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When Children Worry

When Children Worry

My five-year-old grandson headed straight for my husband’s new digital camera. I scrambled out of my chair and grabbed it before he managed to reach it. Holding it tight I turned to frown at my husband. “You need to put this where it’s not going to get broken.” I chided. Nonplused he took it from me.

“Here, let me show you how to handle a camera,” he grinned at our grandson and invited him close with an outstretched arm. My husband slipped the strap over our grandson’s blonde head and showed him what to touch, where to hold, and how to respect a delicate camera.

I come from a long line of worriers. Fear restricted my family. My husband’s family learned how to manage unknowns so that competence and confidence replaced anxiety. I am always amazed at how different his thinking is, and how it enables rather than disables.

Anxiety is part of life. It is natural and can even be useful to keep us from harm and to help us  react to danger. It can be a motivator to get things done, do our best, learn and understand how things function. But when angst is out of control it is a cruel prison warden.

What if I mess up?

What if I get sick?

What if someone bad gets me?

What if something terrible happens?

What if they forget me?

When children get into a pattern of worry about the worst-case scenarios, physical symptoms follow. “My tummy hurts,” “My head hurts,” “I don’t feel good,” or “I can’t sleep,” are part of a vicious cycle often ending in behavioral issues. Children may become clingy, shy, lash out, act out and they may have difficulty thinking clearly.

The good news is, we all experience anxiety. The bad news is we always will. However, there are steps we can take to help our children manage normal levels of worry.

  1. Listen to your child’s fears. Telling children not to worry will not stop them from worrying. Ask questions. Help define feelings from facts. Legitimate fears should be assessed and considered.
  2. Teach them to stop and quiet themselves. My dad used to tell me to take three deep breaths before standing in front of class to give my book report. He was right. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system’s response, and calm a racing heart.
  3. Don’t remove all situations that cause anxiety. The goal isn’t to eliminate worry, but to manage it. Avoidance will not help in the long run. Our oldest child was terrified of dogs, until we got one. Swimming lessons, tips for oral presentations, music lessons all broaden skills and build confidence.
  4. Empathize without reinforcing fears. Assure them you also worry and feel anxious at times. Give them success stories about overcoming worry, or times when you accomplished something despite anxiety.
  5. Learn to manage your own anxiety. Your child needs loving encouraging calm parents, who fear wisely and manage it honestly. Weigh caution and the amount of information you give. Consider how your words feel and sound to a child. Make instructions and warnings fit the age with only details necessary and appropriate.
  6. Give heaps of unflappable love. Demonstrate love that isn’t based on accomplishment, merit or achievement. Recognize that personalities vary. They’re not wrong, just different. Refer them to the rock-solid unconditional love of Christ who has made them uniquely.

Anxiety bows the heart down by a weight that God wants to carry. Without heaping guilt or judgement on our emotions, the Apostle Paul gives us a means to conquer the hold of anxiety and transform it. In Philippians 4:6 he writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…” (NKJV).

Paul gives three suggestions. Pray, ask, and thank. As we model that process to our children in our own anxious times, it becomes part of their response as well.

Managing anxiety is a lifelong process for everyone, so if you have a young worry-wart whose worries worry you, never fear. Faith matures when unseen fears become opportunities to embrace the hidden realities of One Who is always present and ready to help.

By: Sylvia Schroeder serves as Women’s Care Coordinator at Avant Ministries. She and her husband raised four children in Italy and Germany, where they were missionaries with Avant. Their children are all married and they have twelve grandchildren. Visit her blog, When the House is Quiet, at sylviaschroeder.com.

Join us at www.just18summers.com for our parenting blog each Monday-Friday and for info about the Just 18 Summers novel.

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