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On Friday my daughter was hit by a car while crossing the crosswalk to school. (Side note: she was released from the hospital and appears to be doing OK, but taking her to a Dr for a full eval tomorrow.)

Now, this is obviously very traumatic! The thing is that she comes to work with me in the morning and hangs out for about 30 minutes before walking the 2 blocks to school (and only one street with a light to cross). She is 14yo and is reasonably fearful of having to cross that crosswalk again. Also, I am unable to take time off of work everyday to take her fully to school. It is a fear she must overcome in time and since she sees a therapist every 2 months (for ADHD, OCD, and a couple of other things I don't recall right now), she'll discuss this with the therapist.

My question is how do I as a parent (her pseudo-therapist) help her to cope and conquer this fear? I know it will take time and that there is no substitute for that and the experience of the therapist should prove invaluable, but none of that substitutes for my responsibility as a loving father to help her. What are your suggestions?

To be clear, I am not asking for medical, therapeutical, or any other form of professional advice -- only your suggestions as to what a loving parent can and should do.

Since this is clearly a matter of opinion and we are in a question-answer format, I'll be sure to choose someone whose advice seems most contributive in my subjective decision as the "answer", though I will value everyone's contribution!

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In the interim, between therapist work and regaining of confidence, can you take a slightly extended coffee break in order to walk with her to school - or at least past the crosswalk of concern? Perhaps it would help her feel supported and you guys can talk about her fears (the way Karl suggests) along the way (if she needs to). That way, she still has to cross (and practice doing that again) but she doesn't have to do it alone for awhile until she feels a bit more steady again. –  balanced mama Jan 20 at 16:56
    
@all As a follow up to this, she has overcome her fear by addressing it head-on as you all had suggested and with some minor guidance from me. More importantly, she is almost completely healed from the accident! Thank you all, again. –  Jeremy Miller Apr 6 at 4:28

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

All fears are rational, but the reactions to those fears are more or less extreme.

When she expresses fear about the crosswalk you acknowledge her fear. Listen to her. When you comment you accept her fear as real.

Her: "Cars were zooming through that crossing today!"

You good: "It is annoying isn't it. They don't realise what it is like for pedestrians"

You not so useful: "sure, but they're on the road and most drivers are careful, right".

Once you've acknowledged her fear she'll probably do the rest. "I have to take a bt longer to cross the road. I wish drivers were more considerate. I wish crossings were better." You agree, and guide her to better thinking about roads. (ie they are dangerous, and care needs to be taken, and maybe they could be safer, but they're everywhere so we need to be able to use them.)

If her fear increases to the point where she is unable to cross that road you can investigate cognitive bhavioural therapy. These techniques can be used by anyone and this kind of situation should respond well. There's a free australian website called moodgym that helps apply the techniques.

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I don't want to discourage additional answers, but I'm going to accept yours as it closely reflects my general parenting philosophy of teaching our children how to critically think about the issues which face us in life. Thanks for the reminder! –  Jeremy Miller Jan 20 at 14:52
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+1 - If you acknowledge her feelings, and say as little as possible that's not reflecting back, her only actionable approach is to resolve it herself in her head on her terms (and own the solution). If you try to redirect too much, her fears will have something to do (argue with you), and so their usefulness will last longer... –  Jaydles Jan 30 at 15:45

Dealing with fears or anxieties is all about learning strategies to gain a sense of control over the situation. For your daughter, her fear of crossing the road is a reasonable one, given her past experience; what she needs are strategies to be safer crossing the road.

For example, beyond the obvious - look both ways, give yourself more time between cars to cross, etc. - she can try a few things to make herself more obvious to drivers. Wear contrasting clothing (bright orange, at any time of day; white/light colors at night; etc.) to catch the eye of the drivers. Walk in groups (three people are easier to spot than one).

She also might consider volunteering at a hospital. Her fear of being hit by a car is really a fear of being hurt by the car, after all; for some people, working at a hospital can help that kind of fear because it allows them some sense of control.

On a similar note (sense of control), you and she also might consider writing a letter to the city/town/whatnot asking for more safety features to be installed on the street where she was hit. What this entails depends on the kind of crossing/street (was this at a streetlight with a car turning - if so, "turning vehicles must yield to pedestrians" or "no right turn on red" might help; or was this a somewhat residential street, in which case perhaps speed bumps, additional speed enforcement, or a crossing guard might help). This not only makes the crossing actually safer, but it also gives you and her some sense of control, and a sense that something good has come out of this ordeal (making it less likely a more serious injury will occur in the future).

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Thanks. Not sure that these things apply in this scenario, but appreciate the contribution either way! –  Jeremy Miller Jan 20 at 18:59

Does she fear crossing the street, or is it panic? Does she do it, but does it carefully and slowly, or does she dread the thought of crossing a street?

If she is capable of crossing the street on her own, I'd suggest to simply talk to her about being careful being a good thing and that she pays more attention to her surroundings, even if she is crossing the street on a green light or has priority when driving, etc. Being extra careful in such situations is always good. Perhaps this accident will save her life one day.

If she panics and does not cross the street - or you are seriously worried about her - seek professional help. You have a chance of making things worse for her. And logic ("won't you cross a street, ever?") on your side won't be much of a help. Going to see a professional will also probably ease your mind.

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She hasn't had to cross the street since that day, but when we were walking into a store, she held my arm when crossing the parking lot. Also, to be clear, she wasn't at fault here... the driver was and she had zero time to take evasive action according to the witnesses and police anyway. When I taught her to cross the street, I told her to look "all ways"... that others say look "both ways", but that doesn't account for behind you or other paths of oncoming danger. :) –  Jeremy Miller Jan 20 at 7:30
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@JeremyMiller If she doesn't panic, I'd give her some time (a week?) and observe her. Take her for a walk to a mall to buy a nice piece of clothing; make sure to cross a few streets. Another day go somewhere else. She should gradually become less fearful. If, after the week, she doesn't - visit a psychologist. –  Dariusz Jan 20 at 7:48
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Thanks. We go to a psychiatrist every 2 months for other issues, hence my comment in the question. It's the one corner that seems to worry her the most, though she's always been cautious everywhere (part of her OCD). Thanks again! –  Jeremy Miller Jan 20 at 7:49

At about that age I fell from a horse that had been scared by a car. There is a saying that you have to "get back on the horse" and to that end my parents made me ride again immediately, while I was still full of adrenaline and sore (and the horse wasn't in the best mood either.) I was very scared to get back on but since I did not immediately fall off, the fear left me and I continued to ride happily for some years after that. In the same spirit, I know a woman who hosted a full family turkey dinner with the good china etc the day after her mother's funeral - it was not a turkey holiday at all - so that she wouldn't be all "this is the first time I've used this gravy boat since mom died" when the next holiday rolled around. Facing the hard thing and doing it sooner rather than later actually makes it easier to cope with compared to giving the fear time to build up and giving an inanimate object or place power over you.

Obviously when a person has to be rushed to hospital you can't stop on the way to cross some streets, but my point is she must cross streets early and often. Cross the same one ten times if need be. With you, then with you there watching, then alone if that's what she needs. You can't take every day off to walk a 14 year old to school from now on, but you can do it one morning for an hour or two, yes? Or after work. If she's very scared you might want to start with a neutral street and work up to the street where she was hit. The only real cure for the fear is going to be doing it and not getting hit. And the longer she waits before she crosses any street, the longer she waits before she crosses that street, the scarier it will be when she finally does it.

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Good points, and, yes, I will be taking time off tomorrow to take her to school so that I can update the school staff to avoid any issues with the student that hit her, so I think walking is great advice -- will do! –  Jeremy Miller Jan 20 at 15:37

While all fears have a rational basis, our response to them is highly emotional as DanBeale pointed out. I know that my fear of the dark is ridiculous and I know why I'm afraid of the dark, but that doesn't stop my heart from racing when I'm in a dark place.

To an adolescent girl, I would focus on letting her talk through her fears and just listening to her. There's nothing wrong with encouraging her to think through her fear rationally, but if she feels like you're not listening to her concerns and worries, it could delay her recovery from the experience. It's not much of a leap in the teenage mind from "my dad wants me to think through my fears rationally" to "my dad is sick of hearing me talk about this and wants me to shut up about it because he doesn't care". I know it sounds extreme, but I've sat in enough meetings with teenagers and their parents to know how quickly they can take things to that extreme. I mean, adolescent girls who haven't been through such a traumatic experience frequently feel like their parents aren't listening to them. Voicing her fears is not an excuse to avoid working through the problem, but, for now, she needs to feel safe and protected.

Is there a reason why you couldn't call her therapist and reschedule her appointment for sooner rather than later? This would seem like a situation that would warrant professional help (I don't know...maybe she all ready has an appointment for next week, but if her appointment isn't for another month or so it might be worth checking in to). Especially if she's all ready being treated for OCD. Some OCD patients will create rituals when they experience traumatic situations and that could set her treatment back dramatically.

Otherwise, here are some other thoughts that might be somewhat helpful since it's not practical to expect you to walk her to school everyday for the rest of the school year:

  1. Does she have a friend who could walk to school with her? Someone in the neighborhood who could ride with you to work then walk the rest of the way with her to school in the morning? It's not perfect (if her friend is sick from school she's stuck with no one to walk with), but it could provide her with the security she needs to be able to cross the street alone again.
  2. As Chrys mentioned, getting back on the proverbial horse is half the battle. Perhaps visiting the particular corner she's afraid of at a less-busy time of day would make her feel more comfortable. It might take several visits, but it might help her process her emotions about the incident which probably extend beyond just fear. Or she might only know that she's afraid, but be unable to pinpoint exactly what she's afraid of (Is she afraid of being hurt again? Afraid of being out of control of the situation? Afraid of just crossing the street?).
  3. Is there an alternate route she can take to school that would allow her to avoid that particular corner for awhile? It might take her a little longer to get to school, but it might be an option for a little while until she feels more comfortable.

I just want to re-iterate something I have to remind my husband of from time-to-time: Sometimes women just want to talk without you trying to fix anything. Sometimes being there and being supportive is the best thing you can do for a little while. A lot of times if I'm talking about things like that, it's because I'm trying to figure something out about it. If, after a couple of weeks she's not improving with just you listening, you might very gently tell her, "Sweetie, I love you and I will always be here to listen if you need to talk. I want to help you work through this so you can feel comfortable crossing streets and parking lots again. What can I do to help you?" You don't even have to mention that you won't be around to hold her hand forever because she can fill in the blank on her own.

Bless all your hearts! I cannot imagine getting that kind of phone call about either of my kids. I'm glad she's physically safe and I'm going to hope she gets through this (relatively) psychologically unscathed!

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Thanks. I've budgeted the $200 for the Psychiatrist visit for next month and just don't have the extra money this month. I really appreciate your comments, though. When she was with her mother, I would frequently get calls crying and complaining. Her mother would get on the phone and scream at me about what I was telling her. I simply replied, "All I did was listen -- that's all she wanted." –  Jeremy Miller Jan 20 at 21:53

We all find fears irrational, even when they are not our own fears.

For example, a kid who is afraid of the dark; we are no scared therefore when they continually cry about it scaring them we lose our patience and get annoyed telling them they are being silly.

The thing is, parents are not always right and telling the kid this isn't helpful, sooner or later they will realise for themselves. I am not afraid of the dark unless I am half asleep and staring into it when our brains make odd patterns and usually freak me out giving me nightmares but truth be told I am more scared of my own fear which is pretty stupid yet not unlikely, it's hard to say face your fears when you can't stop them, with a spider you can squish it run away or let it free, with my fear you can't run away you can't hide it makes it worse.

I don't know how to find the cure for fear, I don't think anyone does. We just find our way through or we don't. I am glad your daughter is crossing streets ps I am the same age now.

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