Helping Kids Deal With Their Fears, Part II

Editor’s note: Last week, Janel wrote about a situation with her daughter and how she and her husband dealt with her fears. Click here to read part one, and read on to see the rest of Janel’s tips.

Help your child develop healthy coping mechanisms. This is where Scripture memory comes in. Perhaps they also take deep breaths, visualize themselves confronting the fear with confidence, etc. For my son with ADHD-related anxiety, I laminated a pocket-sized card that listed strategies for when he felt out of control: “I can find a place to be alone. I can find one thing to be thankful for…”

Sometimes you’ll be choosing whether or not to completely remove your child from a fearful situation or allow him or her the important teaching experience—and emotional muscle—of learning from hard stuff as you talk each encounter out. My parents kept me in the classes of at least two teachers I hated, and it changed me in very good ways. One taught me how to write well, which is now my career. And their resolve (face it—it’s hard to watch our kids suffer!) helped me to keep my 4-year-old on the team of a bad soccer coach, so he could learn to deal with more difficult personalities, and we could talk it out in the car after I kept an eye from the sidelines. Be careful not to baby kids’ fears—especially those that someday, they will have to face on their own (Water. Dogs. New people.). Avoiding scary situations doesn’t help our children develop scaffolding to conquer them. And God has a lot of great promises for overcomers and conquerors!

Take the next step. What steps can your child use to address the practicalities of his fear? What would the first, itty-bitty step be? This site suggests using yourself as a “home base” to which the child can repeatedly return after approaching the feared object.

If your son or daughter continually struggles with fear, consider other ways you can increase confidence. My husband gained a great deal of confidence in his teen years through hiking, mountaineering, kayaking, and other physical challenges with his dad. Other children develop poise, fluidity, and perseverance through sports, or in developing one of their unique areas of talent—like performing arts, for example—that require “little bites” of confidence and courage. Maybe that means praising your son as he tries bigger stunts at the playground, or your daughter as she refutes peer pressure or decides not to back down in the face of more popular girls at school.

For some kids, realize that talking too much about the issue cements them further in their fear. Yep, I would agree that there are times when our kids just need to choose courage: We’ve talked it out, we’ve prayed about it, and now it’s just time to choose the right thoughts, and not choose others. Getting them to laugh a little might help! Obviously navel-gazing is not biblical, either—and in our self-focused world, sometimes we can take attending to our kids’ emotions to the extreme of self-focus, and perpetuate fear.

Neuropsychology teaches us that once the brain explores a new concept, it’s much easier to revisit that concept; our brain has already breached pathways there. For me, this is another great reason to make every thought obedient to Jesus Christ. Our words, and even our thoughts, have power in cementing what we think.

Reward them for courage—even if it’s just verbally. If your son braved the dentist, perhaps he could watch a short DVD when you get home. Create positive memories, feelings, and reinforcement to surround acts of courage.

My daughter’s “baby step” to her friend’s home was a good first step to confronting her fears. And when we picked her up giggling later that night, it was good to gently remind her that her fears were not realized, tell her we were proud of her, and snuggle her up in our arms.

Janel has recently launched a new blog of her own: A Generous Grace. She writes, “Discovering God’s undeserved, indescribable favor—grace—has turned my life on its head. It’s my hope that He’ll knead that more into my soul, so others can soak it up, too. This site’s about ‘Jesus with jeans on’—letting God work Himself into real, practical, everday life.” Check it out!

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