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Weekly articles for school counselors with ideas on how to resolve typical school situations with students, teachers and parents using the solution focused approach.

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It's Okay to Be Scared - Let's Figure It Out Together

October 03, 20223 min read

Think back to a time when you were younger and were afraid of something. Maybe it was going to the doctor for a shot or watching a scary movie. Maybe something going on in the world that was scary to you. Maybe someone you loved was sick.

What did someone do that helped you to feel better? What else did they do?

When I was in college, one day a tornado warning was issued that threatened our campus. I was a geology/earth science education major then, and I remember our meteorology teacher coming outside where we were all standing. She looked up at the clouds with us and said: “Yes, this is scary. See how the clouds look like marshmallows? Those are clouds that appear when a tornado is forming.” While her words did not take away my fears, what did help was her calmness and recognition that several of us were afraid. She went on and said, “So, given this information, what do you all think we need to do if it gets close to us?” We all talked about where we would go for shelter and then she said, “Good ideas. I will stay with you all until this passes.” Her willingness to stay with us calmed my fears. Later, when the tornado warning expired and we were all safe, I realized that she never told us not to be afraid. 

For many students who come to talk to us about fears, they have probably been told not to be afraid, or that it was silly to be afraid. Yet, the idea of something being scary is real to them. The solution focused mindset of “stepping into their world view” can help us during those times by cooperating with their concern and talking through what they think they can do on a very small scale to get through the situation.

So, a dialogue might go like this:

Student: “I am afraid of______________.”

Counselor: “Wow, that does seem scary. So, what would you like to talk about with me?”

Student: “I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

Counselor: “Okay, so instead of being afraid of ______, what would you be doing?”

Student: “I would___________________.”

Counselor: “Okay, so let’s imagine that, even though you are afraid, you manage to take one very, very small step today that helps you to be just a little less afraid.  

What might you do?  

What else would you do?  

What would others notice you doing?  

What might you think about that would help?”

Start making a list for them and give them a copy later. You may find that they relax just by the mere fact that you don’t tell them not to honor their fears. Instead, you help them to figure out what to do. Remember too, that if they don’t come up with ideas immediately, sit back and wait. You might even ask them to think more about it and then you will call for them later.   

When students do the solution building for themselves, they tend to engage in trying out their new strategies. Then, they are the ones with the expertise.

The solution focused mindset is a very flexible model that enables you to talk to students about almost anything, without being an expert on everything. I promise that students you help to cooperate with their fears will not forget you. 

To this day, whenever I see marshmallow clouds in Texas, guess who I think of?

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Dr Linda Metcalf

Linda Metcalf is the best-selling author of Counseling Toward Solutions and 10 other books. Linda is a former middle school teacher, all-level certified school counselor, licensed professional counselor supervisor, and licensed marriage and family therapist in the State of Texas. She is a Professor at Texas Wesleyan University.

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