Anxiety has been a personal struggle for as long as I can remember. And while God has never answered my prayer to remove this “thorn in the flesh,” he has been sufficient for me through it all. Intrusive thoughts, fears, and worries can be paralyzing. It’s easy to tell our children (or ourselves!) to just move on mentally and “don’t worry about it.” But this is much easier said than done. Throughout Scripture, we see a pattern of not only throwing off unhealthy or sinful practices, but also putting on healthy, godly practices.
In other words, we must replace intrusive thoughts, fears, and worries with the truth of God’s promises. This is how his power is made perfect in our weakness—through his word. And when it comes to helping our children with fears and worries, the best advice I’ve ever gotten is this: anxiety is an opportunity to grow closer with your child and create mutual trust.
So what does it look like to “throw off” anxiety? And how do we help our children develop these habits, too? For me, it’s utilizing a combination of practical strategies and Scripture memorization. These strategies have been so helpful in my own life—for both my children and myself—and I hope they will be helpful to you.
Anxiety is an opportunity to grow closer with your child and create mutual trust. @MTHolloman #parents #parenthood #anxietyTweet
Here are 6 ways to help you and your child with anxiety, followed by a list of Scriptures about God’s promises:
- Listen and repeat back what you hear. Allow your child to explain his concerns before you try to present solutions. Allowing your child to put words to his concerns can be instrumental in relieving stress. Repeat back what you hear (you can start your sentence with, “It sounds like…”). This will show your child you were listening and heard correctly; if you didn’t, it will allow your child to correct you and provide more context or a more accurate explanation.
- Name his or her feelings, but start with low-intensity words. Aim for “low intensity” words and allow your child to raise the intensity as needed. For example, instead of saying, “you sound terrified,” you might say, “you sound concerned.” If your child truly is terrified, this will give her the opportunity to correct you and raise the intensity herself, instead of planting the idea of being “terrified” in her head when she really might only be “concerned.”
- Create action steps together. If your child’s worry is about something that could actually happen (i.e. “What if it rains for my birthday party? We’re supposed to have outdoor games!”), work together to make a practical response plan. (“If it rains, we have an indoor space where we can play games. Let’s make a list of your favorite indoor games together.”)
- Breathe together. Breathing can help your body and mind calm down. Deep breathing actually supplies your brain with more oxygen and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calmness. (That’s also fun information you can share with your kiddos who love science and interesting facts!) Some strategies to practice deep breathing: (1) Ask your child to pretend he’s blowing bubbles slowly with an imaginary bubble wand. (2) Have your child imagine she is slowly smelling a slice of pizza (or whatever her favorite food is).
- Ask “Is there anything you can do about that?” Asking this question can help bring perspective to a worrisome situation. It may be that there is something practical your child can do to address his worry (and if that’s the case, see #3!). Help him do what he can. if there is nothing he can do about that specific worry (i.e. control the weather or control who his school teacher will be), then say it out loud and redirect. Reference one of your memory verses and pray God’s promises together.
- Take thoughts captive. Intrusive thoughts are a normal part of life, but that doesn’t mean we have to let them have their way in our minds. Help your child identify intrusive thoughts, and then visualize “taking them captive” (tying them up, throwing them in a jail cell, etc.). Have memory verses or biblical truths ready to replace those thoughts. (See the list below!)
Scripture verses that address fear, anxiety, and trust:
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6,7)
- When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. (Psalm 94:19)
- Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:8)
- What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5,6)
- Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
- Cast all your anxiety on Him, for he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
- And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:27,33)
Discipling our children as they navigate worries and fears is hard—but you are not alone! God has given us everything we need in His Word—we just have to turn to it.