How to Help Your Kids Deal With What Scares Them

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Confronting our fears is challenging, which is why your role as a parent is to be the best coach you can be for your child.

True confession: the movie Teen Wolf (the Michael J. Fox version, not the hipster MTV version featuring ridiculously attractive faux teens that’s on television today) TERRIFIED me as a child.

I distinctly remember watching the movie at my cousins’ house and FREAKING OUT all night long.

My anxiety was so serious that my uncle let me watch My Little Ponies on continual repeat for the entire next day to make up for the trauma. (I’m not sure my older, boy cousins have really ever forgiven me for this.)

I bring this up because sometimes it’s easy to forget how scary childhood can be. Not yet armed with superior reasoning skills (ex. “the odds of this happening are so rare…”) or emotional coping skills (ex. “Calm down. Take a deep breath.”), kids can get frightened about things we adults commonly overlook.

When this happens, our natural reaction as parents is to want to remove their fear. We HATE IT when they have nightmares or get stomach aches from nerves or avoid situations because they’re afraid they’ll be embarrassed or teased.

So what do we do when our kids are afraid (apart from repeat therapy sessions of My Little Ponies)?

How to Help Your Kids Deal With What Scares Them

Don’t Downplay Legitimate Fears:

First, we need to be real about their fears. Teenage boys spontaneously turning into mythical creatures of the night? Not likely. Cancer? Car accidents? Failure? Public embarrassment? Unfortunately WAY more likely.

Fearful things are unavoidable so long as we are living, and we aren’t doing our kids any favors by telling them they have nothing to fear when what they’re fearing is legitimate. Dismissing legitimate fears doesn’t help them learn how to handle the genuinely scary things they’ll encounter throughout their life.

In place of dismissal, common wisdom counsels us to teach our kids to confront their fears head on. And while this advice has merit, there is a better place to start: prayer.

Prayer gives Jesus an opportunity to provide comfort to our kids, and helps them learn how to go to him first when they’re afraid. Even the act of confessing out loud to Jesus what we’re afraid of has tremendous power to disarm anxiety. Activities like the high-flyer game in October’s Buddy Box* that teaches kids how to release their fears to God are great [fun!] ways to practice this type of praying.

Grab that Bible:

Another great place to direct your kids when they’re afraid is the Bible. Unsurprisingly, fear is a common theme throughout the Bible. This is another way for Jesus to speak to your kids about fear, and to help them recall and remember the TRUTH about fear proclaimed in the Bible. 

Tackle Fears Proactively:

Now confront. One of the sneakiest things about fear is that it grows in power when we try to stuff, ignore, deny, or avoid the things we’re afraid of (I’m speaking to you, sketchy mole on my shoulder that I keep ignoring…). Confronting our fears is challenging, which is why your role as a parent is to be the best cheerleader/coach you can be for your child. Some ways to confront fear include:

• Drawing about it
• Journaling about it (or making a video about it if you have a digital-native kid who is more comfortable with a smartphone than a pen)
• Good old-fashioned exposure to it (the dive-right-in approach)
• Talking about it with others (friends, support groups, counselors)
• Taking baby steps

I wish I could add “Remove the thing that scares them” to this list, but unfortunately that only works some of the time. The truth is that kids will face fears throughout their life, and the older they get, the more sophisticated their fears will become.

True security, peace and comfort comes from trust in God, and learning how to trust takes time (hint: start early!). Though we’d love to, we can’t trust God on our kids’ behalf; it’s something they have to learn on their own with us coaching them along.

Written by: Stephanie Hillberry

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