Helping your child face fears
When your child is frightened, they will look to you for comfort, reassurance, and a soft place to land. But, how can you, as a parent, or more specifically a Christian parent, allay those fears and guide them? Children 'learn what they live' and take cues from us regarding how to react. While no one is perfect (including…me. SURPRISE!), here are some ways other parents have worked with their children to face and ultimately overcome childhood fears:
Whether your child is frightened of thunderstorms or the dark, afraid of spiders or monsters in the closet, or absolutely terrified of birds (ok, I'm projecting here!), all fears are valid. Most are transient or temporary, but others may run deep and last for far longer — requiring extra time, patience, resolve and care.
For example, taking a trip to Nana or PawPaw's house, which has a scary closet with a door that won't shut, may cause a huge upset not only a routine but also raise your child's fear level; there are ways to reduce your child's frustration. Here are just a few:
• Check yourself. (before you wreck yourself…). Young children often take their "fear" cues from what scares adults around them. Has your child seen you refuse to go up an elevator because of a fear of heights or claustrophobia? Have you screamed at the sight of a reptile? To help your little one with their fears, you may have to get ahold of your own. Consult with your medical professional or a counselor to discuss your worries that may lead to your child's fears.
• Talk it out. As a teacher and mom, I cannot tell you how often one of my children or a student has acted incredulously at a fear I may have, "You don't like being in little spaces either, Mrs. De Wulf?" Even if the fear is entirely unwarranted (birds' flapping wings for me), the fact that you too are fearful of something and are willing to discuss it can have a unique calming effect on a child who may be feeling 'wimpy' or 'weak' due to their fear.
• Pray together. I will never, EVER, underestimate the power of prayer in my life. I have been to quite literally HELL and back through trials and tribulations, but through HIS grace alone, I am still here and proclaiming His glory. Period.
As parents and caregivers, we should and are expected by Christ to guide and protect our children throughout their formative years. As such, we should only share with them things that are age-appropriate and helpful but also be willing to be vulnerable and share our understanding of their fears — whether it be germs, a shadow on a wall, or dogs.
• Search out resources or activities. Learn how (along with your child) shadows are made; thunderstorms are created; elevators work; birds fly…ANYTHING that can bring fear has a God-given purpose and/or can be used for HIS kingdom.
• Take baby steps. When your child truly has a deep-seated fear, you may have to take tiny, minuscule, even baby steps. For example, if your son is scared of dogs, maybe take him to visit a friend's genuinely gentle, well-trained Golden Retriever. Allow him (or her) to see 'Rufus' at his (or her) own pace. Stay close to your child as this happens, so you are the reassuring presence for them.
A parent's instinct (particularly a 'Mama Bear' like me!) is to protect our children from harm and then swoop them up, comforting them at the slightest upset or discomfort. However, despite our gut instinct to 'coddle' or "helicopter parent' them, charging in like a defensive Mama Bear (believe me…That is ME! I have to own it.) will NOT help protect them from every imagined and real threat and only serve as a reinforcement of their anxiety and fear.
Resist those urges, strong as they are, to rush in and 'save' and 'protect' them. Instead, lovingly but firmly reassure them that they are safe, loved and everything will be fine.
**Praise your child when they even make the slightest progress toward their anxiety or fear. Progress is progress, after all!
What the Bible says about fears and His protection:
Psalm 23:4 (ESV) "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
Psalm 118:6 (MSG) "God's now at my side, and I'm not afraid; who would dare lay a hand on me?"
Isaiah 43:1 (New English Translation)
Now, this is what the LORD says, the one who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel:
"Don't be afraid, for I will protect[a] you. I c