My oldest daughter has been having trouble falling asleep the past few nights. You know the cycle, your child can't fall asleep, so she roots around in her bed, gets up and goes to the bathroom several times and finally ends up as a weeping puddle of goo because she can't sleep. My oldest usually ends up thinking so much that she scares herself into not being able to go to sleep. I usually have to give her something happy to think about before she can finally calm herself down and get to sleep.
Fear can be paralyzing for anyone but especially for kids. They don't know how to take control of their thoughts and push through their fear. Many adults haven't mastered this. One thing that we know, though, is that God does not want fear to keep us from walking in the path He has laid out for us. God knows that fear can paralyze us and keep us from being effective for Him, so the Bible has lots to say about fear.
Romans 8:15 tells us "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship." God has given us access to His power and strength, which means that we can do anything that He calls us to even if it seems scary. In Deuteronomy 31:6 Moses tells the Israelites "Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." God is always there, and just like the Israelites, if He asks us to do a task that scares us, He will always be there. Being courageous is not going forward in the absence of fear; it's going forward even though you are afraid.
If God is asking you to do something and fear is holding you back, don't let it. Your children will live what they see. If they see you not doing something because you are afraid, then they will let fear stop them from moving forward as well. If you're an example of courage to them, they will learn to be courageous as well. Stop and think of all the things you wouldn't have done if you had let fear stop you. You might not have taken a job promotion, you probably wouldn't have had children and you might never have learned to ride a two-wheeled bike.
It's our job to help build in our children a courageous spirit (because in this world they will need it). We can do that in simple ways as we go about our lives. There's no magic words that will turn our kids into courageous warriors for God, but a simple, consistent pattern of encouragement (and the occasional shove in the right direction) will help kids learn to move through their fears and not be paralyzed by them.
- Don't let fear be the motivating factor for not trying something. We have a rule in our house that "If you haven't tried it, being scared isn't a reason for not trying it." We recently went to the local amusement park. This is the first year my oldest daughter is tall enough to ride the roller coasters. We decided together before we left home that she would try a roller coaster. When we got there she wanted to back out. We reminded her of the rule, and I grabbed her hand and hauled her on the coaster. She was definitely scared, but we got on, and she loved it. If you don't love it after trying it once, our rule is that you don't have to do it again, but letting fear keep you from doing something you've never tried is not ok. I'm not saying you should force your kids to jump out of an airplane, but when they run into something in their everyday lives that they're scared of for no reason, we need to show them how to push through that fear so their lives are not ruled by it.
- When your kids are scared about something, pray with them. Show them how to turn their fear over to God, and let Him deal with the fear. Remind them of Romans 8:15, which is a great verse for kids to memorize.
- Every time your kids wake up with a nightmare in the middle of the night, pray that God would take away the bad dream and replace it with good ones. My favorite middle of the night verse is Psalm 56:3, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." It's short and simple and easy to memorize. My girls have known this one since they were really little.
- Share your own experiences with your kids. If you have an irrational fear, let your kids know about it. They can help you work through your fear, too. For example, I'm afraid of heights. I hate being in an exposed tall place. My kids know this, and, inevitably, when we are climbing something tall, one of my girls will come hold my hand -- more for me than for them. It's cute, and it's comforting.
One word of warning: be careful that you don't force away your children's natural protective instincts. There are times when fear is a good thing. It's one thing to help your kids to push through fear in situations that you can control and know are safe, but make sure that if your children feel uneasy or are afraid around a certain person that you don't dismiss that feeling. God gave us a fear reflex to keep us safe in dangerous situations. In those situations, we want our children to listen to that fear reflex and get out of the situation. It's a fine line, I know, but we never want to force our children into situations with people with whom they are uncomfortable. If your kids are uncomfortable around another child or adult, there's usually a reason that needs to be investigated.
Be sure that you are praying for your kids to be courageous. When you know they are facing a situation that scares them, pray for them, and let them know you are praying for them. Nothing in this world is more powerful than prayer.
If we work with our kids to help them push forward despite their fear, we will help God build up children who are not afraid of what He asks. Today, look for ways to help your children be "strong and courageous."