that killing the spider as a solution to my issues was not going to solve the root of my problem; my fear. He had tried to teach me this for years, but for some reason, it resonated with me and it was an ‘a-ha’ moment. (It was the same year he was kind of pissed when he saw me deeply cutting into a tree in our yard, to peel its layers of bark off. He said something like, “What is wrong with you? That’s like peeling the skin off of you while you are alive. Would you like that?” The tree survived and is still in the yard with a deep scar– and I still feel like a fool and ashamed for having done something so ignorant and unmindful, whenever I see that scar, decades later. )

So, I am uber psyched that my 3 year old finally had an ah-ha moment and realized that this being should not be squished but that she should try to help them as much as she can.  We went through similar with our first born in 2014, and I talk about this in the blog post, “Mama, Do Police Eat Animals?”

Here are two excellent resources for children:

Humane Education (Teaching Kindness and Activism for Humans, Animals and the Environment)

Teaching Tolerance and Activism for Children in Regard to Human Beings


Dr. A.Breeze Harper (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen 2016)

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is a senior diversity and inclusion strategist for Critical Diversity Solutions, a seasoned speaker, and author of books and articles related to critical race feminism, intersectional anti-racism, and ethical consumption. As a writer, she is best known as the creator and editor of the groundbreaking anthology