As parents, if we’re feeling fearful or unsure, then we can rightly assume our kids are feeling it, too.
Children who have experienced trauma are especially prone to anxious feelings in uncertain times. According to Karyn Purvis and the Institute of Child Development, “A major detrimental outcome of developmental trauma is chronic fear.”
Here are 5 helpful things we can say to our kids in difficult circumstances. All 5 of these have been proven to calm anxious children––
1. “You are safe.”
While it’s impossible (and unhelpful) to promise our children that they’ll never get sick or hurt, we can remind them of our protection of them. As well, we should remind them of family and friends’ protection of them, and ultimately of God’s protection of them.
Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
2. “Tell me about it.”
Sometimes when our child is anxious, it can be easy to brush it off with a comment such as, “You’ll be fine,” or “Don’t worry about it.” But what that ultimately does is teach our kids to hide their fears and feelings instead of to address them. When we invite them to bring their concerns to us, we teach them how to process their fear in a healthy way. Further, we have the opportunity to encourage them to take their fears to God. “Thank you for telling me about this. Let’s pray about it together.”
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”
3. “What would a good ending be?”
Often, children––and especially those who have experienced trauma––get stuck in vicious cycles of anxious thinking. One way we can help is by repeating back to the child the story he is telling, but leaving off the ending and encouraging him to think of a better ending. Example: “Ok. Let’s pretend everybody in our family gets sick, and we all have to go to the hospital. What would be a good ending to that story?”
We usually think of scary what-ifs when we imagine things without including God. We have a great opportunity to remind our kids that our God is masterful at writing good endings to our stories.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
4. “Let’s investigate together.”
Sometimes knowledge really is power, and we can help alleviate our child’s fears by giving him helpful information. (Example: Let’s go to the closet together to see if there are monsters inside.) At other times, the facts aren’t as positive as we’d like them to be, but telling the truth reinforces to our child that we will be honest. (Example: Yes, some people have died from this virus, but that doesn’t mean everyone who gets sick will die.) In addition to learning more about what concerns our child, we have the chance to learn more about God’s character. What do we know about God that can help us right now?
Psalm 118:6 says, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
5. “These scary feelings won’t last forever.”
While it’s important to validate a child’s concern, it’s also good to reinforce the fact that our feelings aren’t forever. Singing, reading, playing, or praying can actually help change the way we feel. Trying something new or facing a scary situation together can help put an end to the fear. Our anxious feelings are real, but they aren’t in charge. God is in charge, and He never changes.
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Finally, one of the best things we can do for our kids is to model trust in God. Our children are watching and learning from us all the time.
Thankfully, God is good at alleviating parents’ fears and concerns, too.