“Mom, we are going to the basement to sharpen our pencils.” I called as my brother and I went downstairs. We crossed the room and entered our aunt’s basement apartment; then we froze in fear. There was a lump under the covers on her bed. In my seven-year-old imagination, someone was under those covers waiting to jump out and grab my brother and me. Instead of running out of the room, we hid under the desk.
“MOM! MOM!” I half screamed, half whimpered. She sensed the urgency in my voice and came downstairs immediately. As soon as I saw her, I pointed to the covers. She, too, became concerned and motioned for us to come to the other side of the room to her. My brother and I were paralyzed with fear and could not move. Finally, she was able to coax us over and took us back upstairs.
Once upstairs, my mom called my aunt to ask if she had made her bed that morning. My aunt confirmed that she thought she had. Then my mom called my dad and convinced him that it really looked like someone was hiding under the covers, and he agreed to come home. Thankfully, his office was only a mile away. After seeing the bed, he quickly ushered my mom back upstairs, grabbed the sledgehammer, and went back downstairs. With the sledgehammer raised, he flung back the covers to find pillows haphazardly thrown on the bed.
My mom is not one to be easily frightened or spooked, and my dad definitely is not. However, they were afraid in this situation. Looking back, it was a completely irrational situation. No one would continue to lie under the covers with young children screaming five feet away from him. He certainly would not stay long enough for my mom to make phone calls and my dad to come home. He could have easily exited through the basement door which led outside. Yet, our whole family allowed our imaginations to take control.
The word “fear” is in the Bible 350 times (ESV). “Fear not” is in the Bible 142 times. Fear and anxiety are not new problems. Many children and adults face these emotions daily. There may be seasons when this battle is particularly fierce.
Fear is a natural part of the developmental process. Some children will struggle with fear more often, for longer periods of time, or with greater intensity. Children vividly imagine things they fear, but often cannot imagine the opposite of what they fear. Therefore, children with good imaginations may actually struggle more with fear. Common sense and discernment develop over time and with practice.
A child who is quite verbal may express his fears in greater detail. While this can seem overwhelming at times, he is most likely expressing what many kids feel and fear but are unable to express. Use your discernment and judgment in dealing with these situations. Seek outside help if the fears interfere with daily life or there is cause to believe he will harm himself or others.
Battling fear takes time. Scientists have proven that what you repeatedly do creates pathways in your brain. If you have allowed fear to consume your thoughts, it will take time and consistency to replace the neural pathways that have been developed. Fears should become less frequent and less problematic if you employ the ten strategies listed below. Even though these strategies as described are applicable to children, they are equally relevant to teenagers and adults.
Ten Strategies for Battling Fear
1. Approach the situation with love, patience, and consideration.
It can be very tiring when fear strikes daily. Your patience can wear thin as you try to engage your child in battling fear. Persevere (Isaiah 40:29-31).
Acknowledge that what your child is experiencing seems real while emphasizing that he can and needs to control it (Philippians 4:13). Encourage your child to talk to you about his fear and be willing to listen without judgment (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
2. Find support
The Lord did not intend for you to struggle alone. Support is vital. Twice Moses told Joshua not to fear, but to be strong and courageous. God gave Joshua the same instructions four times. The people of Israel also reminded him of these commands. Then Joshua challenged the people of Israel not to fear, but to be strong and courageous (Deuteronomy 31:6, 7, 23; Joshua 1:5-6, 7, 9, 18; Joshua 10:25). Lean first on God. He is your encourager and strength (Psalm 46:1). Be willing to admit to others that you are dealing with this situation; they may be struggling also. If you are unable to find support locally, pray and ask God to bring you support. He will provide what you need (Matthew 7:7-8).
3. Recognize the effect of stress
Stress can occur as a result of relationships, circumstances, busyness, lack of focus, or seasons of life. Regardless of the cause, stress increases the difficulty of battling fear. The lack of patience and the inability to initiate alternative lines of thought may cause frustration. You may not be able to spend as much time reading the Bible or praying. The stress itself can cause fearful situations to arise. It is important at these times to lean heavily on God’s wisdom and provision (Psalm 118:5-6).
4. Recognize the effect of idleness
Idleness, passing time with no purpose, is often associated with boredom and a lack of creative effort. During these times your child’s imagination may intensify fears. You can counter idleness by feeding your child’s mind with worthy stories, ideas, and experiences. Be aware of the content of news programs, television shows, movies, and books your child views. Another way to counter idleness in your child is to guide him to think beyond himself and to focus on the needs or interests of others. (Proverbs 31:27 and Philippians 2:4).
5. Directed thoughts
Explain to your child that he has the power to change his thoughts and this power comes from God (2 Corinthians 10:5; 2 Timothy 1:7). Your child could visualize grabbing these thoughts and literally throwing them to God (1 Peter 5:7).
If your child enjoys pretending to be a super hero, have him pretend to take his thoughts captive with his super power. If he likes to pretend to be a soldier, encourage him to put on the full armor of God and pretend that he is a soldier in the Lord’s army (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Directed thoughts can be especially helpful at night as your child is falling asleep or any time he must be idle. You may need to suggest ideas for new thoughts such as going to a favorite theme park, visiting family, or a scene from a favorite book (Psalm 19:14).
6. Change the subject
While it is important not to trivialize the feelings fear can invoke, simply changing the subject can often cause the fear to subside. Recalling a pleasant memory or asking a question about an upcoming event may be enough to override the fear. A good tickle or chawse around the yard can also do wonders for changing your child’s thoughts (Philippians 4:8).
7. Distinguish between rational and irrational fears
This strategy is only beneficial once a child is able to understand the difference between rational and irrational fears. You may need to begin by explaining what rational and irrational mean. When your child is afraid, help him determine if the fear is rational or irrational. If the fear is rational, discuss what to do or how to respond if such a circumstance should arise. For example, if your son is afraid there will be a fire, discuss your family’s emergency fire plan and point out where the smoke detectors are located in your home. Discuss the irrationality of an unfounded fear and guide your child to direct his thoughts to something more worthy (Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 29:25). If he has difficulty doing this, remind him that angels are always watching over him (Psalm 91:11).
8. Scriptures, hymns, and praises
It is difficult to be afraid while reciting scripture or singing hymns and praises to God. Quoting scripture during a particularly fearful time can bring great comfort and courage (Psalm 27:1). Prompt your child to sing familiar Christian songs when he is scared. You may need to teach him a song such as “Rejoice in The Lord Always” or a verse of “Amazing Grace.” Read a Psalm, such as Psalm 23 or Psalm 100, together as a praise.
9. Practice gratitude
The command to “give thanks to the Lord” is found in the Bible thirty-three times. Focusing on God’s blessings and giving thanks to Him turns your thoughts away from worry, anxiety, and fear (Psalm 118:28-29).
Even though it can be difficult to give thanks through difficult times, giving thanks in all circumstances strengthens your faith (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Thank God for what He will do, what he has already done, and His abiding presence in your life.
10. Trust God and pray
Most importantly, encourage your child to talk to God about his fears and trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). Remind him that God knows him intimately since He created him and knit him together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). Encourage him to ask God for His peace that passes all understanding (John 14:27, Philippians 4:7).
Pray that this time will draw your child closer to God and that he will learn to trust Him. God has a plan for everyone (Jeremiah 29:11). He may be using the fears your child is facing right now to prepare him for what he will encounter in the future.