Helping Children with Anxiety

Helping Children with Anxiety

Feeling anxious is part of living in a broken world, and God weaves those feelings into his providential plan for our spiritual growth. As we mature, our feelings of anxiety may abate, or they may swell. What runs constant is God’s call to trust him and act in the context of our feelings. Simply listening to our kids express their feelings is a great way to ease their burden by assuring them of our non-judgmental presence.

It takes time for us to realize we aren’t made of glass, that shattering isn’t imminent, that God can always bring us through to the other side—no matter what hellish things we experience. Time teaches us. In fact, for any person of faith, time is the only tutor.

But kids don’t have time yet—at least, they have more ahead than behind. Each day holds out threats without the assurance of safety, let alone the promise of strength for having weathered hard things. And so, for kids, fragility comes naturally. They see their smallness in a wild world. A tiny scratch demands a Band Aid. The sidewalk cracks threaten their bicycle tires. Honey bees have daggers attached to their abdomens. The world is big. Children are small. Dangers abound.

As parents, with more time behind than ahead, we go through seasons when we feel confident in God’s sovereign care, maybe even impervious to harm (or at least ignorant of it). But the longer we live, the more quickly we spot this feeling as a momentary illusion. We lose a parent. Our highschool friend dies of spinal cancer at thirty-one. A Yellowstone mudslide wipes out a bridge as if it were built of toothpicks and glue. Health issues crop up like weeds in everyday conversations. The world is uncontrollable. And though we’re more confident in God’s control than we used to be, we’re still small. And dangers abound.

Maybe that’s why nearly 20% of the American population battles an anxiety disorder, including yours truly for the last 16 years.1 I’ve written about my own anxiety war in Struck Down but Not Destroyed. But I’ve also had the joy of being a parent for nearly 9 years, which means I’ve had to take what God has shown me about anxiety and use it to help my own children. I approach them with deep empathy, as one whom the Lord has shattered and put back together many times. Let me offer what I’ve learned so far and then point you to some resources I’ve found helpful along the way.

What I’ve Learned

1. Kids are very perceptive.

While children deal with their own fears and worries, they’re also watching you, taking cues on how they should respond. As parents, we tend to think it’s best to shield our children from our anxiety, and there are times when that’s appropriate. But shielding them and denying the presence of anxiety teaches them to do the same. That’s unhealthy, and it’s unbiblical. The psalmists didn’t bottle things up; they poured everything out. That doesn’t mean you should pour out your soul before your kids each day. But it does mean they should see it’s okay that you deal with fear and anxiety, too, and you do something about it: you turn to your heavenly Father in prayer. You read his word. You walk by faith. You believe. Showing them what to do with anxiety is much healthier than modeling denial.

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