Helping Children Cope with Fears

This week, a friend of mine reached out to me to see if I had any advice to help her young one cope with fear. As of late, he has developed all sorts of “fears,” such as fear of heights, fear of the boat and the pool, fear of riding anything that moves, and fear of “bouncy houses,” just to name a few. Childhood fears are perfectly normal (and common). While preparing for this post I got a few comments on Facebook from other parents about the fears of their children – fear of the dark, fear of monsters, fear of zombies, fear of washing hair, fear of speed, fear of unexpected “tragedies” (after hearing about current events at school). We all have (or will have) a child that has to learn to cope with fear. In preparing to write my friend back, I had a lot of thoughts and decided to turn my response to her into a blog post. :)

First of all, as I was thinking through ways to adequately address childhood fears, what really struck me is that childhood fears are just the beginning of one of the most difficult struggles we face from the Enemy throughout our life. N.T. Wright once stated the following, “Do you know what the most frequent command in the Bible turns out to be? What instruction, what order, is given, again and again, by God, by angels, by Jesus, by prophets and apostles?…the most frequent command in the Bible is not ‘Be good’ or ‘Don’t sin’, but rather, ‘Don’t be afraid.’”

Interesting…

I’ve blogged about “fear” before (almost exactly one year ago), and you can find my blog post in full here: Don’t Be Afraid 

One of the “epiphanies” I had in my blog post a year ago is this:

“Perfect love casts out fear. Courage comes from a heart filled with LOVE.” (this is a quote from Beth Moore)

I remember when I first read through “The Jesus Storybook Bible” that I purchased for my son. The following passage really rocked me:

“As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slithered silently up to Eve. “Does God really love you?” the serpent whispered. “If he does, why won’t he let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn’t want you to be happy.” The snake’s words hissed into her ears and sunk down deep into her heart , like poison. Does God love me? Eve wondered. Suddenly she didn’t know anymore…..And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God’s children: “God doesn’t love me.””

In my own life, I’ve come to realize that FEAR is the start of every sin I commit. Every time I turned from God, disobeyed, rain from Him, etc., it was because, deep down, I didn’t think God really loved me. Why wouldn’t He allow me to do X or Y (similar to how He wouldn’t allow Adam or Eve to eat of the fruit)? It must be because He doesn’t love me enough, trust me enough, etc….deep down I FEARED that God’s promises were not true. I FEARED that God really did not have my best interests in mind. And this FEAR started with the same thing that tripped up Adam and Eve – a LIE, from the father of lies…a LIE that whispered that maybe God is not as loving, as good, as compassionate, as merciful, as sovereign as He claims to be….

So, FEAR is a BIG deal. Both for adults and children. Childhood fears are nothing to simply glance over as I feel that helping children address their fears Biblically when they are young can set them up to avoid a lot of pain and anxiety in the future.

So, here are a few suggestions/thoughts I have on help to children cope with their fears:

1. Help your child understand how much God loves him or her (“perfect love drives out fear” from 1 John 4:18-19). Pray this verse over your child and claim God’s promise that “perfect love drives out fear” and that your child can live and love well because he or she will understand that “He first loved us.” (“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.” – 1 John 4:18-19) Talk with your child about how much God loves him or her (so much that He was willing to give up His own Son for him/her) and help your child understand that this love is unconditional – that there is nothing they can do to make God love him/her less or more. Tell them that nothing can separate them from this love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). A good resource to help children grasp the “unconditional” aspect of God’s love is The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Throughout the book, Sally refers to God’s love as a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” From the book, “God wrote – “I love you” – he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote his message everywhere! And God put it into words, too, and wrote it in a book called “the Bible.” The Bible is most of all a Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.” If your child is struggling with fear and you are not already using the Jesus Storybook Bible, I highly recommend including it into your storytime routine in the evenings to help him/her grasp how much God loves them. In addition to reinforcing how much they are loved by God (as this is the foundation children need to carry them through their entire life), it is important for parents to also stress how much they love their children. As parents, we are the first tangible representation of God that our children will see. Though we fail miserably at representing our Lord, it is still up to us to do our best to show LOVE to them as the Father loves us – to constantly reaffirm how much we love them and to model unconditional love as best we can. Well-loved children often grow unto secure, confident, and courageous adults. So, while you are helping your children through their fears, avoid showing them your frustration at their fears (yes, it’s normal to feel frustrated – parenting is hard sometimes, especially in the middle of the night!) and instead focus on reiterating how much you are there for them and love them. Remind them that even when you are not physically around them, God is always there with them loving them and protecting them too!

2. Discuss with your child examples of how Biblical characters addressed their fears (“When I am afraid I put my trust in you” from Psalm 56). Of course, ideally I’d love for my child to be fear-free, but since his momma still struggles with worry, anxiety, and fear from time to time, I realize that he probably won’t be fear-free this side of heaven either. What I really need to be focusing on is how to help him COPE with his fears. There are some great Biblical characters who show us how to cope with our fears. David is one of those characters, and this is beautifully illustrated in Psalm 56. I use a book with my son called 100 Bible Stories, 100 Bible Songs by Stephen Elkins that summarizes this Psalm perfectly for little ones. From the book, “David was very brave. He had marched down into a valley to fight a giant named Goliath. He had led great armies into battle and won the victory. But in Psalm 56 we see another side of David. We see David alone and afraid. His enemies are calling him names and doing bad things. David’s eyes are full of tears as he cries out to God, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” David knew that God could help him. God is bigger than any fear! God can calm our biggest fears. David trusted God when he was afraid. I will trust God to help me when I’m afraid.” One of the things I love about the book is that each story has a “song” that goes with it. This particular story about Psalm 56 has a song that puts the line “When I am afraid, I will trust in You” to a lovely tune to help the words stick in the mind of your young one. David is just one example from the Bible of a person addressing fear by turning to the Lord. Other characters that you might consider pointing out to your children are Esther, Joseph, Jonah, and Daniel, just to name a few. The important thing for your children to see is that “fears” grip everyone from time to time and that when they do, we need to learn how to cope with them by turning them over to the Lord.

3. Teach your children what the Bible says about fear (“do not fear” (from Isaiah 41:10), “do not be anxious” (from Philippians 4:6-7) “call to me and I will answer you” (from Jeremiah 33:3), etc.). There are two main ways I like to do this – through words and through song. A great resource for reading God’s Word and promises regarding fear to young ones is the devotional book, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd Jones. There are many great devotions in the book that address fear. Here is an example of one such devotion called Secret Weapon from the book, “Did you know God has armed all of his children with a secret weapon? The whole universe was made by it! It can turn darkness into light! What is it? A sharp sword – the Word of God. You can use it on your fears. Instead of listening to what your fears are saying, and believing them, you can pick up the sword of God’s Word and go on the attack. How do you do that? You say these things are true – the things God has told you: “God has a good plan for my life!” “I will trust and not be afraid!” “Through Jesus I am more than a conqueror!” “But thanks be to God! He has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:57. There are at least 6 other great devotions focusing on fear in the book that I counted while flipping through. I love that each devotion includes a relevant Bible verse within it. Another way to help the Word of God “stick” in their minds is through song. When my son started preschool, he had a REALLY difficult time transitioning. For an entire month, drop off time (and the time leading up to the “drop off”) was filled with crying, screaming, begging, you name it. He had a fear of preschool and a fear of being “left” by mommy. During this time period, I ordered the “Seeds of Courage” CD from Seeds Family Worship. It includes 12 songs that bring verses of hope, confidence, and security that allow the child of God to be strong, bold, and courageous. From the description of the CD on the Seeds Family website, “This world can be a scary place, especially when you’re growing up and learning about it all. Our tendency can be to shrink away, to run and hide. But God would have us live with courage and confidence – things we can experience only when we understand that God is on our side.” These songs of courage (which put Bible verses to music) will help your child understand that God is on their side.

4. Pray, pray, pray (“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” – 1 John 5:14). Pray for your children, their fears, and how they address them. Do this while your children are not around. Then, spend time praying WITH your children. If they are old enough, you may listen in as they pray to God about their fears, then join in with them and reiterate the concerns to our Lord. If they are not yet old enough to pray by themselves, you can pray for them as they listen in so that they can learn to start taking their concerns to the Lord at the earliest age possible. Just as we turn to the Lord when we have concerns, we should take the time to thank Him when our concerns are addressed. If we have prayed with our children about a particular fear that they have overcome, make sure to praise the Lord for it in front of him or her so that they get a taste of His faithfulness. 

5. Be patient (“I waited patiently for the Lord” from Psalm 40). Just as “sanctification takes time” (quote by Martin Luther) and is a progressive holiness and purity that takes a lifetime, so is “fear eradication.” In fact, I would even go so far as to say that signs of fear eradication can be part of the evidence of the sanctification process. Your child’s fear of the dark may not go away in a month, or two months, or even a year. And once it does disappear, it is likely to be replaced by some other fear. The issue of fear is, unfortunately, something that will persist a lifetime. Fear of monsters will go away…eventually…but then it will be replaced by what we deem “valid” fears – fear of illness, fear of death, etc. And then we’ll all long for the days when all that our little ones feared were the monsters under the bed. So, as frustrating and pitiful as your child’s fears are now, be patient with them and relish the chance to teach them how to address these fears…when they may not be “valid” fears yet. Because our hope is that when the “real” fears come (and we all know they will), we’ll have taught them to handle them adequately – we’ll have taught them the Word and showed them the Lord. As Stephen Lang once stated, “Franklin Roosevelt assured people that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The Bible makes an even bolder promise: We have nothing to fear, period.”

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

 

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