By Javan Rowe
Fear is an interesting emotion because we all experience it, yet many of us choose to ignore it. I cannot recall ever discussing my greatest fears with my buddies; it is something we simply do not do. Our kids, though, are often more open about what makes them afraid. As a result, we feel unqualified to offer reassuring words. After all, we may have never dealt with our own deep-seated fears.
If we haven’t learned to cope with fear as adults, how can we empower our children to do so?
Some of the greatest and perhaps most stressful moments of childrearing occur when our children first learn to walk. Before they take their first steps, they are content with crawling because they don’t realize the benefits of walking. When they take their first steps and hear the cheers of eager parents, they are motivated to continue in this new endeavor.
Fear can be seen in a similar way. We fear because we cannot see beyond the present. Often fear is accompanied by hopelessness. We fail to recognize the benefit of the kind of fear that motivates us to action. It can enable us to accomplish goals, much like the toddler taking her first steps. When we are content to crawl around in fear, we never move beyond it. The growing fear that results blinds us to any positive outcome.
Our children may have an even greater problem seeing beyond the present. Often we get frustrated by our kid’s fears, when the truth is they are more like us in their fears than we may think. Their limited life experience can blind them to potentially positive outcomes. This makes their fears appear more unreasonable.
Wise parents will demonstrate empathy and try to see the situation through their children’s eyes. Children must hear from their parents that fear is normal, that they are not behaving strangely or unreasonably. They need perspective in order to be courageous.
Stories of Courage
We must teach our children that courage is not the lack of fear, but rather stepping out in the face of fear. Such courage is embodied in Old Testament figures like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and David.
These stories are told simply in Scripture. It is up to us to fill in the blanks, discussing their possible internal struggles and emotions as imperfect humans. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were undoubtedly frightened. After all, no one wants to be barbequed. The point is, they loved God more and were willing to do anything to bring him honor. This gave them courage in a terrifying situation.
The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Bridge-Logos Foundation, 1997) details stories of Christians through the years who were put to death for their faith. While we should use discretion when relaying stories like these to young children, we can make the point that these people were afraid. In fact, some of them initially denied the Lord because of overwhelming fear; but they stood strong in the end. They remained steadfast despite their fears and gave their lives for the sake of Christ.
Some of the most meaningful stories of courage in the face of fear may come from our own past. Being honest with our children about our own fears and how we have tried to overcome them may help them gain perspective. We may believe that parents should always appear strong and immovable. The truth is our kids need to see us fall and get back up. They can be helped greatly if they know we have experienced fear but decided to trust in God to deliver us—or at least to walk with us through the valley.
Changing Our Focus
As we relate stories to our children about people who have shown courage in the face of fear, we must keep in mind that our goal is to help them change their focus. We want them to move away from focusing on worldly things and to move toward focusing on spiritual things.
Jesus made it clear that we are to focus on God’s kingdom and his righteousness and leave the rest to God (Matthew 6:33). If our kids can learn the following three things about God, they can also learn to manage their fears that may seem uncontrollable.
God Is in Control
Although we may not want to admit it, sometimes our children have a better grasp on reality than we do. For instance, they may be afraid that something could happen to a parent on a drive out of town. They fear they may never see their parents again. We try to console them by assuring them nothing will happen to us, but how do we know we will return home safely?
Our children’s fears may not be as irrational as we sometimes make them out to be. Sure, those fears may seem extreme at times, but they are grounded in the reality that something really could happen to Mom or Dad.
We can help them confront this troublesome fear by reminding them that our lives are in God’s hands. We will only be called home when God is ready for us, and not a minute earlier. Nothing will happen outside of God’s sovereign will; he is not surprised by anything. God’s control should bring us relief.
God Is Near
A well-known passage from Psalm 23 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4).
Because God is omnipresent (everywhere at once), we have nothing to fear. We can shrug off the fear that grips our hearts because he goes before us to highlight our path. He also stands behind us to protect us, ready to catch us should we fall. He travels with us as well—never leaving our side.
In addition to being omnipresent and omniscient, God also cares for us. Our children must understand, perhaps more than anything else, that God created us because of his immense love. Love caused the Father to send us his Son and then to sacrifice the Son on the cross for our sins. The resurrected Christ is now in Heaven preparing a place for all who follow him.
A good verse to teach our children is Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” God knows our needs, loves us, and can be trusted to take care of us.
Let’s help our kids understand their fears and find courage in God to face them. Let’s remind them that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to move forward in spite of it. That courage is listening briefly to fear to ensure we are not unwise in our actions, but then keeping it at our periphery while our primary focus stays on the Lord.
Javan Rowe is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.
Encouraging Stories for Kids
Tales of the Not Forgotten
by Beth Guckenberger
(Standard Publishing, 2012)
Tales of the Defended Ones
by Beth Guckenberger
(Standard Publishing, 2013)
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