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Scaredy Cats!

Calming solutions for handling your kids' fears

My friend's son, Matthew, had a fear of wolves. He was sure they were lurking under his bed, waiting to come out at night. Or perhaps they were hiding in his closet, just waiting for him to fall asleep so they could slip out and chew off his toes! My wise friend talked with Matthew, prayed with him, and tried to reassure him, but she sensed something more was needed.

So one evening, Matthew's mom presented him with a beautiful silver container shaped oddly like a hairspray bottle. Painted on its bright silver exterior were black letters spelling out "Wolf Repellent." My friend explained to Matthew that all he had to do was spray a little of this formula in his room before he went to bed at night, and he would be wolf-free! Matthew prized this "weapon" that helped to alleviate his wolf fears.

Often naming your child's fear and reassuring him that it's normal will do the trick. Other times, as in Matthew's case, a little creativity and humor are needed. But at some point, most kids develop fears—of the unknown, of failure, of things in the dark. Where do these fears come from, and how can we best handle them?

Healthy Fear

Fear isn't always negative. In fact, it's good to fear touching a hot stove, or breaking the speed limit, or dating someone with questionable character, or smoking pot. It's important to teach your child to distinguish between good fear and unhealthy fear.

Sometimes kids fear trying new things because they're afraid they'll fail. Your child might not make the tennis team or get the part in the musical production. He may fall off the horse. But don't let fear of failure paralyze your child; teach him to cultivate courage by walking through his fears. Let your child know you believe in him, and encourage him to try new things. Cheer him on if he makes it, and pick him up if he fails. Much of life involves having the courage to take risks despite the fear of failure.

Gifts Gone Astray

A person who's naturally creative or sensitive is more likely to struggle with fear. While creativity enables us to dream big dreams, become better problem-solvers, and excel in the arts, its negative side is imagination gone astray: visualizing worst-case scenarios or dwelling on "what ifs." God's given me the gift of imagination, but I have a tendency to worry. Yet just knowing why I struggle with fear gives me some peace.

Explain this doublesided coin of gift and weakness to your fearful child. Help him use his imaginative powers in positive ways. For example, in my own struggle with an over-active imagination, I've found Philippians 4:6-8 helpful: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." After I give my worries to God, I replace my anxious thoughts with something else, and that "something else" are those things we're told to dwell on in verse 8. God's character traits fit into this category: God's in control; he loves me more than I can imagine; he knows everything; nothing is hidden from him; he has a plan that is good; and so on. Praying about my fears, then saying out loud God's character traits, helps bring me rest instead of worry. Train your child to do the same.

Visual Imagery

Your imaginative child may be sensitive to visual images, so scary television programs or videos aren't healthy for him. Take responsibility for what your kids see on any screen. Visual images are slow to fade and can produce unnecessary fears.

Outside Stresses

A teen's friend's serious illness, a parent's marital problem, a job loss or move—all can cause fear in your child. When these outside stresses seem overwhelming, encourage your child to talk about his feelings. Reassure him of your love and God's love. In some cases, it's wise to arrange for your child to talk with a counselor or youth minister. It's often easier for a teen to talk with someone other than Mom or Dad.

Schedule Overload

With today's busy lifestyle, stress has become somewhat of a status symbol. So we rush out to sign our kids up for yet another activity, or we agree to chair another committee, and the family schedule gets crazier. We pass each other in the night; we're short with each other; our kids seem anxious. It's time to call a halt to so much activity and simply say "no."

If your child seems fearful and there's no unusual pressure, take a look at your family schedule. Is it too full? Are your kids being tossed around? Are meals regular? Bedtime routines followed? Time taken for cuddling and reading? Sometimes we simply need to block out time on our calendar to be quiet as a family.

God's Promises and a Parent's Blessing

"When I am afraid, I will trust in [God]," David says in Psalm 56:3. This is but one of many thousands of promises for us in God's Word. I've found that when I'm fearful, the best place to run to is God's Word. And the Psalms are a great place to begin. David, the writer of many psalms, is honest about his fears, yet repeatedly points us to God's character. Underline promises in God's Word and share them with your children.

Another way to alleviate fear is by praying a daily "blessing." Every night my husband used to slip into our children's rooms, lay his hands on their foreheads, and pray God's blessing of protection over them. It reassured them and reminded us—their earthly parents—they were indeed God's children first. He will always care for them.

SUSAN ALEXANDER YATES is author of And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children and What Really Matters at Home: Eight Crucial Elements for Building Character in the Family (both Word). The Yates have five children ranging in age from 18 to 25.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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