Identifying and disarming childhood fears
Children can be psychologically affected from anxiety and fears just like adults. The biggest problem is that they don’t know how to tell their parents about how they are feeling especially when traumatized or terrified. A small child who believes there are monsters under her bed is every bit as scared as an adult walking to their car in a dark parking garage and knowing there is someone following them. Anxiety is real and will only get worse without taking action to create peace and safety. Here are some helpful steps to make sure that your son or daughter is protected from experiencing the chronic worry or panic from anxiety.
Watch for the warning signs of anxiety
Here are some of the symptoms and behaviors that may indicate your child has elevated anxiety or fears. Remember your main goal is to protect your child and not minimize or deny their emotional symptoms. The more symptoms present, the greater the need for the child to receive additional support and care from family, clergy, teachers or a counseling or medical professional.
– Major changes in energy level, especially lethargy or helplessness
– Heightened fear and worry about violence or being hurt by bullies
– Changes in sleep patterns, especially nightmares or night terrors
– Regressive behavior, (e.g. “baby talk”, clingy to parents or bedwetting)
– Preoccupation with loss of parents or being stranded without parents
– Major swings in school performance, from aggression, withdrawal or apathy
– Angry explosions or depressive moodiness stuffed inside in silence
– Withdrawal from normal activities at home, church or school
– Avoidance of friends, family or pets by going into an emotional “cocoon”
Any of the above symptoms can be normal reactions to a stressful daily life events and may not indicate a need for professional intervention; however it is important to watch for major changes in your child’s attitude, personality or behavior to know how to help them cope. Small children can’t tell you what they are feeling with words, but they can tell you through their actions or non-verbal expressions. The chart below covers the progression of emotions, from peace to panic. Knowing which level your child is on gives you a place to start in creating security for them again. Anxiety is real, and so are proven ways to cope.
Below the chart are some action steps you can begin to use to reduce pressure on your children and keep them emotionally safe during the scary times of childhood.
–Loss of Control of Body Functions
What can parents do to lessen the harmful impact of anxiety?
Here are some positive action steps that you can take to help your child avoid the negative impacts of being overloaded from harmful anxiety.
1) Take care of yourself
Since children draw much of their security from their parents, it is important to keep yourself well grounded and supported. Spend more time with healthy family, friends or church members to make sure that you aren’t overly anxious and subtly passing that anxiety along to your children. Just like the instructions that flight attendants give if oxygen masks drop from the ceiling of the plane, that parents are to put their masks on first, you have to stay as balanced as possible to effectively care for your child during stressful times of change.
2) Be aware and be available
It is wise to be safe and take precautions for safety at home, but not to create extra fear. It’s always wise to teach our kids to be aware of their surroundings, and if the child is old enough, you can talk about the importance of keeping their environment safe by locking doors, or paying more attention to daily safety issues, like looking up to notice if any cars in parking lots may be backing out, (as opposed to running through parking lots like children have a tendency to do).If you sense anxiety symptoms pay more attention to being available for your child, to talk, pray or play. As you heighten your level of involvement and support, your child will be less likely to feel afraid because they will draw strength from the stability you provide in the home.
3) Watch your talk
It is recommended that you never discuss your greatest fears with your children, but rather use discernment in discussing your opinions about dangerous world events. Wisdom requires you to guard your tongue around children during difficult times to protect them from being overly worried or afraid. It is okay to discuss the facts of stressful events facing the family, (like having to move houses after a foreclosure), in age-appropriate ways with older children, but then move into a discussion of how we should pray about the change and the new life in the new house. This will keep the focus on moving forward through stressful times, instead of focusing only on the sadness of the past. Talk is one of the best ways to help a child feel secure, so ask questions and then just listen to allow your child a chance to release their fears in a safe way.
4) Monitor media usage and guard Internet images
Television and Internet images are extremely powerful and vivid in a child’s mind. That’s why you should take great care to avoid having the television on 24/7, but rather limit your exposure to media images, and the amount of time that children might be directly or indirectly exposed to hours of harmful media. If you feel like you must have the television set on for long periods of time, (which is not recommended), then turn the sound off. Talk about the positives of your family being together, or answered prayers, instead of focusing on the negative elements of terrible tragedies or trauma in other part of the country. Guide your children into stabilizing and feeling safe through the daily routines of what is happening in their world, as opposed to events happening in another, more dangerous part of the world. Protecting your child from harsh media images now will protect them from having to struggle to get those harmful images out of their head in the future.
5) Routine, schedule and rules
Children draw tremendous security from having a predictable schedule. Build a regular set of morning and evening rituals, like getting ready for school or bedtime stories or prayer time; also pay attention to include meal time and personal hygiene rituals that are age appropriate for your child. Even little guys and gals can help to take their plate from the table to the kitchen counter, or take more ownership of their daily rituals. This actually takes stress off of Mom and Dad as the child grows in independence through the years, but it is even more helpful for the child to feel the sense of empowerment from knowing what do to as they begin and end their day. House rules are always the same rules, which creates stability from predictability. No matter what is happening when there is a crisis of some kind in another part of the country, be consistent with your family boundaries to help everyone feel more secure by not allowing chaos to erupt from neglecting the regular established rules for household behavior.
6) Reconnect to family, friends and faith
Anxious times can be an excellent time to reach out to spend more time with friends or family members. If you don’t have family nearby, reach out to connect with a local church that has activities designed for you and your child. The additional socialization will help to build a sense of security from having other healthy people to draw support from, as well as allow every member of your family to be more aware of God’s love and protection. As a suggestion, read Bible verses on finding comfort during stressful times, like this one in Psalm 91: 9-10: “If you make the most High your dwelling-even the Lord, who is my refuge-then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” The Bible has hundreds of reassuring promises of peace and comfort during fearful times. Now is a perfect time to search out those verses and discuss the importance of a personal faith with your children so that they come to understand how the power of personal belief can give us all of us the courage to face the challenges of life. (see the additional verses at the end of this article for more insight)
7) Focus on hope, instead of helplessness
Remember that you and your child can make it through fearful and difficult times. Keep focused on practical ways to keep your child tuned into their world and the things that are normal to their daily life, instead of worrying about things they have no control over to change, (especially overexposure to media images from other war torn parts of the world). As you build these coping skills and life management principles into your home, your children will actually be stronger and less afraid of circumstances because they will be more aware of how to face their anxiety with the assurance of God’s protection and peace. Know that you are not alone through this time so reach out to other healthy people and keep reading and developing practical insights to help you and your children cope during the healing days ahead.
17 WAYS TO OVERCOME ANXIETY
from: “Worry Free Living” by: Dr. Frank Minirth & Dr. Paul Meier
- If you are a Christian, realize that God is with you.
- Determine that you will obey God.
- Pray about your situation.
- Realize that God will keep your mind safe.
- Stop, relax and meditate on Scripture.
- Listen to Christian music.
- Exercise at least three times a week.
- Get eight hours of sleep a night.
- Be sure you get recreation. Relax and have fun a few times per week.
- Do what you can to realistically deal with your problem.
- Live one day at a time.
- Don’t put things off until tomorrow.
- Talk through your problems.
- Take a vacation from your usual routine.
- Have a regular medical check-up.
- Place a time limit on your worry.
- Let the Word of God make you strong.
Luke 12:22, 26 “Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”
The irony is that the person not taking risks feels the same amount of fear as the person who regularly takes risks. The non-risk-taker simply feels the same amount of fear over trivial things. – John Maxwell
Deut 20:3 He shall say… “Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic.”
Ps 19:9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
Ps 23:4 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.
Ps 34:9 Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.
Ps 37:8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not worry– it leads only to evil.
Ps 94:19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.
Ps 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
Ps 112:7 He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
Prov 1:7, 33 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline…… but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”
Prov 3:23-26 when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.
Prov 29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.
Eccl. 11:10 So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body,
Matt 6:25,28,31,34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Sodo not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matt 10:19, 28-31 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Matt 28:4-10 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: `He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid, yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Luke 12:22, 26 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
2 Tim 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
1 Pet 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
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About the Author:
Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. Critical Incident Stress Management expert with the Orange County Sheriffs Office, founder of StormStress.com and trainer for over 3,000 groups on the topic of making strategic change to overcome major stress- both personally & professionally. He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association who partners with major corporations and national organizations to make a positive difference in our culture for Jesus Christ.
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