It was a Saturday morning, and being a bit on the very pregnant side of pregnancy, I was slow to get out of bed. Eli and my husband, Brian, were up and had made their way to the back door to let our dog Luna outside for her morning business. With the opening of the door came the loud siren of our alarm system; Brian had forgotten to turn it off because it was out of his usual weekday morning routine. And then I heard a more piercing sound, Eli screaming.
I jumped out of bed and ran to Eli, who was in a frozen panic. He was screaming in short bursts, red faced, and shaking uncontrollably. I pulled him into my arms, held him tight, and explained what was happening as quickly and calmly as possible, “It’s the house alarm. It’s loud. You look startled. Daddy ran to turn it off. I’m here. You are safe.”
It took a bit of time, comfort, and continued explanation before he had worked through and processed what had happened. Or so I thought.
A few hours later he told me he needed to use the restroom, and I said, “okay, see you in a minute,” since he usually completes this task independently.
“Mommy come,” he responded. “Me worried.”
“Why are you worried?” I asked, surprised. I don’t think I had ever heard him use the word “worried” before.
I sympathized with his concern and then explained the alarm was off, but it didn’t matter. Eli just repeated, “Me worried.”
I escorted him to the restroom, and then I was suddenly aware that he had not left our sides all morning. As the day continued, I observed his unwillingness to go anywhere in our house without us. His fear had caused a major shift in his actions and independence, and I was at a bit of a loss on how to help him through his fear.
Of course, we listened to his concerns. We talked through what had happened and why. We gave him visual confirmation it wouldn’t happen again by showing him the green light on the alarm key pad. And then, when his worrying persisted, we didn’t force him. We stayed close by like he asked us to do.
This lasted a few days before he began to seem panicked about other aspects of our home without any known triggers to us. He started crying and screaming when our dog Luna was in the garage because the garage door was open, and although this is a common occurrence and she’s quite obedient, Eli expressed his worry that she would run out of the garage. Every cloud in the sky in the backyard was a worry, and he didn’t want to venture out alone anymore. Fear seemed to be digging deeper and deeper into his every day thoughts and actions.
So, I introduced a new word to Eli: brave. I explained being brave is when you are worried or scared about something but you do it anyways. Being brave means taking a deep breath, standing tall, knowing you are strong, and running toward your worry. Together, we practiced. We took a breath, stood as tall as we could, showed off our muscles, and ran in the direction of our fear.
It wasn’t long before Eli heard lawnmowers and wanted to go watch them from his work room window, I said, “Okay, have fun! See you in a bit.”
“Mommy come. Me worried.”
“I hear you are worried, but when you are worried, you also have a chance to be brave.”
He didn’t buy it. “Me worried,” he repeated. “Alarm.”
We talked a bit more about what being brave means, and then he looked longingly towards his work room, took a breath, stood tall, and ran to his front room, staying until the lawnmowers left.
When he ran back to find me, he was beaming, “Mommy, me brave!”
Yes, my love. Yes, you are.
This wasn’t the end of Eli’s worries and fears, even about the alarm. And he will worry and be afraid of things for the rest of his life, and I don’t think it’s my job to protect him from fear and worry. I wouldn’t be able to even if I tried. Fear and worry are oftentimes not a choice, but I can teach him being brave is.