Five ways to help kids face their fears
We want the best for our kids, and part of parenting is to help them confidently face their fears and learn to manage them well. Our kids will experience all sorts of fears as they grow up - monsters under the bed, being lost, speaking in front of people, nightmares - and that’s normal and okay. It’s not about saying ‘you’ll never be afraid’ or making them fear-proof but about helping them have life to the full. In John 10:10, Jesus said this: 'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full'. I feel as if fear has sometimes robbed me of good things and made my life less full.
There is a lot of great guidance out there for how to coach your kid through fear – both the common childhood fears and when fears tip over into anxiety (see, for example How to help your child feel less anxious, NHS advice on anxiety in children, 8 steps for helping your child overcome a fear or talking to your child or teen about anxiety).
But the one thing that is missing from all these articles is our knowledge that there is someone bigger, stronger and more powerful than parents or any solution to fearfulness or anxiety - our amazing Father God. So how can we help our children and teens connect with and learn from God so that they are able to manage their fears hand in hand with him? Here are five ideas. Have a read through and see which ones might be useful for your child and any fears they have at the moment.
1) Help them understand what the Bible says about fear.
Fear is, according to the Bible, something we don’t need to suffer from. God often says, ‘Don’t be afraid’; we are told that ‘perfect love casts out all fear’ (1 John 4:18) and that ‘God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid but a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). It would be easy to conclude from these that being afraid is somehow to fail as a Christian but actually, what the Bible is telling us is that because of God, fear is something that doesn’t have to consume us.
Imagine a small child, awoken in the night by a thunderstorm. Alone in their bed, the storm seems terrifying and they are afraid. But a parent comes in, swoops the child up onto their knee and holds them tight, murmuring assurances and love. The storm carries on, but the fear has diminished or even gone. The parent’s presence means that the child is reassured. God is like that parent. So when he says to Joshua “do not be afraid” (Joshua 1:9) he is not reprimanding him, or encouraging him to whip up his courage – rather he is saying, ‘There’s no need to be afraid because I am with you, I am alongside you in this situation and I’m in charge.’
Jesus leaves the disciples, and us, with the same assurance in John 14:27: having explained that although he is going, God’s presence will remain with the disciples in the form of the Holy Spirit, he says ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ In the Bible, the weapons that destroy fear are knowledge of God’s presence and knowledge of his guidance and control. So for a child who is afraid of the dentist, you might be saying: ‘I know it’s scary, but God will be with you - in fact, he’s already waiting for you at the dentist’s surgery - and he’s in charge. He doesn’t want you to be afraid, he wants you to think about how much he loves you and wants the best for you.’
2) Connect them to God.
Ultimately, when our children are afraid, we want them to have the experience and confidence to turn directly to God, the one who is more powerful than anyone or anything and who will always be with them and who will never leave them, to receive His comfort and wisdom. So do encourage your child to chat to God about their fears and catch back from him - for more about chat and catch, see sessions 4 and 5 of the Parenting for Faith course. Sometimes our kids need help to connect, particularly if they are upset, and the prayer ministry with children model taught in session 7 may be helpful for you as you support them.
3) Explore stories about people, God and fear together.
Stories are a great way to help children think about new, different or troubling situations.The Bible is full of stories about people and fear; for example, wonder together about how God made a difference to Jehoshaphat as he faced war (2 Chronicles 20); what inspired Peter to jump onto a stormy sea and why he then became afraid (Matthew 14:22-23); why Deborah wasn’t afraid to go to war when Barak was (Judges 4); what gave Esther the courage to risk her own life to see the king (Esther 4-5); why Paul seemed totally unafraid at the prospect of being shipwrecked (Acts 27); and what gave Jesus the courage to allow himself to be betrayed, arrested and killed (Luke 22-23).
Rachel Turner’s book Comfort in the Darkness explores Bible stories about nighttime, and many parents have found it a useful resource for helping coach their children through nighttime fears.
You might also want to share stories about Christian heroes who faced great fears – Corrie ten Boom, Richard Wurmbrand, Harriet Tubman and many others. One easy way to access these stories is through the Torchlighter series of DVDs, available to buy or stream or the Trailblazer series of books.
4) Use the six stage circle to coach them through particular fears.
The six stage circle is a useful tool that may help you coach your child through some fears. How you go round the circle will depend on you, your kid and their exact fear, but this is an example of how this tool might help for a child who is afraid of going to the dentist:
- Model that it’s okay to go to the dentist and even receive some scary treatment by taking your child with you for your appointment; if you pray on the way do that out loud.
- Frame how you feel about going to the dentist and how you cope with having a filling, and how when you are scared in the dentist’s chair, you think about people living in countries with no dental care and you thank God for his good gift of the dentist.
- Equip them by giving them information to help them understand why going to the dentist is important. Talk about the importance of taking care of our teeth, how the dentist will be able to spot a small problem before it becomes bigger and painful and even how the problem is God didn’t design our teeth to eat tons of sugar. Talk about what the dentist will do, and tell them that you will be there all the time. If they haven’t been before, take them to visit the surgery beforehand and meet the reception staff and maybe a friendly dentist.
- Create the opportunity by booking them in for a check up.
- Establish boundaries. Explain that you do have to go for a check up even if your teeth aren’t hurting; if you brush your teeth twice a day and floss, your teeth will be healthier and you won’t need to go to the dentist as much; you may always find going to the dentist scary, but remember that you’ve been before, it doesn’t take long and you’ll be okay!
- Feedback – doesn’t it feel good now we know your teeth are healthy!
5) Learn memory verses to have in their fear armoury
You may want to pick some verses that you know will encourage your child when they are afraid: write them out and stick them around their mirror; learn them together as you have breakfast; discuss them over tea. There are many helpful verses, such as Deuteronomy 20:1-4, Psalm 23:4 (and talk about what the rod and staff mean), Joshua 1:9, Psalm 46:1-3, Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, John 14:27.