Q: Because he is afraid of sharks, my fourth-grade son does not want to participate in an school field trip to an aquarium. In all other respects, he is perfectly normal. He doesn’t give us or his teachers any problems at all. Should we make him go on this field trip? If he doesn’t go, he’ll have to sit in the principal’s office all day. The other option is to let him stay home.
I don’t generally believe adults should make accommodations in response to a school-age child’s irrational fears (I make exceptions for certain fears in toddlers and preschoolers), and a fear of aquarium-contained sharks is certainly irrational. Dragging your son kicking and screaming into the ocean would egregious , but this is a far different matter.
You should simply tell your son that he has no choice but to go. His fear of sharks does not qualify him as a special-needs student. Suggest that he close his eyes when the class enters the shark exhibit.
Generally, one of the most counterproductive things parents can do is try to talk children out of irrational fears. Paradoxically, that is likely to make matters worse. The more parents talk to a child about fears – in this case, to reassure your son that the sharks are contained and the tanks won’t suddenly break – the more likely it is that the fear will become a personal soap opera the child will employ to attract undue attention to himself and control various situations.
Simply tell your son, “After much thought as well as consultation with a psychologist, we’ve decided you’re going on the school trip to the aquarium. You have our permission to close your eyes when the class goes into the shark exhibit, but you do not have our permission to inconvenience your teacher or any other adult because of your fear.”
If he persists in trying to persuade you, sit down in a comfortable chair and say, “You have my permission to try your best to make me change my mind. I will listen to anything you have to say.”
After he makes his best attempt, say “I’m sorry, but you’re not persuasive enough. You’re going on the field trip. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?” He will give up within 10 minutes, and it will be 10 minutes well spent.
John Rosemond: rosemond.com
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