Growing up can make even the most resilient child anxious. Whether it’s the proverbial monster under the bed or a college mid-term, your kids may find themselves feeling quite anxious from time to time.
If it’s constant and severe, you need to talk with your pediatrician to find the underlying causes. For most kids though, teaching them a few godly coping strategies will help them tame those knots in their stomachs.
There are a lot of things you can do to help your kids handle anxiety. What works well for one child may not work as well for another one. In general though, these tips will keep your children focused on God while also providing some peace in the current “storm” they are experiencing.
- Teach them God loves them and will be with them through everything. Remind them of the Apostles’ reaction when Jesus was sleeping through the storm in that little boat. (Mark 4:35-41) They thought Jesus wouldn’t take care of them because he was sleeping. Yet, what was Jesus’ reaction to being awakened? I’m paraphrasing, but it was basically “Why are you freaking out? Don’t you know I’ve got you?” Your children need to understand living in a fallen world means bad things happen – even to Christians. The vast majority of the things which worry them though, will never come to pass. And those that do? Some God may “fix” for them. Even if God doesn’t fix the problem immediately though, He will help them survive and even thrive through it. IF they let Him.
- Teach them to pray not only their requests, but also their emotions. Take a look at Psalms with your kids. David had some tough times and he wasn’t afraid to share his desires or his emotions with God. Your kids may not always be in a position to talk to you or any other person about an immediate stressor. They can always talk to God. Teach them to be respectful, but honest as they tell God about their fears and worries.
- Give them constant exposure to scriptures that calm them. Help your children find one or two verses that calm them. It may be a verse about focusing thoughts on things that are pure and good or one about handing your anxieties to God. Write them on index cards and tape them to the bathroom mirror or some other place where they will see the verses multiple times a day. Eventually they will memorize the verses and can recite them to themselves when they begin feeling anxious.
- Teach them how God created their bodies to handle stress. God created our bodies to get a shot of adrenaline when faced with danger. It is what enables tiny moms to lift cars off of their child or people to outrun wild animals who should easily catch them. Unfortunately, that adrenaline can make you feel sick to your stomach if it isn’t given a physical outlet. Since mid-terms and other similar worries don’t require much running or heavy lifting, your children need to learn how to burn it off in healthy ways. Help each of your children find a way they enjoy to burn off that extra energy caused by anxiety, Some may want to run while others jump rope or dance. When the worst of it is burned off, the remaining stress can often be alleviated by stretching exercises, non-religious yoga or tai chi, or just lying still on the floor with soothing music playing.
- Teach them godly ways to distract their thoughts. This one is tough and will take a lot of help from you. If you don’t work with your child on this skill though, their peers will eventually introduce them to alcohol abuse, drugs and other ungodly ways of “forgetting” their worries. Teach your children to pray and if necessary cry everything out. Help them do the other steps above. If their thoughts are still fixated on the worry, teach them to mentally or physically stay “STOP” and do something godly to occupy that mental energy. For small children having a box where they can write or draw the worry on a slip of paper, pray and give it to God and then put the “worry” in the box for God to handle may help. It is very visual and concrete. Older children and teens should find books, media, hobbies and other ways to occupy their hands and minds when stressed. Help them find something they enjoy doing. At times, the distraction will make the worry all but disappear.
You can’t keep things from happening that might make your children anxious. You can prepare them though by teaching them to handle anxiety the way God would want them to do. It’s worth your time and effort.