It’s one thing to battle fear yourself; it’s another to watch a child grapple with it. Our hearts go out to them. We know how hard it is. And we feel so helpless. Whether you’re a parent or grandparent, a teacher or youth worker, a sister or cousin or aunt, here are some things you can do:
Pray. And then pray. And then pray some more. Ask God for wisdom every single day, with every single incident or issue that comes up. Every child is different, every situation is different. It takes so much wisdom to know what to do and what not to do, what to say and what not to say. To find the balance between comforting a child and challenging them to learn and grow. Thankfully God promises to give us the wisdom we need, if we ask for it! (James 1:5)
Learn to face your own fears and lead by example. Teach your child the same principles, the same Scriptures, the same strategies that are helping you. Just adapt them a little – use examples and illustrations that are age-appropriate.
And keep in mind the following dos and don’ts:
DO acknowledge that your child’s fear (the feeling) is real, even if the danger is not. Be comforting and reassuring.
DON’T dismiss their fears, ridicule them, or talk openly about their fears in front of others.
DO ask questions to see if you can figure out where the fear is coming from and what it’s really about. Did they hear something at school? Did they see something on TV? Often there’s more to the story.
DON’T shut them down with statements like “I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense! Stop being silly!”
DO listen carefully. Take your child’s fears seriously. Sometimes kids have good reason to be afraid. They might be trying to tell you something.
DON’T overreact. Don’t get hysterical or panicky or blow things out of proportion. Someone needs to be the grown-up!
DO take reasonable, practical steps to help your child feel safe. For example, you might give them a nightlight or a flashlight at bedtime. Let them take a stuffed animal buddy to a doctor’s appointment or a family picture and list of emergency contacts when they’re away from home. Simple things that give them some peace of mind.
DON’T assume they’ll just outgrow their fears (even though many do). Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if their fears seem extreme, prolonged, or paralyzing – or if they coincide with a major life transition or trauma.
Other Helpful Tips:
Take advantage of teachable moments. Together, why not learn about dogs or frogs or spiders or whatever frightens your child? Sometime other than bath time, use different sized toys to show them what things can and cannot go down the drain.
Look for opportunities to build your child’s confidence. Get them involved in games, sports, crafts, and other activities they’re interested in, things that they do well, things in which they can excel.
Try to strike a balance. You don’t want to force a child into a scary situation or bully them into taking on a challenge they are not ready to face. Then again you don’t want to keep them from learning how to face their fears and overcome them – an important life skill!
If your child has meltdowns – child-sized panic attacks – teach them to stop and think about what’s happening to them. Have them rate their fear on a scale of 1-10 (or for younger children, how “full” of fear they feel – “up to my knees”… “up to my tummy”). Practice breathing with them, slowly in and out to a count of 5. Remind them that feelings are important signals – they tell us something is going on inside. But they don’t always tell us the truth. We need to think carefully before we decide to believe them.
Pitfalls Christian Parents Should Avoid
Making it sound like praying makes all our problems go away. Telling a child if they’re scared, they should just pray, and that will make the feeling disappear. Really? Is that what works for you? Praying absolutely does help! But it’s not the only thing we can or should do.
Being too real with our kids. It’s okay to admit that sometimes we’re frightened, too. We may need to be truthful about difficult situations we face. But we don’t need to confide all of our deepest, darkest fears to our “amazingly mature kids.” There are some burdens they really shouldn’t have to carry – no matter how mature they are.
Promising we won’t ever let anything bad happen or that God won’t ever let anything bad happen to them. That’s not a promise you can keep. Your child needs to be able to trust you and trust God. So tell them the truth: Most of the things we fear will never happen to us. Mommy and Daddy are watching over us. And more importantly, God is watching over us. He protects us from all kinds of things, all the time, even when we don’t realize it. But sometimes bad things do happen.
Sometimes, for reasons we don’t fully understand, God allows bad things to happen. But He promises that He will always be with us; He will never leave us or forsake us. He will help us. And He has a way of bringing good out of the worst things that happen to us. One day we will be with Him in our forever home in Heaven, where there is no fear, no pain, no suffering. Only love and peace and joy and laughter! That’s what we long for and look forward to.
Excerpted from What Women Should Know About Facing Fear (Leafwood Publishers, 2013).