Fear and Brownies

Fear is such a complex emotion. What may seem trivial and inconsequential for one person, can be positively horrifying and inexplicable for another.

If adult fears are difficult to rationalize, then childhood fears are seemingly impossible, as a child’s ability to distinguish between real and perceived threats is isn’t yet fully developed.

Katie is brave about so many things–she has no fear of monsters or darkness (yet)–but garbage trucks simply terrify her. The truck passes by our house no fewer than four times each Monday, beginning around 9 o’clock and wrapping up around noon. Over time, she has become increasingly concerned about the truck’s whereabouts. It has now reached a point where she trembles as it approaches and begins to tear up, begging to be held.

We’ve tried rationalizing with her, offering up the following standard, predictable reassurances:
The garbage truck won’t hurt you.
The garbage truck can’t fit in our house–you’re safe in here.
The gentleman who drives the truck is going home now to see his kids.
Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t let anything bad happen to you.

None of these have worked.

BabyCenter has a helpful article on preschoolers and fear, with tips including acknowledging your child’s fear, working with her to problem solve, and using pretend play to work through the fear.  We’ve tried several of their suggestions, with little success.  Today we employed the article’s suggestion to “explain, expose, and explore.”

Since we’ve done about as much explaining as I think we can do, we moved right into exposing and exploring.

I wondered if we put a face to the driver and she could speak to him for a few moments, if she might be less afraid. So yesterday we got serious and made him some brownies. She was so excited that it was nearly all she talked about all day.  She stirred and chatted with me about how much he was going to love her “yummy brownies.”

This morning was spent listening and waiting, pacing and anticipating.  We heard the truck rumbling down the street and Katie was equal parts excited and petrified.  She waited, in my arms, as he approached, brownies in hand and the sweetest, most timid smile I’ve ever seen.  We waved him to a stop, they exchanged names, and we gave him her brownies.  As he drove away, she was smiling and appeared less afraid, but I don’t think she is over her fear by any means.

Does anyone have any tips or stories they’d be willing to share, just in case the brownie trick didn’t work?


  1. Sunshine

    No tips, but I bet you made his day!!!

  2. Nichole inthesesmallmoments.com

    The look on his face was priceless!

  3. This? I have a whole lot of experience with this, but at the extreme end of the anxiety spectrum. Carter has a severe anxiety disorder, but I thought of one suggestion that might help.

    Think of her anxiety like a fire of emotions. ANY emotion that you express is more fuel to her fire. That includes sympathy and concern, and certainly any expression of anxiety on your part. What I try to do with Carter is play parrot, putting words to his fear without adding my own emotion to the mix. In your situation I would say, "You're nervous about the garbage truck," when she expresses her worry. Then, go about your business. As her anxiety increases, just continue to acknowledge. "I see that you've very worried," or "That's something that bothers you a lot."

    Don't go to her to hold or console her. If she comes to you to be held, pick her up, but resist the urge to say, "It'll be OK, baby. It's alright!" When you do that, you communicate that you're sharing her concern and you want to show her that there's nothing to worry about. Even though she's worried and upset, keep on about the usual things. Talk about what you're doing in the kitchen or your plans for the afternoon. You're not trying to distract her so much as showing her that the garbage truck is part of regular life.

    As human beings, we instinctively try to calibrate our emotional state to that of the people around us, so you're giving her a calm, steady presence to use as her emotional yardstick.

    Enough from me? Yes, I think so. It wouldn't be the first time I've been called verbose. ;-)

  4. Nichole inthesesmallmoments.com

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom, Adrienne. You make some excellent points here; it is so true that we adjust our emotional state to match that of those around us.
    I struggle with some anxiety and I'm fairly certain that she can see how anxious I become as she starts to panic. We probably feed off one another.
    I'm actually eager for Monday to roll around to try this approach. I'll keep you posted.
    Thank you again for your thoughtful comment…I truly appreciate it. :)

  5. Kris prettyalltrue.com

    My older daughter Maj is a BIG worrier, and I would offer advice. But Adrienne has covered everything that I might have shared, and she has shared it more eloquently than I might have.

    Keep us posted on what happens next week!

  6. Kelly kelly-swanson.com

    Wonderful story and yes you did the right thing. By showing her that you would meet with the Garbage man together and defuse the situation, you put the power into her hands. She has control of the situation and the more you explore the more unsettling new situations become. Some great books I found on this while working on my psychology degree was from Piaget.
    One thing a great professor told me was to never forget the basics of learning and the learner. New progressive methods come out every day but they can be false in their assumptions are proven wrong by scientific method. Always turn to the basics where the current established method came from and build from there. You may find yourself knee-deep in discovery.

    I found you an article that could prove useful. Yes it is all tied together! <a href="http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:5jDyQ1vYj_kJ :www.ibstpi.org/Products/pdf/chapter_2.pdf+learning+and+hierarchical+knowledge&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShbIW1JdmYDzAWizMAJnW_wVL1hysaoG5R0cQv1p5CfZtfM1MYM_CWwDEuNgNw2NV4jlO5rJaGSNDoXuEnAo2-gaK6wETTAXYutcIwaUYcmhG3JelOSd3D2zAF6D6rBaSnT0k2l&sig=AHIEtbSTBRXzU3mutbPSymR5gpljeng0cQ” target=”_blank”>http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:5jD…” target=”_blank”>:www.ibstpi.org/Products/pdf/chapter_2.pdf+learning+and+hierarchical+knowledge&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShbIW1JdmYDzAWizMAJnW_wVL1hysaoG5R0cQv1p5CfZtfM1MYM_CWwDEuNgNw2NV4jlO5rJaGSNDoXuEnAo2-gaK6wETTAXYutcIwaUYcmhG3JelOSd3D2zAF6D6rBaSnT0k2l&sig=AHIEtbSTBRXzU3mutbPSymR5gpljeng0cQ

    Also I have two books that you might be able to get via Amazon that I have found useful Piaget The Language and Thought of a Child(1926) and The Childs Conception of Physical Causality (1929) they offer the best examples of the class inclusion problem which illustrates the difficulty with hierarchical classification.
    I would also look at transductive reasoning which is something children may lack as well. This is caused by disconnected facts and contradictions. The cause and effect that toddlers learn by two events linking together because they occurred at the same time and place. The rumbling of the garbage truck and the fear in herself can cause self-actualizations of fear manifested within her.

    Also, you may want to look at George Mandler and his research. He said challenged some assumptions about Piaget view that children were bound by perception.

    Also another note. Don't be afraid to console your child. Some parents advise against this with "let them cry" this is completely wrong. One of the main reasons children turn to crime later in life is a feeling of not being nurtured. Nurture is a main ingredient from childhood strength and positive social abilities. Some parents in counseling will say but my child is very social. Well yes but taunting, and hitting other children with no recourse is not the type of social one expects from society. Exploration of ones surroundings can enlighten a child and put fears in their place.

  7. Nichole inthesesmallmoments.com

    Thanks so much for the info, Kelly! Fear is just a funny thing, isn't it?
    Believe it or not, I think that I actually have some of Piaget's work on my bookshelf from grad school–I'll have to dig it out and see if I can make sense of it.
    You'll be getting an email if I don't. ;)

  8. Lyndsey

    We often use "Social Stories" at school for children who are highly visual learners to put an experience or fear with pictures. This way the child can read along with the outcome and read it over and over again as their fears crop up. I can share one with you. In fact I'm using an old one with Max today as we go to get a haircut. He cried every time we would go and it broke my heart. So I photo copied a generic story from a speech book about getting a haircut and read it to him before we went and he hasn't cried since! I read it to him each time just in case and it has worked like a charm!

  9. Nichole inthesesmallmoments.com

    if you have one of those, I would love to try that, Lyndsey.

  10. Bad Mummy

    The Mook is scared of monsters. It's hard to dissuade her from this fear, since we can't really face the monsters and ask them to be nice, or to go away. My solution was to tell her I eat any monsters that show up. I wash them down with alien milkshakes and I have ghosts for dessert. I've earned some street cred and when she mentions monsters, I remind him that purple ones are my favorite ones to eat. Then it get ridiculous and we usually end up laughing.

    I don't think she has any fears of actual things, other than the air show that they hold over our apartment every summer. I'm talking jets so close I can count the nose hairs of the pilot. The noise is deafening and the sonic boom makes me pee my pants a little. I think the only solution, really, is to avoid being anywhere close to home during the air show. I will accept any and all offers of plane tickets and/or the opportunity to squat at someone's cottage during the Labour Day weekend.

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