Faith Over Fear: How to Help Your Child Deal with Anxiety
One of the most important things we can teach our children is that their strength comes from Christ, while fear is from the enemy. 2 Timothy 1:7 While this is true, fear and caution in children is normal and expected, particularly during stressful or transitional periods.
Some children are more likely to experience bouts of anxiety due to biology and temperament, while others can be triggered by a certain event or situation; regardless of cause, it’s important to help your child learn to manage these feelings. As parents, our immediate response can often be to step in the solve the problem, but with emotional and cognitive issues, it’s best to help our children navigate these feelings for themselves while providing appropriate support and guidance.
Anxiety can present in children as fear or worry but can also make children irritable, angry or sad. Symptoms can include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches or stomachaches. Keep an open dialogue with your children regarding what they are feeling and pay attention to changes in behavior. If you feel your child is struggling with anxiety, here are some ways you can help them navigate these feelings.
Listen and be attentive. Simply having their thoughts and feelings heard and validated can do wonders in reassuring your child that what they are feeling is normal. In conversations about what your child is feeling, ask open ended questions and avoid leading questions. (For example, instead of asking “Are you feeling anxious or afraid?”, you might say “How are you feeling about your doctor appointment?”) The more open your child is with you, the best you can help navigate the situation with them.
Acknowledge and name fear. Remember, the goal isn’t to remove anxiety but help your child manage it. Brushing concerns off as ‘nothing to be afraid of’ does little to help the child manage what feels very real to them. Additionally, this approach can be counter productive as dismissive comments can trigger shame and disengagement from your child. However, you do not want to reinforce the child’s fear either. Respect the feelings without empowering them with statements such as “I know that this feels very scary to you but remember that you are in control of your feelings. We can practice different ways of thinking that will help our feelings not feel so big and scary.” You can also provide examples of things that are true, such as a comforting scripture or actions your child can be in control of (such as washing hands if the fear is getting sick). Our thoughts impact how we feel which impacts how we act.
Keep perspective and focus on Christ. Remind your children their Enemy is “the father of lies” John 8:44, and that their heavenly Father is the only One whose voice is worth listening to. Tell them about Peter and the waves, encouraging them to focus on Christ, so they can walk on the water of joy and freedom from fear. Matthew 14:28–33
Pray with your child. Remind them that God is in control and more powerful than fear. Model confidence in Christ to your children so that they can see your comfort and security comes from Him. An example of a simple prayer you can use with your child could be:
God, we are in need of Your peace and truth to soothe our hearts and spirits right now. Our worries can feel overwhelming and we need to be reminded of Your constant love, healing, and grace. We ask for your Mighty Power to surround us. Amen.
Don’t avoid situations or scenarios that tend to trigger anxiety. This gives power to the fear and allows these emotions to be in control. Keep the anticipatory period before stressful events short (for example, tell your child about a dentist appointment the morning of rather than a week prior) and encourage your child to tolerate their anxiety and keep going. Each time the anxiety is experienced and survived, it affirms to your child that they, and not the fear, are in control.
Here are some additional resources for helping your children use faith to face anxiety:
Above all, although anxiety is a reality, the Bible promises over and over the absolute assurance in the strength of God’s care. With our help, our children can come to understand that God’s love and truth provide us with the peace our hearts long for amidst the trials and challenges of this life.
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