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.