Helping children fight fear

 

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This spring has been cold and snowy, just like our winter.  Just this morning there was frost covering the car, and now I have a child with a cold napping on my lap as I write.  It definitely doesn’t feel like spring.  Just a few months ago I took this little sick girl in for a doctor visit (a well-child visit, ironically), and she was so afraid that she had a hard time getting out of the car.  It can be difficult to help a child with fear because even if you can get them to obey, there are many emotions still lingering.  I decided I needed a system to help my kids gain courage.

First, we obey.  I tell them not to think about how they feel, but just to obey.  It doesn’t matter if they feel like it will be scary in the doctor’s office, they need to obey me and walk in.  It doesn’t matter if they have butterflies in their tummy, they need to obey my instructions.  That is the first step.  Obedience even when the emotions are not there.  I have to explain to them that sometimes we should not listen to ourselves.  Sometimes our emotions are wrong and when they are telling us to disobey, we have to act against them.

Second, we remember.
  We remember all the times we have been to the doctor and come out alive.  We remember all the ways that doctors have helped us.  We talk about times we have done scary things and everything turned out well.  We remember when we went to the dentist and it didn’t hurt one bit.  They may be too young to remember some of these times, so I tell them stories.  I tell them about how they were sick as an infant and God protected them and brought them healing.  Or if they are afraid of something else, like the dark, we talk about all the times God has protected us in the dark.  We remember that He watched over us through thousands of nights.  I have to show my child how to talk truth to themselves.  The truth is that God cares about us and is constantly watching over us with care.  I need to help them remember that so they can fight their fear.

Third, we give thanks
.  We give thanks for all the kind mercies along the way, even if the experience is hard.  We look at reality, which is often less scary than our imaginations and worries.  We give thanks for the stickers and the prize box at the pediatrician’s office.  We give thanks for the free ice cream coupons after shots.  We give thanks for the funny looking hospital gown we have to wear and we take silly pictures in it.  I remind my child that God does not give us hard things without giving us gifts in the middle of the hard.  We look around for the gifts and give thanks for them.  On scary dark nights, we give thanks for nightlights and flashlights and CDs with our favorite stories and fuzzy pajamas.  I can’t just tell my child to stop being afraid and obey.  That is only the first step.  I have to help them replace their fear with gratitude.  I have to show them what courage looks like.  If they are going to gain victory over their emotion of fear, they need to know what other path to take.

Remembering

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I would apologize for my long absence from writing on this blog, but in all honestly I’m not really sorry. I have been putting all my energy into getting hot dinners on the table, keeping school uniforms clean, corralling the crayons, surviving a thousand winter illnesses (isn’t that always what happens the first year of living anywhere?), and working on a bigger writing project. But here I am, back again, with some thoughts from Psalm 136.

Psalm 136 is a song of gratitude to God for His mercy. The Psalm opens with “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”   The last line (for His mercy endures forever) ends every verse in the Psalm.  The writing walks through the history of creation, through the deliverance from Egypt, through the victories against the Amorites, and through God’s direction in leading the Israelites to their new home.  This was written as a song that the people of God could sing in worship and it acted as a reminder for all the the Lord had done for His people in protecting and guiding them.

One of the common enemies of Christians is fear, anxiety, and worry.  This isn’t a new struggle.  When God’s people first came to the promise land, the spies (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua) were too afraid to pursue the promise because the people dwelling in that land were strong and terrifying.  We still struggle with this.  We are afraid of financial devastation, of illness, of terrorism, of death.  It cripples us.  We are even too afraid of what others think of us.  We worry about the present and the future.  We worry about the past and psychologically our culture is infatuated with defining people by their past trauma.

This is where Psalm 136 comes as a glorious example to us of how to break free from the sin of fear.  We have to remember.  The Psalmist remembers all that God has done and writes a song so others can remember too.  When we look back on our story with eyes of gratitude, scanning our chapters for moments of His mercy, we are reminded of how good He has been.  What if you wrote the story of your life like the Psalm 136?

I was born into a Christian family, with my whole body functioning perfectly, for His mercy endures forever.

I was given nourishing food, education, and siblings to be my friends, for His mercy endures forever.

I was given a spouse to sharpen me and love me and care for me, for His mercy endures forever.

My body was sustained through pregnancies and c-sections, for His mercy endures forever.

I could go on and on.  He has shown mercy to me in a thousand ways.  When we remember all these mercies, the big ones and the little ones, it gives us the faith to have courage in the future.  Remembering His mercy is the arrow that pierces fear.  Remembering is our shield to face the future with the assurance of His protection.  Remembering His mercy is the lens to look at the past without regret or bitterness.  Cling to the good things He has already done and you will find faith that He will be good on every day in the future.