Navigating Childhood Fears
I am not a worrier. In fact, my worries are kind of like the booger your child picks and then flings from his finger. Bye worries! Flick.
Because of this, parenting my children through their worries has been hard for me. Instead of feeling patient and sensitive, I'm like, "Why are you worried about that?!" (Thank GOD I have a filter.)
Once Covid hit our neighborhood, I was prepared for my kids fears. I thought they'd be about death or bigger issues, though, when instead they were worried about bathrooms:
“Will bathrooms be at the park, mom?” (Yes.)
"Will they be inside or outside?” (Outside.)
“Are you sure they will be there?” (Yes.)
“Are you sure? Are you sure? ARE YOU SURE?!?!” (No, I'm not. But you can always go in the woods.)
Dealing with these fears made me feel exactly like Richard Dreyfus in What About Bob.
If you’ve never seen this movie, it’s about this guy Bob (Bill Murray) who seeks out a therapist (Richard Dreyfus) so he can find freedom from his paranoia and OCD. Dreyfus gives him tiny actionable things to do (aka “baby steps”) to help him accomplish small tasks, like walk out of the house (or find a bathroom). Dreyfus remains calm at first, but when Bob keeps asking him questions, he looses it!
This is because Bob's peace was hinging on his therapist’s presence. And isn’t this true with our kids, too, sometimes??
I realized that asking my kids to do their "baby steps" when they were in the middle of a crisis wasn't helpful because A) they couldn’t remember them, or B) I was too exasperated to help them!
The secret to baby steps, then, is repetition - before AND after the crisis.
Encourage your kids to do their steps before bedtime ... every night. Do them at breakfast or right before they get on the bus ... every single day. We want the steps to feel so automatic that when their anxiety pops up they will be able to get off the hamster wheel ... without our help!
Here is what we do at our house:
Take deep breaths. It's amazing how much this works! Breath is vital for slowing down the adrenaline when we're afraid. For those of you with littles, have them "breathe in the flower and blow out the candle".
Pray. Speaking Scripture out over our fears is SO powerful! It helps us surrender our worries to God and let him carry our burdens for us. It's under the shelter of his wings where our kids will be the safest anyway, right? (Psalm 91:4).
Sing. Our brains can’t do two things at the same time. (No joke. They can't. So stop "multi-tasking", mama!) Encourage your child to sing a favorite tune or worship song in the midst of panic and watch as they recenter!
You should create your steps with your children. If they're involved in the process, they'll be more inclined to remember them. (And newsflash: these steps will help you too. I did them this morning!)
Another thing I did when my kids were little and afraid of the dark was make “glow in the dark angels”. 👈 Click to watch!
I found that telling them their angels were surrounding them was a bit abstract, but if they could "see" them, they felt comforted. This actually helped them look forward to turning off the lights at night, and they started praying bolder prayers.
Finally, remember that it's not our job as parents to legitimize our kids' worries (no matter how real or ridiculous they may seem.) It's our job to point them toward God amidst their fears or suffering, because he's the one who will always be there for them when we can't be.