Does Your Child Struggle with Fear?
If so, you are not alone. It was four years ago when I finally accepted that my daughter struggled with fear. She was six years old at the time. I felt alone because I didn’t want to openly share with anyone…I thought I would be harshly judged, and I blamed myself because I had my battles with fear and worry too. Sadly, I have learned that one in eight children suffers from anxiety (nationwide children.org) and once I decided to be honest and open, I became aware of over a dozen children who suffer from fear right here in my community. These sweet kids range between 6-11 years old and my heart aches for all of them.
Why Kids Worry?
Some fear and worry is normal. After all kids are facing new situations nearly every day. Unfamiliar people, places and activities are bound to stir up many emotions including fearfulness, worry, doubt, and anxiety. With help from a parent or as the child matures many children are able to deal with these emotions without it interrupting their daily life. But for some, like my daughter, it is much more.
“One of the most definitive signs of an anxiety disorder is an excessive, irrational fear or dread that lasts for at least six months, and that significantly interferes with a child’s enjoyment of life at school and at home.” Focus on the Family
How Can We Grow Courage in Fearful Children?
There are many things we can do to help our kids grow in courage. What works for one child may or may not work for another. It’s a bit of trial and error. With my daughter I had to take extreme measures. There was a specific moment in time I realized we were heading downward really fast. It was the first six weeks of first grade and her separation anxiety was escalating to an overwhelming level. After enduring severe stomach aches, a trip the ER with hives and hearing her say, “I am happy I have lice and can’t go to school today” (I was horrified!) I became defeated and began to completely surrender to God. That’s when I realized we needed to withdraw her from school to homeschool. I tell the full story in this article Why I Decided to Homeschool.
Maybe you don’t have to make such a bold move as deciding to homeschool while also holding a full-time career, but there are many things I have learned over the last four years that have helped build courage in my daughter. I’d like to share them with you.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Growing Courage in Kids
What Doesn’t Grow Courage in Kids:
Many times I found myself doing things that actually hurt instead of helped. My heart was in the right place but I also got frustrated or became fearful myself. Not knowing what to do and feeling helpless led to some mistakes.
- Yelling or Blowing up will not help. In fact, it just made my daughter’s fear worse, and instead of creating a safe environment it created an unsure environment.
- Saying Just Get Over It or words of a similar tone never worked. It had the reverse affect because no one just gets over fear and anxiety and all it did was make her feel like a failure.
- Trying to Take Away the Feelings is not a good solution either. Since these feelings may arise in her adult life my daughter needed to learn how to cope with her feelings, manage them and better tolerate them.
What Does Grow Courage in Kids:
This is not an exhaustive list but rather some steps that worked for us. My daughter has grown in confidence and courage. She has tried new things and overcome many fears, but it didn’t come quickly…it took time. It required a lot of patience from me and my husband, and some bold changes that included homeschooling and quitting my job. However, the sacrifices we’ve made have been well worth the changes we see happening in her.
- Slow Down– I quickly noticed that a fast-paced lifestyle only aggravated my daughter’s fear and anxiety. By slowing down and reducing our commitments it allowed my daughter to relax and unwind.
Spend some time evaluating your schedule and commitments. What can you reduce or eliminate?
- Identify the Source of Anxiety or Fear– my daughter had extreme separation anxiety. Some claimed she was manipulating me, but with much prayer God actually showed me it was a cry out…she needed more of me. I was a working mom and gone a lot…sometimes on overnight business trips. My daughter needed me to be there every day and all day.
Can you identify the source of your child’s fear or anxiety? What can you do to stabilize the situation and address it head-on?
- Create a Worry Box- this really helped us! It’s almost like a game. My daughter decorated a small box where she could write down her fears and worries and put them in the box. So long as the lid was closed tightly her fears and worries were contained, but if the lid opened, we could talk about them…we also laughed by opening and closing it quickly. I always try to find humor with her because she loves to laugh!
Consider creating a Worry Box with your child…make it a fun project that you can do together.
- Always Be Ready to Stop, Listen and Talk- unfortunately my daughter’s fears and worries are not on my schedule. I have learned that I must be available to talk with her when fear is happening…meaning I have to sacrifice what my plans are or what I am doing to stop and listen. We’ve had countless talks and four years later I am seeing the benefits of simply being available.
Would your child say you are mostly available or hardly available? Where do you see improvements that you can make?
- Don’t Always have an Answer- at first I wanted to always have an answer for my daughter…words of wisdom to save the day! However, I found that not every worry or fear has an answer and that by trying to rescue her I was setting her up for future failure. Instead, sometimes it is okay just to listen and not respond with an answer. It is okay to simply empathize and let it be.
Do you find yourself always problem solving? Could you try not giving an answer and only giving comfort instead?
- Point Your Child Back to God- I have learned that God can comfort my daughter in ways I cannot. By continually directing my daughter’s focus back to God she has developed a relationship with Him. I’ve overheard her on numerous occasions telling God about her fears. It’s never too early to teach children to turn to God with their worries and doubts. Also, our example speaks volumes here. When our kids see us turning to God in our distress, they will learn to do it themselves too!
Are you setting an example by letting your kids see how you turn to God during anxious times? When your child is fearful do you direct her attention back to Him?
- Small Brave Steps- over the years I have learned no one becomes a courageous person without having first made several small brave choices. Especially with a fearful child…tiny steps are critical to building self-confidence and strengthening their Courage Muscle. My daughter was terrified to go into a classroom by herself so once we started homeschooling, I enrolled her in one class once a week and I sat in the classroom with her. By the next year I was able to sit outside the classroom. Each step built upon the other and now she attends three classes one day a week!
How can you encourage your child to make a small, brave decision today? What can you do to help her be successful?
- Pray Continually (I Thessalonians 5:16)- The Bible tells us to pray continually and for good reason. My daughter has received strength many times because we prayed. I pray over her, I pray against the enemy who is lurking around her, and she prays too. Many times she will come to me and ask for prayer. It works! It also develops the habit of praying and that habit will go on with our kids into their adult life.
How often do you pray over your child’s worries and fears? Is prayer a first or last resort?
- Use the Phrase Chickening IN!– This funny little phrase has nudged my daughter on several occasions to be courageous and face her fear. You can use it too!
When you can tell your child really wants to tryout for the team or meet a new friend but is too afraid simply say, “Chicken IN!”
- See a Doctor or Therapist– this is very, very important! We did both and you may find these resources helpful if you are dealing with a fearful or anxious child.
Courage will Grow but be Patient
The greatest piece of advice I can pass along from one mom to another is to be patient. Patient with your child and patient with yourself. It has been four years since the day I realized we were sinking and I made the bold decision to homeschool. My daughter has progressed by leaps and bounds, but it didn’t happen all at once. It was little by little. We still have a ways to go but we are far from where we were! Replacing fear and worry with courage is like uprooting a well-established oak tree…it takes time and hard work. But the work will be worth it because our precious little one is worth it!
love to connect with you if you have a fearful or anxious child. Community is so helpful! Please leave a comment below and let me know how you are helping your child grow courage.
JJ @ Chickening IN