Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
Like adults, children have all sorts of strong feelings about what is happening around them. It’s normal to feel fearful or worried from time to time. Even in the best of situations we may experience anxiety in the form of worry, apprehension, dread, fear, or distress.
Is your son’s tendency to worry impacting his everyday life? If so, it may be time to intervene.
Each year, with access to so much new information, children begin to fear real world dangers. With life experience, they eventually learn that these risks are remote, rather than looming dangers. Sue Palmer, education expert and author of the book Toxic Childhood (Orion Publishing, 2007), has found that some fears come from over-exposure to adult media. “In the past, adult worries were very much kept to the adult world—adults read about them in newspapers but children were largely kept away from that
and had their own playground culture,” she said. “But now adult concerns are more and more entering into children’s worlds.”
Without another explanation or adult intervention, kids assume their fears and worries make sense and are an accurate picture of how dangerous a situation really is.
But when parents challenge their children to consider the evidence that led to their catastrophic conclusions and encourage them to think of alternative scenarios, children often gain a new sense of control and hope. It empowers kids when we help them understand that being afraid isn’t the same as being in danger.
Conversely, we need to help our children face legitimate fears head-on. It’s a mistake to falsely say, “Don’t be scared” or “Don’t think about what you saw and heard on the news.” You can’t tell your children what to think or feel, but you can offer reassurance. Matthew 6:34 teaches us not to worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own. Explain to your child that anxiety is not dangerous, and that he can cope with it by trusting in God. Let him know his feelings are okay, that it is all right to say what he feels. Anxious children sometimes have a hard time expressing strong emotions like anger or sadness because they are afraid people will become angry with them. Let them know they’re not alone in their feelings and express confidence in their ability to handle any circumstances that occur.
Model the behavior you want from your child. If you show fear, it’s likely your child will do the same. Instead, if you’re more of a take-action person, children will follow those cues. Perhaps there’s an action of goodwill that can be taken when a disaster occurs that will refocus your son’s attention on the needs of other people.
Give your children the facts. When children fill in the unknown with the worst-case scenario, the results can be frightening. Take the opportunity to have a “faith talk” about trusting God and loving people.
Let your child learn on his own. It’s tempting for a parent to over function for a child, but that sends the message that you don’t believe your child is capable of working through this on his own. Refrain from constantly offering reassurance that everything will be okay. Instead teach your child to provide his own reassurance. Perhaps he’ll even be able to laugh at some of the irrational circumstances he creates.
Work together as parents. Parents must determine a way of handling a child’s anxiety that both feel comfortable with. It is important that one parent not be too easy
when the other parent pushes the child too much. Don’t confuse anxiety with other types of inappropriate behavior. Set expectations and establish limits and consequences for inappropriate behavior. Parents who have reasonable expectations of their children and clear and consistent limits and consequences for behavior along with love and acceptance have the most competent, self confident, and happy children.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.