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Fear of Escalators

Help your child go along for the ride

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Fear of Escalators
Photo by Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Is your child afraid of escalators? Reluctance to step aboard that moving staircase can lead to anything from tense words to irate shoppers lined up behind you to a full-blown freaked-out tantrum. It may seem like a small deal to you to find your moment and jump aboard, but don't assume your child's just being stubborn or a scaredy-cat. There can be legitimate reasons for your child's escalator distress, and understanding will take you a lot further than force.

If your child shows marked resistance to using an escalator, consider whether any of these might be responsible:

The links above can lead you to specific assistance for those challenges, but no matter the source of your child's escalator stress, showing respect for your child's reluctance and working together to tame it are your strongest strategies. Here are some additional suggestions for dealing with a reluctant rider:

  • Do some research with your chlid about how escalators work. Sometimes learning how the machinery functions makes things less mysterious and scary. Start with diagrams on the How Stuff Works and Washington Post sites.

  • Look at videos of escalators on YouTube to get your child used to seeing those moving steps in a non-threatening format. Start with this playlist and then search for others, but be sure to pick ones that are appropriate for your child -- you'll want to skip the videos of escalator accidents.

  • Visit the site of the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation, which offers a page on escalator myths and a "Safe-T-Rider" program for kids.

  • If there's a facility near you with a moving walkway -- an airport, maybe, or an amusement park -- use that for practice on stepping on and stepping off without worrying about the downward or upward slope.

  • Practice escalator riding at a time when the mall or store you're visiting is not crowded, and make sure that what's waiting at the end of the ride is rewarding for your child. You may find more willingness in stepping aboard if there's ice cream at the other end than if it's just another endless boring shopping trip.

  • Observe whether some escalators are more scary for your child than others. Short, enclosed escalators in a department store may seem safer than long moving stairways cutting through wide open portions of mall.

  • Really, there's no harm in just taking the elevator or stairs. If your child is really reluctant to ride the escalator, leave it be. Perhaps he or she will grow into it, but there's no shame in finding an alternate form of ascending and descending. Help your child feel confident about the choice, and think of ways to explain it to friends.

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