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Unfounded Fears

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: I have an eight-year-old stepson who's staying with us for the month. He seems to have unreasonable fears that are frustrating my husband and me. Even though he begs to go to the beach, he won't go in the water because he is terrified that he is going to be stung by jellyfish and stingrays. He stomps away from the water and complains all the time. No matter where we take him, there are major complaints. What can we do?

A: Could your stepson be doing this in order to get your attention? Think about how regularly (or irregularly) he sees his dad and consider whether his behaviors might be related to missing his dad and you. Try to imagine what it would be like to be in his shoes and staying with you for only a month.

When your stepson begins to whine and complain, try to not let him push your buttons. Be very calm with him and don't overreact to his complaints. Ignore the negative things he says as much as possible while giving him lots of attention when he is speaking and behaving appropriately.

Since there is actually no way to guarantee your stepson that there will be no jellyfish in the water at the beach, this fear is not totally unreasonable. Reassure him that while you are all in the water, you will keep watch for any jellyfish and try to make sure that he stays away from them.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


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