Helping Our Children Navigate Fears and Anxiety

anxiety or faith

Fear is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined. If fear is left unresolved, it can become detrimental.  As a mom it’s disheartening to watch a child experience fear and anxiety. A child’s fear may seem irrational but yet it tenaciously grips their soul impeding the child to think and act at times.

Fear can suddenly overwhelm and paralyze its victims as experienced by our daughter while attending her first concert to see Taylor Swift, whom she greatly admires.  I’m unsure if she was overwhelmed with excitement or the massive crowds, loud music, bright lights, screaming fans, etc. Regardless, she was gripped by a fear, which can surface at the most inopportune times resulting in guilt, loneliness and even missed opportunities.  My daughter wanted to leave a concert she had begged for months to attend. I held her hand, offered comfort and refrained from criticizing or minimizing her fear, which, in turn, helped us to stay for the duration of the event.

In the past she became anxious when faced with new or unpredictable situations. Some of her fears escalated into phobias such as flying and driving over high bridges.

Anxiety is another word for fear.  Less intense forms of anxiety are worry, apprehension, and uneasiness. Panic, distress and dread are more intensive manifestations. Fear, in response to real danger, is helpful. However, perceived fear can be destructive when the threat of pain, danger, or evil is imaginary. This is the type of fear we were dealing with.

Below are a few ways we have helped our daughter navigate her fears and even overcome many of them.  I hope this encourages you.

13 suggestions for helping children naviagate fear or anxiety

  1. Help your child to evaluate their thought process since fear usually begins with a thought, rather than circumstances.  Ask if their thoughts are positive or negative? Teach them the power of correct thinking, especially in the moment. When they dwell on uncertainties and negative possibilities, teach them to instead flood their thoughts with positive messages.  See Philippians 4:8.
  2. Recall and record how God carried them through past challenges and uncertainties. We recount events that were stressful but that she persevered through such as playing and singing in front of others, flying on recent vacation and hanging out with new friends.
  3. Evaluate and deal with possible life stressors such as a lack of routine, major changes (moves, new school), parental disharmony, world news, inappropriate media choices, etc. In our home we rarely have the TV on and don’t watch the news, as it’s typically not up lifting.
  4. Never belittle the fear as a way of trying to get your child to over come it.  Saying, “Don’t be ridiculous! Flying is safer than driving” might have gotten my daughter on the plane but it won’t make the fear vanish.
  5. Don’t give into their fears, as it will only reinforce the fear. We’ve continued to travel and fly while providing lots of support and care as we prepare her for upcoming trips.
  6. Celebrate milestones and speak life into your child. This summer we flew several times and after each trip we praised our daughter for her accomplishment. Proverbs 12:25 states “Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.”
  7. Educate yourself and your child about anxiety.  My daughter is better able to cope the more she understands what anxiety is and how to keep external stressors to a minimum.
  8. Memorize what God’s word says about worry, fear, anxiety, peace, etc.  Jesus commands us to avoid anxiety in Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything.” In Matthew 6:25-34 we are commanded, “do not worry.”  After all, worry says, “ we don’t trust God, He is not able to care for me.”  1 John 4:18 teaches “perfect love drives out fear.”
  9. Maintain a healthy diet while getting plenty of rest along with exercise. Personally we have found this to be imperative.
  10. Incorporate various coping strategies.  Find a calm environment and take deep, slow breaths to help your body settle down, your muscles relax, and your mind to think more clearly. Take a long walk if possible. We’ve taught our daughter to rate her fear 1 (manageable) – 5 (unbearable).   Create a “tool box”. Our daughter carries a purse that contains items that she finds soothing (lavender, mints, Bible verses, music, journal, etc.)
  11. Be other focused, as acts of kindness toward others will shift one’s focus and lift their spirits, reminding them of their own blessings and encourage connection with others.
  12. Listen sympathetically and reassure them that they are normal. As trivial as a fear may seem to you, remember it feels real for your child. By allowing them to talk about it often it becomes less powerful. 1 John 4:18 teaches “perfect love drives out fear.” Perfect love is expressed though being present and caring.
  13. Seek professional help if necessary but remember there are times when you know what’s best for your child so listen to the Holy Spirit.

The key to resolving fears and anxieties is faith in God which is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see according to Hebrews 11:1.

When your child is afraid or anxious what are some ways you have helped them navigate their emotions?

An Awaking to Vulnerability

Photo by Caryn Noel @ http://www.carynnoel.com/

Opening ourselves up leads us to deeper, more intimate relationships, but it is dependent on us being vulnerable.

Have you ever noticed that when we open ourselves up to one another it often leads us to a deeper, more intimate place and that being vulnerable is essential to connecting? Dr. Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, explains this phenomenon: “Vacillating between I am here and I love you…and I’m going to reveal my innermost to you…and I am scared to death that you’ll reject me.” Ironically, the vulnerability we try desperately to avoid may be the key to a successful relationships.

What does it look like to be vulnerable? Honestly, I’ve been doing some soul searching to better understand and grow in this area myself, especially since it has come up numerous times in the last three months. Yes, God has my full attention as I hope I have yours. 😉

In August I had someone review my blog as my desire is to be the best at whatever I do. Surprisingly, the feedback I was given said, “your writing is authentic but you are not vulnerable.”

My initial response was, “Why of course I’m not vulnerable, it’s scary and I’ve been burned too many times.” Because of previous hurts I had erected a wall of protection around my heart. While trying to appear perfect and having it together, or intelligent in order to connect with others, that actual pretense tended to have the opposite effect. Fear makes it hard to be authentic. (Fear becomes an obstacle in creating authenticity and connectedness.)

Our culture bombards us with messages to be strong, bold, and powerful while frowning upon being vulnerable. However, vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, rather it is understanding our identity in Christ as God created us to be without pretenses. It is in acknowledging our weaknesses that God is able to work in our life, for His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in our weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Last weekend I attended the Idea Camp on Human Care, where Mark Horvath shared how being vulnerable was one of the most profound lessons he had ever learned and suggested that we listen to Dr. Brené Brown’s audio tapes. In fact, several other speakers mentioned the importance of being transparent. Yes, God has captured my attention. Daily I am asking Him to show me what vulnerability really looks like and what messages are lies I have come to believe.

As I reflected on my childhood and past hurtful relationships I realized some of my faulty thinking, “I have to be perfect” and “I should only share pleasantries.” I was unable to turn off the broken records that fill my head with messages like “You’re not good enough” and “What will people think?” These messages were impeding me from fully connecting with others for fear that I would mess up or be rejected, as I have experienced abandonment issues in the past. I had considered abandoning this article out of fear of being too real, too vulnerable. However, God has had me on a love journey and is continually showing me the areas in my life where I need to be more open to fully love others.

I like what C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

If connection gives purpose and meaning to our life I feel that social media is breeding a false sense of being connected as the underlying premise that interacting with more people is better. Jay Baer said, “Fundamentally, technology and our use of it isn’t – as we’ve all hoped – bringing us closer together. In fact, it may be driving us farther apart, as we know more and more people, but know less and less about each of them.” Our computers, Smart Phones, iPad, etc allow us to hide behind a screen and never truly be known.

I’ve only watched a few Ted Talks, one of which was Brené Brown’s, The power of vulnerability.” She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

WOW! I want all of these.

If you haven’t listened to this talk, I highly recommend it as there is a reason that more than 10 million have listened to it. Next week I will share what stood out to me plus a few ways I personally plan to be more vulnerable.

Do you struggle with being vulnerable? If so, what has it cost you?

Do you live in the PEACE that God promises you?

 

 

God's Promise

 

God’s Promise

As moms we tend to worry about our children’s health and safety from the time we conceive them until they are grown adults. When they are young we fear they will catch some sort of illness, run into the road after a ball, fall to their death, etc…. Once they learn to drive, a whole new set of fears can encapsulate us especially when they miss curfew.

My older daughters have traveled on various mission trips to places I can only dream about (Africa, India, Albania, Thailand). I could fear they would catch some sort of diseases, that they would encounter hostility from the native people, or fear for their safety etc… Thankfully, years ago, God through various trials had me come to the realization that fear was a sin because ultimately I was not trusting Him. You know what? God does a much better job protecting and caring for our children than we ever could.

Austin had it’s 1st homicide of 2012 right next door to where my daughters have lived for the past three years on King St. which is a nice quite street not to far from the UT campus. They weren’t home New Year’s day as they have been staying with us for the Christmas holidays but imagine the shock of their roommate when detectives woke her early Sunday morning asking questions and then informing her about the murder. Needless to say, the news being so close to them makes them reexamine how they do things such as being alone in the house, being out late at night, etc. I think they need to take healthy precautions but not live in fear as it could paralyze them and rob them of joy.

Last year, while Caryn and Courtney were in India they were in a crazy car accident that could have been life changing and it in ways it was, as they walked away unharmed knowing more personally that God is their protector. Someone said, “I’d rather be in India in the will of God, than in Austin, not in His will.”

I really like Philippians 4:8. It’s my antidote for fear which many years ago would consume me. I wasted lots of time fearing things I didn’t need to be thinking about. Things such as “what if ….” or “if only ….” I like what Linda Dillow, author of Calm My Anxious Heart, has said about fear, “fear is like a rocking chair which rocks back and forth but never gets you anywhere.” When I am living in fear I am not trusting God.

I am thankful that I can trust God with ALL details related to the health and safety of my daughters. I know God is with us in every situation as seen in Isaiah 41:10 Do not fear, for I am with you. Also in Psalm 73:23-24 I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory.

My heart goes out to the family, friends, and students of this young lady whose life was tragically taken. I am trusting police will quickly find who is responsible and for justice be served. More importantly as moms may we live in the peace God promises us.