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Toddlers and fear

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

When words backfire

"Mommy, a bee! It's going to make me cry!" I giggle a little bit every time my son says that. But deep down, I also have taken it as a big wake-up call to be very careful about what I say.

Scared Toddler

The bee incident

The Bee/Cry incident happened at the brink of spring almost two months ago. I was picking the kids up from daycare one evening. My infant daughter was already strapped in, but my about-to-enter preschool son was being very obstinate and refusing to climb into his car seat. I could hear the buzzing before I saw the bee that was just a few feet from me. Behind me was a big flowering bush, where the lone bee was beginning the annual task of pollination. It was way too close for my comfort.

It instantly brought back memories of childhood, when I was stung for the first time in a grocery store, then later in my backyard. Both times involved me unknowingly getting too close to a bee and then feeling the sharp pang of the sting.

Finally, in an act of desperation, I told Will that he needed to hurry because there was a bee outside the car and if it got me, it would make me cry. It had the desired effect: my son's compassion kicked in and he scurried into his car seat. He asked me just once if the bee would really make me cry. I said yes, because bees sting and that hurts. Then the subject was dropped. Or so I thought.

My words backfired

Weeks later, Will saw a black fly buzzing around and repeated my words. I gently told him that it wasn't a bee, so not to worry. Then he began to say it for all types of flying menaces . . . Once in a while, they were really bees. But not only did he say that they would make him cry, he would remove himself from the situation -- running away from his playhouse when he saw a legitimate bee, sitting on our porch stairs after a fly buzzed near his Cozy Coupe, and screeching when he saw one near the car.

My attempt to inform Will of the dangers of bees, wasps and hornets has backfired. Worse, I have failed him by instilling a fear that my fearless child didn't have. He now fears everything tiny that flies.

Lesson learned

I could have done better by him. How? I should have made sure that he saw the bee and could identify it. As a parent of a quickly developing toddler, it's easy to sometimes forget that while they understand and know a lot, they don't know it all yet. My son might be able to distinguish between types of cheeses, varieties of vehicles, and a bevy of drinks. He might even know his ants from his spiders, but that doesn't mean he knows what a bee is yet -- and that's what I need to teach him.

I don't want to take away my son's natural fearlessness. It's refreshing to have someone who is willing to try new things and experience anything. As parents, we need to be cognizant of what we say and do, as it influences our children's development in huge and unexpected ways.

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