How Children’s Interaction with Insects Reveals Their Cognitive and Emotional Development

Kate Chered
4 min readDec 21, 2023

What is Behind the Curiosity of Young Children in Their Interactions with Insects?

Children, especially those under four years old, are in a stage of intense curiosity and exploration. This development phase is characterized by what psychologists call ‘concrete operational thinking.’ During this period, children are not driven by malicious intent but by a desire to understand their environment. They often dissect objects, including insects, out of curiosity to discover what lies inside. This behaviour is a part of their learning process, where they try to make sense of the world around them.

The act of a child harming an insect is often not born out of cruelty but rather an innocent inquiry into the nature of things. Children’s curiosity is a natural part of their cognitive development, and their actions towards insects are more about exploration than harm.

When do Children Begin to Understand the Concept of Life and Death?

By the age of four to five, children start to ponder life and death. Without clear, understandable answers from adults, they may use their methods to understand these concepts. A common example is a child stepping on an insect to see whether it will survive. Though seemingly harsh, this act is a part of their learning and understanding of the world, including mortality.

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in guiding children through these explorations. It’s important to provide clear and age-appropriate responses to their inquiries. Understanding death is a significant milestone in a child’s cognitive and emotional development.

What is the Hidden Motives Behind Children’s Behavior Towards Insects?

Children’s interactions with insects can be driven by various factors beyond mere curiosity. Sometimes, these actions can express emotions or cope with situations they do not fully understand. For instance, a child who feels powerless might exert control over something smaller, like an insect, to cope.

Parents and caregivers must observe and understand the underlying reasons in these scenarios. Open communication and gentle guidance can help children express their emotions in healthier ways and learn empathy towards other living beings.

Is There a Link Between Harmful Behavior Towards Insects and Potential Psychological Issues in Children?

While occasional curiosity-driven behaviour towards insects is normal, consistent and deliberate cruelty might be a red flag. Psychologists suggest that persistent harmful behaviour towards animals or insects can be an early indicator of deeper psychological issues. This does not mean that every child who harms an insect has a psychological problem, but it’s a behaviour that should be monitored.

In such cases, consulting with a child psychologist or a paediatrician is advisable. Early intervention can provide the necessary support for the child and help address any underlying issues.


How Can Parents Differentiate Between Curiosity and Harmful Behavior in Children Towards Insects?

Parents can distinguish between curiosity and harmful behaviour by observing the frequency and nature of the child’s actions. Curiosity-driven behaviour is often sporadic and driven by a desire to explore or understand. In contrast, harmful behaviour is characterized by repeated, deliberate harm towards insects. It’s important to note the child’s emotional state and intentions during these interactions. If a pattern of harmful behaviour is observed, it may be beneficial to consult a child psychologist.

What Should Parents Do When They Notice Their Child Harming Insects?

When parents notice their child harming insects, the first step is to approach the situation calmly and without judgment. They should engage in a conversation with the child to understand their motives. Explaining the value of life and the concept of pain in all living creatures is essential. Parents should guide empathy and respect for life. If the behaviour is frequent and concerning, seeking advice from a paediatrician or child psychologist is advisable.

Where Can Parents Find Resources to Help Children Understand the Value of Life and Death?

Parents can find resources in children’s books, educational programs, and online platforms that are designed to explain life and death in an age-appropriate manner. Many children’s books subtly tackle the subject and can be a great tool for starting conversations. Additionally, educational websites and programs often have sections dedicated to teaching empathy and respect for all living creatures, including insects.

When Should Parents Worry About Their Child’s Behavior Towards Insects?

Parents should start to worry if their child’s behaviour towards insects is persistent, deliberate, and seems to be driven by a desire to inflict harm. This is particularly concerning if the child shows no remorse or understanding of the pain they are causing. In such cases, it might indicate underlying emotional or psychological issues that require professional attention.

How Can Educators Assist in Cultivating Empathy and Respect for Life in Children?

Educators can assist by incorporating lessons on empathy, respect for all living beings, and the value of life into their curriculum. Activities involving caring for plants or animals, discussions about the natural world, and storytelling emphasizing empathy and kindness can be effective. Educators can also provide a safe space for children to express their feelings and thoughts, helping them develop emotional intelligence.

Originally published at on December 21, 2023.