We attended a special evening story time at our library last week that helped define one of the child’s anxiety triggers. Since her expressive language is still somewhat limited, it is hard to talk about emotional responses like these…especially since she tries to downplay it after the fact. We’ve moved beyond some triggers – like loud toilets, escalators, and fireworks, but others remain. She still does not like automatic flushing toilets and pretty much refuses to use them. She doesn’t like the air brakes on large vehicles like buses and semi-trucks, either. Her response varies from freezing and covering her ears to a full meltdown.

We were browsing the bookshelves after the story time and running a little later than usual when one of the librarians announced that the library would be closing in 15 minutes. The child wanted to leave right away, and started urging me toward the check out machines. I knew we still had plenty of time, so I tried to assure her, but she insisted that we needed to go. “I don’t want to get locked in.” Meanwhile the twins had chosen their books and we moved toward the exit. Every motion told me that this was truly frightening for her. I told her they wouldn’t lock us in, but no amount of discussion was going to calm her nervous energy. I was afraid she might bolt away from us. We have to go! We have to go! Even after we left the library proper, making our way down the elevator and through the parking garage, every step was agitated. We have to go! We have to get out! As soon as we got out the last door to freedom she relaxed, smiled, and slowed down a little.

I can relate a little to her anxious triggers. I have a pretty bad case of acrophobia, which seems to be getting worse as I age. I can barely ride a ferris wheel anymore. If one doesn’t have any of these “irrational” fears I suppose it is harder to understand how the physiological response takes over and no amount of logic or reassurance is really sufficient to make everything okay. I have even told her about some of my own anxious moments. After our escape from the library I told her about the late nights that I worked at my college library and I was responsible for locking up. Part of my job was to walk through the whole building to make sure no one was hanging around still – asleep in a study carrel or hiding out in a restroom. It was nerve-wracking to walk through a four story building by myself turning out lights and hoping I wouldn’t bump into someone just around the corner. Sharing that story seemed to help ease her own fears.

It’s good to have some clearer understanding of this particular trigger. I’m thinking it must be related to why she prefers stairs over the elevator, and other “closed-in” places. What are some strategies you use to reassure your child when they are anxious?

One Response to Anxiety