Q&A: killing bugs inside the house

If you're thinking about signing up for the "Release the Yelling" class, do it today or tomorrow, so you don't miss the first email Friday morning! If you signed up and haven't gotten a confirmation email, check your spam file. You should have gotten one receipt from Paypal and another one with a link you had to click through to confirm that you were on the list.

Also, I'm thinking about doing a webinar (sorry, but I can't think of another good word for a web-based seminar with movement and sound) on that weird stage from 20-24 months when they have separation anxiety or only want one parent and get all sorts of strange fears. I'll schedule it for the week after Labor Day, and will put up more info when I have everything scheduled.

And now for a small question to lighten the load after yesterday's topic. "No name" writes:

"Now that spring has sprung a few bugs have snuck into the house.  How do I explain killing bugsto my 3.5 year old?  I want him to respect living things.  I personally
don't have a problem stepping on an ant in the house, but I'm not sure
how to ethically explain the difference to him?  I don't want him to
become a bug killer and stomp on every bug he sees on the sidewalk. 
What's the best way to explain it, while still showing respect for life
that a 3.5 year old can understand? "

It would never have occurred to me that this would be an issue. I always thought that bugs outside were in their homes and should be left alone, and bugs inside were in my home and were therefore fair game to be squished.

Is this cruel? (I also don't feel lots of sympathy for those people who jump into the polar bear cages at the zoo and then get mauled, but would feel awful if a person was attacked by a bear inside a house.) What do you do or teach your kids?

0 thoughts on “Q&A: killing bugs inside the house”

  1. Oh, perfect timing! We just saw the year’s first anthills yesterday and I had no. idea. what to tell my nearly three-year-old. We did talk about the anthills being their houses… so I think it would be a pretty easy sell to get her to help keep them safe in their houses. Although I imagine we will then go through a period of EXTREME ANT SAFETY, which could be crazy-making.

  2. We capture and release all bugs to the outside. It’s easy enough to do and I don’t like encouraging killing of any kind. Perhaps I’m too sensitive? But I do love watching my three year old returning insects to ‘their home’.

  3. I find it’s not that feasible to return teeny weeny ants to their home from mine, if there happen to be a bunch of them especially (yuk). But if it’s a larger bug, like a moth, lightning bug or whatever, I try and catch/release outside. If the cat doesn’t get there first that is.Outside, it’s fun to show kids bugs and other crawlies (earthworms, etc.) and what they do — I guess it would depend on the child, but with my daughter it’s been pretty easy to redirect from stomping bugs to observing them.

  4. Honestly Moxie, you don’t kill mosquitoes if they land on you outdoors? I feel that resisting an attack is justified, even outside your house – and it is hard to persuade a mosquito (or other biting insect) short of killing it. They don’t take to reasoning…

  5. I’ll admit I’m guilty of “Insect & Reptile Profiling.” If you’re a spider or gecko in my house, you get to stay. If you’re an ant or a cockroach, YOU GOTS TO GO!!!! A cricket? We’ll catch & release you. I know, it’s arbitrary.When my kid is a 3-something, I’ll probably say something like well, crickets are lucky so we set them free, spiders & geckos eat little bugs so they are welcome in the house, and the other little bugs would die if they stayed in our house because there is no natural outdoors kind of food for them to eat, so we can either help them back outside or help them to die quickly & painlessly (vs. starving). I pulled this from my arse really, so I don’t know if this will assuage a child’s concerns, particularly if they’re at all fond of the films “The Ant Bully” or “A Bug’s Life.”

  6. I saw the title of the post today and thought ‘Oh yay! This couldn’t be better timed’. The ants have started again this year inside the house (just killed a whole bunch while vacuuming). I thought the post might be about how to effectively get rid of bugs without harming the little ones. (We normally put down those disk traps, but I haven’t this year now that DS is here and crawling all around.)Oooooops.
    As DS is only 10 mos, haven’t even thought of this dilemma of the OP that will sure to crop up when he gets older.
    I think the inside/outside thing or their home/our home thing is a great place to start. But, there are exceptions as enu points out. And what if you find an ant hill in your house?
    Sorry…no good ideas, but I’ll be looking forward to the comments.

  7. If it makes anybody feel better, I read that a lot of the spiders and bugs that you humanely catch and release outside just up and die when you kick ’em out. Something about their current preferred and acclimated habitat being, well, your bed.Other than that, I got nothin’.

  8. I like hush’s hierarchy. Makes a lot of sense to me!And I don’t have any ideas, but I’m taking a moment to be grateful we don’t have an ant issue.

  9. I have the same policy as Hush…but one of the great things about living where I do is the fact that there are NO ROACHES AND MOSQUITOES!!!! Yes, it’s true. We do have moths, spiders, sometimes little sugar ants, but none of the nasties. We don’t even have screens on our windows. I love it, after growing up in Houston, TX – a town with way more than its fair share of 2″ roaches, killer mosquitoes, and fire ants.

  10. I too am guilty of bug profiling. Easy to catch (lightning bugs, lady bugs, moths) get put outside. I show no mercy to roaches, flies, and the occasional wasp. Bug, meet shoe. Outside, though, I don’t let my kids disturb ant hills or the like. It’s not nice to the bugs, and we do have fire ants, so I don’t want the boys digging in ant hills anyway.We actually don’t have too much of a bug problem despite living in Georgia. We do have someone come spray monthly, but only around the foundation of the house, not inside Not the best environmentally, I know, but it seems to be the only thing that keeps the palmetto bugs etc from colonizing. For ants, I’ve heard that scrubbing with soap disrupts the ant trails and they can’t find their way back in, but you have to keep up with it. And, of course, keep enticing food put away and the kitchen clean. (Although my mother’s house is the cleanest house I have ever seen, and she still gets ants every summer, so she does have an exterminator come then.)

  11. Oh, yeah, enu. Any bug that attacks me I will attack back. And sometimes I even advance toward my enemy, like I was taught in krav maga class.

  12. @the milliner– I was really worried about ant traps and stuff at our house (and god forbid, Raid and the rest of it which is what my husband wanted to get) once our son was born, but we found this very effective non-toxic mint oil spay that works AMAZINGLY. It’s mixed with compressed air, so it’s just like “regular” bug poison spray cans. It kills the ants that get in it, and keeps on working for a week or two. I just spray around the edges of our kitchen or any other “hot spots” that I find and we’re good for a few weeks. I also don’t have to buy air freshener in the summer, because it smells like mint in our house now.Spiders are NOT okay and get squished (or mint-oiled, it works for them, too), I’m totally phobic. The ants drive me flipping crazy, I can’t even explain. Anything else with more than six legs, really, is a dead bug in my house. Everything else (what’s that leave, though, potato bugs?) gets released.

  13. oh shoot, I forgot to say what’s that mint oil spray can is called. And, now that I think about it, I can’t remember. BUT– we got it in the bug poison/spray/icky section in the home and garden section, right next to the traditional insecticides.

  14. Boy, the ant issue — ours isn’t horrible, far from it, but we do see some from time to time. But we had no issues whatsoever before we had a kid. I try to keep the floor clean, but WTH sweeps after Every Single Meal? (Hint: not me).Bug profiling. Hee hee hee hee.

  15. My question is only related in the slightest… but we just found out that we have a wood-eating beeting infestation in our log cabin. Clearly this needs to be taken care of, but with a young babe in the house, I’m concerned about how we do it. Has anyone out there used a more baby-friendly method of extermination? Does such a thing even exist?

  16. The first time I found an ant inside an empty baby bottle, I knew this meant war.And the ants with their hills outside are undermining our driveway, and they move in giant thousand-ant flanks and cover the patio 4-square feet at a time. There are ant hills in the middle of our lawn. These are serious ants. Half-way through the summer, they “hatch” and start flying. And all the chemicals in the world don’t seem to matter. I’m at a loss for what to do with the ants, but ants – even in the great outdoors – are killed.
    We’re nice to worms, caterpillars, lightning bugs, grasshoppers, etc outside. We leave bees alone, but wasps are killed as are Japanese beetles which eat our plants. My husband is actually deathly allergic to wasp stings after an incident in our backyard 4 years ago that sent him into shock.

  17. I ignore spiders and crickets or take them outside, but I kill roaches, flies and ants in the house. I get upset with my kids and I explain to all kids that we don’t kill animals- any “bugs”- outdoors because that is their home and we are the visitors. That said, my home is my home and they are the visitors. I explain that flies and roaches spread germs and that they are welcome to live outside, but not indoors. As for ants, we try to discourage them from living inside by cleaning up spills etc. because they are meant to be outdoors. My 5yo asks about this a lot, trying to figure out the hierarchy, but my 7yo is past it and seems to understand.We have a once a year pest control company spray our house here in GA (Earth Conscious Pest Control if Clare is interested) and it does the trick. A borax solution will work for ants too but I’d want it out of reach of kiddies.

  18. I have always believed in the philosophy that bugs belong outside. If a bug is in my house, it’s forfeited it’s right to life. That’s right, I said it. If it’s close to a door, it might get lucky and be turned lose, but it might not (and would depend on the type of bug).More than the explanation/understanding of respecting life and the rules of what can be in my house, I am concerned about my bug phobia.
    I have an honest-to-goodness phobia of bugs/insects (entomophobia), especially of the big and icky variety–ants and flies I don’t like, but don’t freak out about. So I have 2 more pressing concerns. 1) Hiding my inner anxiety/panic attack so that my kid(s) don’t pick up the same phobia, which I am working on. 2) Dealing with the inevitable presentation of bugs to Mommy when the kid(s) discover a cool bug and want to show me. Luckily, I freak out much less if the bug is discovered outside, because in my mind I expect to find them there and that’s where they should be.
    So no good ideas from me, just a little sharing about caramama’s crazy inner workings! 😉

  19. Have any of you wonderful ladies identified a good way of not communicating your dislike of bugs to your kids {if you dislike them}. I’m a sqeak-flail-trynottodropthebaby kind of woman when it comes to flying insects even though I know they are not anything to be afraid of.

  20. We had a pantry moth problem last year, so Mouse knows we had to squish the moths so they wouldn’t eat our food. We try to take spiders and big flies outside…not a lot of other bugs in SF. We leave bugs to themselves outside, unless they are the bitey kind. For some reason all 3 of us are big mosquito attractors.

  21. @shirky – I wish my cats were that well trained. They only kill things that bleed all over my floor (mostly squirrels).We either ignore things or kill them. Things that get killed are ants, flour moths, mosquitos and grain beetles (haven’t ever seen a roach here – hooray!) Anything else gets to stay. Unless it lands on me, and then it gets squished. We’re pretty crunchy and live in a rural area – moths and spiders are a part of life. I give my kids the line about it being my home and I don’t want them to live here, but you can’t kill them if they’re outside unless they’re trying to bite you. They (the kids) seem ok with that.

  22. @Jen- there are termite extermination services that use orange oil based products and claim to be non-toxic. An apartment building I lived in once used an ultrasound based method. I don’t have the details on that because I was getting all info second hand from our ditzy apartment manager. I don’t know whether anything similar exists for the beetles you have.Also, the chemicals used in some extermination methods target an enzyme that mammals don’t have, so those theoretically shouldn’t be too toxic to people and pets. If you get a specific chemical name, you can see if the EPA or some other agency has set any exposure limits.

  23. OK — I have to honestly say this is something that NEVER entered my mind when my child was growing up. Sometimes we killed bugs; sometimes we didn’t.I actually do not think it is necessary to explain each and every decision we make in life to our children. Children are smart, they will learn more by our example than by our words when it is ok to kill a bug and when it is not. (Along with most other lessons in life!)
    My daughter grew to be an adult without mutilating any animals in spite of the fact that I killed bugs and did not explain to her why I was doing so!

  24. Not sure about how to not pass along the icky-bug reaction but I don’t think it is necessarily a learned behavior. My mom is scared silly of frogs and I used to think it was great fun to catch the stray tree frog that wound up in our house and pretend I was going to let it go on her.

  25. Thank you for this; I was just thinking about it the other day but didn’t decide what to do. I think the inside/outside rule will work for us.Also, I must know where eccentriclibertarian lives. I would love a bug-free existence, though I can’t really complain too much here in SoCal.

  26. We sort of have the reverse problem – my 2.5 year old loves to dig for “buddy worms” in the garden and wants them to live in the house with him. We have weekly conversations about how buddy worms need to live in the dirt, outside. I like worms, myself, but a 2.5 year old’s love sure does kill a lot of them.(Yes, we have ants and roaches and today, mosquitoes hanging out by my fridge, WTF Georgia, but haven’t had much of an issue about mixed messages.)

  27. I almost wish I didn’t love bugs (and all other creatures) as much as I do. It’s going to be a full-time job carrying them out of the house (found baby eating a large ant yesterday!) – I can’t bring myself to kill them! A stroll on a rainy day takes forever because I can’t just walk past a worm writhing on the sidewalk without moving it to the grass. Crazy, maybe. But it feels right to me and I’m proud to model it to my child the way my father modeled it to me. It takes all kinds, right? When DD is old enough, we will make it an educational game, learning about each species we come across. Fun!Out of curiosity and not to be creepy but @eccentriclibertarian, where is this mythical magical place you speak of? We live in Spain and the outdoors there cannot be kept out; it simply refuses to respect the boundaries of “yours” and “mine”.

  28. if it’s something in the house that the cat would enjoy trying to catch, i tell her “there’s your treat!”. mosquitos get no mercy, i squish them. i get big itchy welts if the bite me. all others i try to escort outside. but then sometime i just get squicked out if it’s a big spider and call my boyfriend in to take care of it.as for when it comes to bugs and children… when i was volunteering at daycare sometimes a bunch of 3 year-olds would gang up on a lady-bug and take turns stepping on it. i would rescue it and show it to them saying “it’s not going to hurt you” and deposit it on a bush out of their range.

  29. I used to worry about passing along my bug phobia to my son, but the first time he saw me shriek and jump away from an attacking camel cricket, I knew everything was going to be OK. He laughed his butt off at me. At three, he still finds it very entertaining because we can’t get rid of the *%&*ing things.Oh, and I guess what I found on said three year old yesterday. A deer tick! That little bugger is TOAST.

  30. Wait, wait, wait — it’s a *phase*? I mean the clinginess — that’s a phase? Oh, thank god. My daughter’s 22 months old and bedtime nursing has suddenly become just about impossible — she never wants it to end and will ask “udda side?” again and again and scream if I try to put her in bed — and it’s made me seriously tempted to wean her because, man, I’m getting all snappish with her, and that’s no good. But if it’s a phase, then maybe I can tough it out for a bit longer? Okay, off to search the toddler archives for more info.Oh — no helpful suggestions re: bugs, but I am adding Phoenix to my short list of places not to move.

  31. @Christine, I grew up in the Phoenix area. You brought back memories of the time I swept one of those suckers outside and ran over it with my car to kill it. I was working at an ice cream shop and still think its funny that the thing made my male coworker come running out of the back room in fear, leaving me to deal with it.@Catherine- at 22 months, my daughter was fighting my attempts to drop feedings (I was pregnant and wanted to move weaning along). At 23 months, we weaned with barely a whimper of protest. Yeah, its a phase. I had some luck offering water after we’d nursed both sides and she was still asking for more. If you want the whole story, you can click over to my blog and read the last few posts with the breastfeeding label.
    On bugs- I generally kill most things that get inside. I particularly hate flies. I only kill poisonous things outside. Black widow spiders have no business near where my daughter plays- I don’t care if it IS their home. I haven’t really thought about what we’ll teach Pumpkin. She likes looking at worms with her Daddy.

  32. @Summertime: Cool! Thanks for the suggestion.And as for bug profiling, another one on my most wanted list is earwigs. Those f#*($! bugs do.not.die., unless you pound them with a hammer or something. Haven’t seen any at our place but they’d cross the threshold at my parents’ occasionally.
    It’s all out war on the ants too. This huge black ant was biting & holding on to my dog’s lip (in the park), and would not let go! I squashed that bug good when I finally got him off. Don’t want that to be happening anytime soon to the little guy.

  33. We live in Florida, so yeah, we got bugs.And I hate bugs. Anything that gets into my house has sealed its fate. Outside, I can pretty much ignore them. Except for the fire ants and wasps. They must die.
    I just tell dd those are the rules. She is usually very tenderhearted, but she totally get the bug rules.

  34. Oh how funny. With hush, I’m a profiler, though not exactly in the same groups and it does depend somewhat on my mood. Actually we peacefully co-exist with many bugs, but not all…DS (2 years) mostly embraces (not literally) bugs and I was amused when, eating at an outdoor restaurant this evening, he was irked that his (adult) (half) sister removed a (small, gnat-like) bug from his plate. HIS plate — HIS bug! Darn sister!
    I was also reminded of my mother’s quip when we were kids as she, having grown up in post-war Europe, would gleefully exclaim, “Extra protein ration!” if we detected a bug in our food. We got that she was kidding, but we also knew there was a serious history behind it. Just to put things in perspective. Though, note to self: none of those Phoenix bugs in post-war Europe…

  35. May sound silly but could you -as much as possible- just NOT kill the bugs? We mostly trap in a cup or something and put back outside. The things that are dangerous (the hornets’ nest outside the back door that would swarm and sting) we killed. The termite that would destroy the house, we killed. Most everything else gets gently moved outside b/c we feel everything has their place in the world. (The more creepy crawly, the more my husband does this job).Just a thought.

  36. I found this question so interesting because I was just contemplating the same thing yesterday. My son is 25 months and we have an infestation of carpenter ants. He doesn’t really get death yet and he’s so young, I don’t think he’s ready for the concept. He stamps on the ant but thinks it’s a game, he doesn’t get that now the ant is dead.I am not a bug-lover but I have no phobia either, except for a few many-legged creepy crawlies that I rarely see (thank god). Things like spiders, I transport outside, and explain the critter will be happier there and that’s where it belongs. I wouldn’t have a problem smooshing a mosquito in front of him (I think mosquitos are less obviously alive than ants, does that make sense? I don’t think he notices them in the same way). The ants are a challenge, though, because they come in droves–I’d be transporting bugs outside all day.
    I took the weenie approach out and didn’t deal with it. I discouraged him from stomping on ants and told him it wasn’t nice, to just leave them alone. But only because I knew the exterminator was coming today. (I am so not the spraying type, but I learned my lesson with an infestation of carpenter ants in our last house, pre-baby; they ended up in the wood and I’d hear them chewing away in the ceiling at night. It took several targeted treatments to get rid of them. Fortunately, here, they can be stopped with a minimal spray around the exterior foundation. As Cloud mentioned, you can research the active ingredients and also discuss application type with the exterminator–most are sensitive to issues with children and pets, it’s a common concern.)

  37. We actually had this issue come up last year – ant problem in the house, squishing ants in the house, see ants outside, 4yo wants to squish ants outside. I just told him no, because they were outside, that’s where they live, we leave them alone (which is how I see it too – like caramama, if it’s in my house it forfeited its life! stupid ants every year in my kitchen!)This year, he – at FIVE – screams horror-movie screams when he sees an ant in the house. Considering my response to ants is more “grr” than “AAH”… I don’t think it’s my response that’s informing his! But I have always tried to stay calm in the face of my phobic bugs – wasps and spiders – and found that “faking it” to not freak out in front of him over them has helped me over some of my fear of them. (Which is good, considering in college, a spider in my closet had me paralyzed sitting in front of the closet staring at it for… half an hour?)

  38. It would never have took place to me that this would be a problem. I always considered that glitches outside were in their residences and should be eventually left alone, and glitches within were in my house and were therefore reasonable activity to be squished.

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