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A Toddler with an Irrational Fear of Flies

Just a few days ago, TJ developed a new fear – the common house fly. Now, I admit that I don’t particularly like flies. I don’t really like when they land on my or hover around my food, but I don’t freak out or anything. TJ does.

It all started when we were at the McDonald’s Play Place with two grandmas, a great-grandma, and a 3-year-old friend named Abby. A fly was buzzing around the table, and TJ started to fuss. But then it landed on his cheek… and TJ had a complete meltdown. All of his muscles tensed and he was shaking. I tried to console him by stroking his hair and letting him lean over to hug me. It wasn’t enough. I had to take him out of the high chair and let him cling to me for quite some time before he settled down. He kept his hand covering his face.

He also wouldn’t go back in the high chair, apparently terrified that the fly would come back and attack him. He ate the rest of his chicken on the run. I dislike when kids run around with their food in the Play Place, but he stationed himself at the window to make himself a Drive Thru greeter, so at least he wasn’t climbing on the germ-infested play equipment while he ate.

But it got worse.

House Fly

Later that night, TJ spotted a fly that was buzzing around our living room, just before dinnertime. He got so upset, tense and shaking, and clung to me as if his life depended on it. He kept one splayed hand covering his face as he burrowed into my chest. This lasted for at least 15 minutes. Every time I tried to ease him away from me, he just clawed at me and held me tighter. He was actually hurting me when he grabbed at my shirt and got handfuls of skin from my sides, where there is little fat to act as a cushion.

I had to hold TJ at arm’s length while Tom peeled him off me and strapped him into his highchair for dinner. He wouldn’t eat. He kept crying, “Mommy, ‘ommy, ‘ommy!” So I had to take him out of his chair and hold him. Again, he tried to hold on so tightly that it hurt. Tom ate as quickly as he could, then pried TJ off of me so he could play the role of comforter while I ate.

When I was finished eating, we decided to get TJ out of the house. We went to Target and bought, among other things, a flyswatter. We stayed out over an hour, so we’d be getting TJ home just in time to go to bed. It was on the way home that we realized he still hadn’t eaten any dinner. We stopped at the Drive Thru to get him some chicken nuggets. He was finally back to normal, yelling, “Chicken! ‘icken! ‘icken!” Of course, the chicken was very hot when we got it, so I tried to cool it off before giving it to him. He was very happy to start chowing down on his chicken.

Of course, once we got him back home and into his high chair to finish his chicken, the fly reappeared. Once again stricken with terror, he got freed from his seat and burrowed against my chest. He managed a sad, “‘Icken?” Tom handed him a piece of chicken, which he ate with his face in my chest and his other hand over his face. I hated the fact that he was so upset… he hearing him chewing the chicken in that position was absolutely hilarious.

I called the pediatrician today. The nurse who called me back had consulted two different doctors before returning my phone call. She started out the conversation with, “I wish I had better news…” But I knew what she was going to say before she called me back. There’s nothing we can do but comfort him when he gets upset, and wait for him to outgrow it.

It’s not necessarily normal for him to have this intense fear, but it’s not unusual, either. Kids his age can have these phobias – of bugs, spiders, and other creepy crawly things. But the fear will pass, in time, and likely shift to something else. Hopefully it will be something less prevalent than house flies next time.

Update (June 28, 2012): TJ is still afraid of flies, but he’s in good company. This remains one of the most popular posts I have ever written, as parents are searching for information on this topic every day.

Christina Gleason (864 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I’m a relatively high-functioning Aspie who also lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in the care of a psychiatrist, who assures me that people in therapy are often better adjusted than “normal” people who are not, because at least we know what our issues are and are working on them. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including World of Warcraft and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead. I have started writing no fewer than five novels, and I hope to finish one of them...eventually.


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{ 24 comments… add one }

  • bekki May 29, 2009, 5:29 am

    my son is also starting to show an irrational fear to flies, for some reason he will insist on calling them spiders, whish he isn’t frightened of. It’s all very strange.

  • Holly :3 May 30, 2009, 5:14 pm

    I’m 12 and OMg i hate hate HATE flies.
    Somedays i won’t even go out of the house cause there are flies EVERYWHERE. If the’yre in my room and it doesn’t go quickly i can cry for AGES. Daddy-long-legs and Moths are also a problem.

    People say i’m confident and outgoing but in P.E last week i started HYPERVENTILATING because of two little-ish flies going round my head. I missed catching 3 balls in rounders because i was so scared.

    I know flies can’t hurt me and they don’t scare me unless they’re ACTUALLY there; but i hate this fear and really want it to dissapear…

    PLease will someone just tell me what the fear of flies is called?
    Thankyou, and good-luck.

    From holly xx

  • kirsten December 10, 2009, 11:15 pm

    Hi guys,
    My daughter, Destiny, is 3 years old and is absolutely TERRIFIED of flies. It popped up suddenly one day when my fiance and i were out walking and she was in the stroller when one landed on her knee. She threw her water bottle and started sreaming and shaking and NOTHING would calm her down. She curled up into a little ball and wouldnt move, let alone look out to see if the fly was hanging around. We had to take her home. Again, one was in the house not long ago, flying lazily around the middle of the room, and i called her for lunch. She wouldnt come so i went to find her and she was curled up on her favourite couch…saying ‘scary mum, fly is so scary’ then hiding again. I had to carry her into the kitchen and try to hunt down that fly. poor little mites. My 1 and 1/2 year, Kaidence, doesnt mind them though. Strange.

    Glad my little one isnt the only one with an unusual fear. Thanks guys. Kirsten.

  • Zoe February 26, 2010, 8:05 am

    Hey,

    I’m 18 and currently with a phobia of flies, (which I believe to be called Pteronarcophobia). My phobia started when I was about 2 years old thanks to my brother say that a swarm of flies in the back garden were going to get me. When I was about 8 years old my fear seemed to start going away, however, a year or so later a wasp landed on me, now I had never been scared of wasps as I had always been taught to stay still when one was flying near me, but having this wasp land on me reminded me of the reason why I had been scared of flies in the first place, they were a potential health hazard. Since then my phobia has only gotten worse to the point where any flying insect I used to like, i.e. ladybirds scare me.

    But having been scared of them for so long I have developed my own way of dealing with my phobia. I just hope that everyone is able to grow out of theirs’ or find ways of dealing with it

  • Wendi March 29, 2010, 1:11 am

    I couldn’t help but find this post, and I can honestly feel much emapthy for your child.

    I didn’t have a fear of fies, exactly, but the fly swatter. Thus, I developed an “irrational fear” of flies.

    No, it wasn’t the flies i was afraid of…it was the fly swatter! I HATED the sound of it, and I remember once, I saw what happened to fly after it was hit with one…it wasn’t dead, it’s legs still twitching…I was horrified, and nearly vomited.

    Ever since, if i saw a fly, I would try not to look at it (which is VERY hard for a naturalist like me!) and would freak out if anyone else saw it.

    So, indirectly, I do, and can sense his fear. Though, this might not a true “phobia”. This sounds more like the sight of the bug moving around in a swift motion, tirggered the response of adrenaline, thus, instilling him with the “fight or flight” response, so when it touched him, he accosiated that with a predator, and learned to think of it as a true attacker and threat to his life.

    Zoe, your fear isn’t a tue phobia, as it was caused by a traumatic event. This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) thus, isn’t an irrational fear, so, it would not qualify as a true phobia.

    Bekki, it could be your son is experiencing a connection between spiders and flies. Perhaps, his young brainwasn’t quite capable of distinguishing between spiders and flies. Either way, it sounds like it’s hard for him to deal with.

    I will hope for all of you, and pray for you as well, and hope your fears, or the fears of your children will cease. It’s horrible living with it, and I can sympathize with all of you.

    As for advice I can give you helping him to cope and cure the fear, sometimes, comfort, cuddling, hugging and positive praise in’t enough to cure a fear, and i know this from much, and several various accounts of personal experiences! I used to suffer from irrational fears (truely irrational, that is) and some not so irrational, but what it really came down to was my diet, and something in, or better said, lacking in my diet!

    I would like to contact you (via email) to explain more about how to cure him of his fears for good. Fear like his, something that could occur at any place, any time of day, can, and IS very dangerous to her health, as fear like this can over stimulate the production of enpinephrine (other wise known as adrenaline), leading to adrenal fatigue, something you wouldn’t need for your child, in any way!

    The info I am hoping to give to you it’s quite technical, and would take up a LOOOOOT of space on this page! So, if you could please give me an email, I would kindly take much heart to it, and would love to bring more joy and help into curing him of his frightful, fight-or-flight fly filled fear.

    You can contact me at septipig@hotmail.com, as this is the email adress i use the most often. I would gladly like to help him in overcoming his fear.

  • Danielle May 8, 2010, 1:51 pm

    Hi
    I’m 18 years old and I just got attacked by two flies that came into my house while my dad was cleaning the windows. I stumbled upon this website because I wanted to see if there was such a thing as a fear of flies, or if I was the only one. At first the flies came into the dining room so I ran upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. To my horror I ended up locking myself up with one of those nasty things and I screamed at the top of my lungs and ran to my room. As I backed away from my bedroom door trying to calm myself, I realized that tears were starting to build up in my eyes. It was then that I knew there was something more than just a normal dislike of flies. I’m still shaking as I’m typing this, but it feels good to know that other people share my fear.

  • Alex May 14, 2010, 3:56 pm

    Oh my god, I’m 12 and I’m really scared of flies. I got bit by a horsefly when I was smaller, and ever since, I’ve been scared. Then, today, my friend Jamie brought a fly that was still alive to school. She said is was a house fly, and I was like ‘OMG THAT THING IS HUGE!!’ Because it was NOT house fly. Nor was it a horsefly. I’m telling you, it was BIG. Whenever I would see it, I would shiver and get really cold all of the sudden and I wouldn’t stop shaking until it was out of sight.

  • tia June 17, 2010, 12:15 pm

    hello my 2 year old daughter has suddenly developed a far of flies, one landed on her today and she threw away her icecream and screamed, and now everytime there is a fly she screams and breaks down… is there anything that will help?? i dont want her scared of them because they are an everyday thing

  • casey August 7, 2010, 11:00 pm

    hi I’m twenty years old and I have a serious fear of flies. I never really feared flies, but i strongly disliked horseflies for the common reason that they bite and hurt. But I didn’t grow up with a fear of flies that I know of. It all start last August when a swarm of flies was on my windows in my room, then the whole downstairs windows were too. I know I definitely saw more than 40 flies at one time for a couple days. I would use all my strength to keep my cool long enough to open my window and they would all fly out, but they kept coming back. I thought that there had to be maggots somewhere so I tore my room APART and didn’t sleep in my room for a couple week if not a month, even after the fact I never found any maggots. I obsessed about this for episode for MONTHS, asking everyone and anyone why this would happen and people said that it was because it was hot out. I finally let it go come September and I have moved since then.

    It is exactly one year later I am living in a different state and the SAME THING has happened! My room is down stairs again and my bathroom window has atleast 10 if not more flies on it. But the problem this time is that I can’t even calm myself to open my window. I am uncontrollably shaking and running out of the bathroom and slamming the door behind me. My heart pounds out of my chest, I can’t breathe, and I am seriously close to throwing up.

    I have honestly and TRULY never been scared of something so much in my life before that I physically suffer from it. If anyone has either experienced/felt this please let me know what I can do. My fear is getting worse I can’t step foot in my bathroom even to get my stuff out. And it is starting a fear or ANY SORT of bug.
    Please help, Thanks and God Bless!

  • Bekahbv October 29, 2010, 8:22 pm

    My daughter developed this fear a couple days ago. It’s horrid! She screams, shakes and there is nothing we can do. We are trying everything, but she is terrified!

  • Dippy December 5, 2010, 11:58 pm

    My 3 year old daughter is also terrified of flies. She too saw her first fly in McDonalds play place. We can not go back there anymore and that is not the worst of it all. She had been sleeping in her crib in her room all by herself since she was about 7 months. One morning she woke up screaming. It seems that she had a nightmare of a fly. Since then she doesn’t want to sleep in her crib!!! Her twin doesn’t have a problem with flies though or sleeping in her crib.
    Looking forward to hear some suggestions…

  • Melinda June 17, 2011, 10:53 pm

    My son just started freaking out when last week a huge black fly flew in front of him and since then whenever he sees any flies he totally has a huge meltdown. Its so sad b/c he is honestly very very scared and I am so sad for him. I hope this passes soon. :(

  • Eva July 16, 2011, 11:56 am

    My son has had a fear of flies since he was a toddler. We too, thought he would outgrow it but it only seems to have gotten worse. He is nine and is in scouting and we fear that kids will start making fun of him because he has not been able to overcome his fear. His den is very understanding but who knows what will happen once he is out with the older boys or even at school.

  • Max Loh July 19, 2011, 11:58 pm

    A very strange phenomenon is happening to me.

    I used to be deathly afraid of spiders and only annoyed by flies. Now it’s the exact opposite.

    When a large housefly is close to my face, I defend my ears, drop my head faster than I could ever move my head in boxing, run for my life, and often scream very loudly not on purpose. I think I have developed some sort of fear of flies flying into my ear. The big houseflies are the scariest (probably because they are very fast/agile); smaller insects like fruitflies are only scary if they are extremely close to my ear.

    I am currently coping by wearing headphones.

  • jen August 8, 2011, 11:00 am

    My daughter has developed this fear of flies…at first I thought it was just something to get attention as I ran it past someone describing what she did and they said thats what it sounded like. I insisted it meant that my daughter was scared but because of some other behavioural problems it wasent believed…. Now if there is a fly in her room which is quite common this time of year she freaks out she turns into a baby who is unable to even open her bedroom door to come and get me so she screams until I wake up in the morning. When we go out she wont go near bushes and has to stand several feet away…why? I suspect it has to do with her thinking flies are in there. It’s gotten to a ridiculous point and I was ALREADY having issues with her before this.

    No one seems to understand I have NO SUPPORT in raising her and I quite dont know what to do and I do not have any tolerance for such an irrational fear and I respond to it badly with threats such as , “a fly cant hurt you but if you keep on screaming at me ILL give you a spanking so STOP!”

    Of course that just makes it worse. If anyone has some actual suggestions to shift this fear away it would be appreciated….

  • Casey March 21, 2012, 8:19 am

    PROBLEM SOLVED!!! I found this page yesterday after a fly buzzed in my 3 year old son’s ear and made him freak out (crying and panicking) at the potential sound or sight of a bug after that. I ended up going to the local Dollar Store and buying him a bug/butterfly net (bought a swatter too if it didn’t work). He LOVED it! Every time they come near him, we remind him to catch them with the net, now he’s in charge! Dad and son 1, bugs 0.

  • Gareth July 29, 2012, 8:20 am

    I can sympathise.Whilst i can tolerate their being outside,no way can i stand being in a room with them.The bigger flies are the ones i really hate.I don’t think it is an irrational fear.It’s based on revulsion and their potential for spreading pathogens.Yeah they have their uses in clearing carrion and even fertilising plants i know.And other creatures prey on them.Just keep them away from me.Wasps don’t bother me.i always try to let them out of the house.They’ve come in by mistake and want to get back out.They’re not dirty and rarely sting.Now fear of spiders,which is quite common,is to me and any reasonable person irrational(in the UK certainly where spiders pose no health risk whatsoever).

  • Heather Kelly August 17, 2012, 10:38 am

    My 3 year old daughter is the same way. She is scared to death of flies. If they get in the truck and they fly near her or land on her, she let’s out this blood curteling scream and cry as if someone is trying to hurt her. So scary. I hope she out grows this soon. I can’t deal with her shaking so badly because of her fear.

  • Christinme Smith March 8, 2013, 7:33 pm

    I have always had an emense fear of flies they scare me half to death. I am 35 years old and if the is a fly in a room I must leave. My boyfreind seems to think its funny as do most people but they just dont understand the fear. I was very upset recently when my boyfreind saw two flies mating and decided to show me a phot of it while I was driving the car. Even seeing them in a picture is enough to have me in a panic. he is so Blessed I didnt jump out of the car while it was still in motion to be sick, but he has caused another fear because now I dont want to see his camera nor his photography because I know that picture was there. some people are mindless when it comes to anothers phobia. its not funny nor clever. p.s. I was recently diagnosed with autism which could be the cause.

  • Random reader May 24, 2013, 10:06 am

    I am a teenager and I have recently developed a fear of flies from an event a while ago. Once my cousins were visiting, they’re still kids and so my siblings and cousins were playing in the garden and kept leaving the door open, which let in flies. At that time, I didn’t really care for flies, all I needed to do was slap it with a slipper to knock it out and then pick it up in a tissue and throw it away. So this big, those flies the size of your thumb was crawling up my window and I tried to swat it like usual, but it only fell to the floor and started to fly at low altitude, freaking me out. So I grabbed the closest thing that came in my hand, my deodorant, and in a fit of fear I started to spray like crazy. After a bit of struggle, it flew towards my dresser and hid behind it, I never saw it since. After that, I never slept on the left side of my bed and have spent many nights sitting there and trying to forget that tickling feeling that comes on my arms or legs.

    Another time, my sister saw this big fly on her window so she got me to help her to get rid of it. I grabbed my deodorant, again, and started to spray it. Then, while it flew around her room, my sister was standing at the window and then the fly stood on the net and she closed the window trapping it. We have a balcony on the other side, so we went out and sprayed deodorant from the outside until it passed out or something. We opened the window and me, being such a werido, grabbed a pin and poked it. It had larvae coming out of it like goo and fell out in a blob, the fly was twitching the whole time. We, of course, killed and mutilated the fly and the larvae. I hate getting near that window now…

  • jackie slater June 10, 2013, 11:03 am

    My daughter was the same with flies but one day I told her it was a fairy who came to see her and now she does not freak out!! She is 4

  • Candy September 7, 2013, 10:51 pm

    I have a seven-year old dog who is deathly afraid of flies, if he sees one, even if he’s eating, or curled up on the couch. He runs and hides into the bed room, and will go so far as to duck under the covers.

  • Ellie September 25, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Ugh their is a fly buzing round in my room now and it’s stopping me from sleeping. If I see a fly outside I’m not afraid of it but when it’s in my room Oh my god I freak out and everyone just thinks I’m being stupid so they won’t help me and I’m really scared right now

  • Gilad July 11, 2014, 1:14 pm

    I’m 13 years old and I am also really really scared of flys. It randomly started happening. When they’re in the room my whole body goes in to panic mode and I have to leave the room. There are times when they get really close to me and buzz and I freak out, scream and run, my family thinks it’s nonsense and tells me to stop. But I am seriously deathly scared. Sometimes when I’m alone. I imagine them behind the curtains or I could seriously hear them in my head. Plz I don’t want this to get worse. I’m scared if it starts to happen at school. I also have a fear about wasps but that’s because they sting. I would hate to have one about flys that are literally everywhere

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