Care and Feeding

My Kid Is Suddenly Afraid of “Bathroom Spiders”

Could this be coming from anxiety over the pandemic?

A sink drain with spiders crawling out of it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We live in a stay-at-home state. Our bubble is very small, as my partner has a heart condition and COVID-19 could be fatal. Our 6-year-old daughter has always slept in her own bed. We have a bedtime routine, and she falls asleep on her own.

In the last few weeks, she’s begun waking in the night and will be up for hours because she’s afraid of the shadows. We put a night light in her room, but she’s still up in the night. She’s also developed a fear of the bathroom that’s attached to her bedroom and is convinced that spiders are in the drains. She will only use that bathroom if one of us is nearby.

Are these new fears normal for a 6-year-old? Are they because of all the change we’ve endured with COVID-19? How can we address these new fears aside from reassuring her that she is safe and our house is safe?

—No Sleep Till …

Dear NST,

New fears are very normal for a 6-year-old and, yes, may certainly be heightened by routine changes and her ability to sense new anxieties in her parents. If you’re talking about COVID-19 around her or she’s coming upon you whispering to each other fearfully, stop. But I absolutely could have gotten this letter a year ago and not batted an eyelash at it.

The night light is a great option for fear of the dark, and if she wakes up at night and comes into your room, you can just reassure her and calmly (and blearily) walk her back. If she doesn’t get to hang out with you, it’s fine if she quietly plays for a bit or reads a book before going back to sleep.

I’m going to suggest a quick life hack re the nonexistent spiders. In addition to what you’re already doing, such as reiterating that there are no spiders and that any spiders in your home are harmless mosquito-eaters, empty out an old spray bottle and put some water in it, label it Spider Spray, and let her mist the toilet once before bed. It’s remarkably effective against nonexistent spiders. If a spider does make an appearance, tell her the spray only repels bad spiders, not harmless mosquito-eaters.

If you think your daughter is likely to use this to transition into a fear of mosquitoes, stick with “harmless.”

Let me know if it works!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old boy refuses to pee in the potty. We’ve been potty training him since the lockdown, and he poops in the potty consistently, but he doesn’t seem to care if he wets himself. We have him wearing underwear and shorts, and even though we put him in front of the potty every hour, he’ll just stand there and not go, and then when we take him out of the bathroom, he’ll relieve himself later.

We know he knows how to hold it—he never wets himself at night and always pees in the potty after he wakes up—but during the day he doesn’t seem to care if he’s wet. We’ve also tried getting him to pee sitting down, but he won’t do that either. Is there anything else we can do?

—Pee in the Potty, Not the Living Room

Dear Pee In the Potty,

Ah, this is a story as old as the hills, as is your very reasonable frustration! A 3-year-old who can absolutely use the potty, but is a real honey badger about it. My No. 1 recommendation is to be as utterly emotionally detached during these incidents as you can pretend to be. If he has an accident, say, “Oh, that should have been on the potty, now you have to clean it up, what a shame.” He can take his soiled clothes and put them in the washing machine. He can ineffectually blot the carpet with paper towels and then spray the area with cleaner.

A 3-year-old will often choose negative attention over no attention, so it’s vital not to react. Make it boring and annoying to pee in the living room. He has to stop playing to clean up, so he will gradually learn it’s easier to stop playing to sit on the potty. Give him an M&M if he goes on the potty, and tell him how proud you are.

It’s aggravating as heck, but we’ve all been there. Be consistent and be calm, let natural consequences do the work for you.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My friend of 20 years is a vegan, and I am not. My partner works in the food processing industry. A while ago, a friend posted a video on social media about how animals are processed. I have seen it from both sides, from the industry and from her POV. The video in question, however, was made to scare people and was simply not true (I am not biased, I asked many people in the industry for clarity). I could not stand by and allow her to post such nonsense. After trying to stay reasonable and talk to her, it was clear her intention was to get the veganism message to all our friends, even if the video was false.

After a few weeks, I clearly lit a fire under her ass, and the posts kept coming. I spoke to my partner’s co-workers, worried about her activism and coming to my farm. I have three small children. After many chats, a friend suggested I remove her from my social media and try to maintain the relationship, but it was already shot. I’ve spent nights awake about this. Recently, another friend mentioned she felt horrible about her diet due to our acquaintance posting on social media. I didn’t know what to say.

My question is: Did I handle it wrong? It’s been a year—can I reach out to her during this pandemic? Or do I leave it alone?

—Vegan or Bust

Dear VoB,

Gently, yes, you did handle it wrong. I would have simply hidden her posts and not engaged from the very beginning. She has a right to her opinion; you have a right to yours. I understand that your reaction was heightened because of your partner’s livelihood, but Facebook Wars are never a good idea. Nor, for the record, are people who work in the meat processing industry going to be a source of unbiased opinions about it. I say this as a meat eater who enjoys hunting for venison and wild turkey when I’m back in rural Canada with my deeply beloved Uncle Stu and feels very guilty about factory farming practices.

That is the past. It has happened. Sometimes old friends stop being friends because of an impassable new gulf that emerges between them. If you’re still waking up at night because you miss your friend, go ahead and drop her a line asking how she’s coping during the pandemic. If she doesn’t respond, or if she responds with animosity, I think your friendship has, sadly, run its course. If she’s happy to hear from you, rebuild some form of your friendship that is exclusively off social media and free of any discussion of factory farming and meat processing. If she brings it up, you can say, “Life is too short to fight about this.” Maybe she’ll agree, maybe she won’t.

In terms of a third party saying the posts are making her feel bad about her diet, I would just say, “Susan does have a strong opinion about this. You might want to change your settings so you do not see her Facebook posts.” She has not shown up at your farm, she has not threatened your children; if she wants to post about veganism, she can post about veganism and you can continue not to see it.

I’m always sad when people lose old friends. I hope that some version of friendship is still possible for you, and if not, I don’t really think you could have prevented it, even had you immediately nope’d out of her social media from day one.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a teenager who is currently stuck in quarantine, just like most of the world. I’ve been online shopping for things that I like since my birthday was a few months ago, and I have leftover gift cards. I found something that I’ve been eyeing for a while now: tarot cards.

I have been researching, and I found that the cards aren’t evil, part of witchcraft, etc. But I’m slightly nervous to ask my parents to buy them, since my dad is a Christian. I am not sure if he believes in witchcraft, but I don’t know how to ask them! Should I call them fortune-telling cards or say that I like fortunetelling?

—Not a Witch

Dear NaW,

We talked about this in our video chat last Tuesday, but I’m expanding on it in the column for a larger audience. Tarot cards are fun and enjoyable and not a big deal (I have a pack and enjoy messing around with them when I’m bored), but it’s entirely possible your father will not feel the same way.

Because, generally, I think it’s a bad idea to recommend a minor buy something and hide it from their parents (I do not want them to find them, freak out, yell at you, and throw them away), I’m not going to say “mail the gift cards to a friend and ask them to buy you tarot cards with them and then carefully conceal their existence from your family,” even though that’s absolutely what I would have done in your situation had my parents been Weird About Tarot Cards or Vibrators or Whatever.

I think you’re better off asking your dad what he thinks about tarot cards, and not in the context of “I want to buy a pack.” You can say you’ve been reading about them and they sound like a fun distraction. Let his response guide you! If he’s like “Ah, yes, the devil’s playing cards,” then don’t waste your money on something he’s obviously going to lose his gourd about. You will hopefully have a long adult life to spend messing around with tarot cards in your own home. If he’s like “I don’t know what those are” or “Whatever,” then go ahead and buy some tarot cards, still ideally via a friend. It is no longer Sneaking Around because you asked about them beforehand.

Don’t get a Ouija board, though. I have seen a lot of horror movies, and that’s how the demons get you.


More Advice From Slate

I have a clinical-strength phobia of bees and wasps and stinging insects, which has not faded or lessened any with time. It’s not great! My personal low point involved rolling out of a moving car when I saw a wasp hovering near the glove compartment, and I’ve mostly coped with it by avoiding gardens or outdoor seating at restaurants as an adult. The thing is, I have a baby now, and I want her to develop a “normal” relationship to bees. Objectively, I know that bees are benign and important to the ecosystem, and I can tell that to my children (current and future), but it’s not going to do any good if they see me crawl under a picnic table to avoid a harmless bumblebee 10 feet away. How can I spare the next generation?