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According to several articles I’ve read on the Internet, it is fairly common for Kindergarten-aged children to develop intense fears that have no basis in reality. Our six-year-old son has a couple of these.

One fear is being left alone in a room in our house, particularly the basement. Our son loves playing in the basement, where we keep most of his toys, but is deathly afraid of being abandoned down there by himself. Sometimes we will be able to talk him into taking the dog downstairs with him, but he usually insists on human companionship. A typical after-dinner conversation goes like this:

“Daddy, can you go downstairs with me?”

“Not right now. I’m doing the dishes.”

“Can we go after you finish doing the dishes?”

“We can,” I say. “Or, you can go downstairs now and I can join you in a little while.”

My son nods as if giving this some thought. “That’s okay,” he decides, heading to the living room couch. “I’ll wait for you.”

Our son’s fear of the basement is nothing new. He has never felt comfortable being alone in most rooms, even when surrounded by stuffed animals and other toys. I am told he will gradually grow out of this. My wife and I pray this to be true.

A newer development is our son’s fear of spiders—specially, spiders in the bathtub. This started a few weeks ago, when our normally mild-mannered son broke into a screaming fit and emphatically refused to take a bath in the tub he has been using since he was one week old. When pressed on the issue, he explained that he was afraid of spiders in the tub, even though he admitted to never having seen a spider anywhere inside our house. He had, however, seen a picture book about tarantulas at school. What could be more terrifying, really, than to be relaxing in your tub and to open your eyes to find a palm-sized, hairy spider swimming toward you? Do spiders even swim? Well, it doesn’t matter. The image alone is just horrible.

All the child-help literature instructs us to sympathize with—not belittle—our child’s fear, no matter how insanely irrational it might seem. We tried a few different tactics to get our six-year-old to wash himself. We let him use our shower. We let him use the “big” tub in our master bathroom. One of us took a bath with him to ease him into using his own tub again. We made a big deal about how cool his bath toys were, and now much they seemed to miss him.

After a few nights, our child seemed to conquer his fear of spiders in the bathtub. A washcloth under his rump seemed to help, for some reason. Bath nights were, if not exactly fun, at least tolerable again.

Then, a few nights ago, it started all over again. Our son, who used to love splashing around in the warm water of his tub, again refused to set foot inside its fiberglass shell. “I’m scared of the spiders!” he sobbed.

We know enough other parents who have kids our son’s age to understand that every child has his or her own quirks. This fear of spiders, and other bugs, confounds me, though. Like any other overprotective parent versed in the trendy psycho-babble of the day, I wonder what our son’s unprovoked fear of arachnids really means?