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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.”
- Maintain a healthy diet while getting plenty of rest along with exercise. Personally we have found this to be imperative.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?