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Second-hand phobias...

Sarah Walker

Standing in for Anne this week on air

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My four year old son, Jack has a love/hate relationship with insects. He remains fascinated by them and desperate to discover which ‘garden animals’ he can find when we’re busy gardening. But in the same breath, he seems uncomfortable around spiders and any insect which moves quickly.

So you can imagine how apprehensive I was when he got an invitation to a birthday party for one of his classmates which involved getting up close to insects. The day came and the class of four and five year old’s sat expectantly in a semi-circle opposite a line of cloaked cages. Jack remained engaged but showing no emotion whatsoever.

The first insect came out (a stick insect). His interest was pricked further and he demanded to hold it, even though it was more interested in climbing up his arm (at what would normally be too fast a speed for Jack). He smiled and laughed at how it was tickling his cheek.

Then out came a tortoise. My son couldn’t get a hold of him quickly enough – prizing him out of his handler’s grip and asking all sorts of questions about his appearance (the tortoise not the handler).

I briefly looked away to reset the camera on my phone. I looked up and my heart sank. Sitting on my perfect little boy’s tiny palm was a tarantula. I’m not bad with insects. I remove 95 per cent of the spiders from our house as my husband and two sons run screaming for the hills. But spiders with leg hair are simply unpleasant. They have large abdomens and they weave webs that resemble Christmas bunting. I stifled a scream. Jack was captivated, fascinated and most of all….completely calm.

The lesson that day came courtesy of the tarantula’s handler, Owen. Who, looking around the room of silent, grinning youngsters simply uttered: ‘Proof that phobias come from parents, not children’.

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