I stood with my five-year-old daughter in front of the elevator as she gripped my hand and looked at me with a quivering lip and fear in her eyes. “Don’t make me go, Mommy! Let’s take the escalator.” This was not the first time my daughter had said this. Every time we faced an elevator, it was the same dramatic scene. It began when we were on an elevator a few months before, and the old elevator took a couple extra seconds to open. She panicked, thinking that it would not open and she would be stuck, such a terrifying and powerless feeling for a little girl. Now, each time we went to a store or doctor she would ask if we “had to take the elevator.” On one hand, my mama’s heart wanted to cuddle her close and say, “You will never have to ride a mean old elevator again!” Thankfully, the other part of me, the clinical therapist part of me, knew better. I knew that if I continued to allow my daughter to run from her fears she would not face them; and worse, she would become more and more afraid. Anxiety and fear are like that—you give them an inch and those monsters take a mile. I knew what I had to do. I validated her fears and concerns, held her close, then slowly stepped with her into the dreaded elevator. She clung to me and shook with fear. While inside the elevator, I encouraged her to take a deep breath in and blow it out like she was blowing a balloon. She did as I asked and then looked up at me with a smile and said, “that helped!” Phew, I felt some relief. A minute later the doors opened and we stepped out of the elevator. “See, you did it!” I encouraged, “I knew you could.” Deep down, a sense of accomplishment sprouted inside my daughter. She had taken a step toward conquering her fears.
We all have fears—kids and adults alike. I was listening to a great podcast on CM Now by Wayne Stocks and got some great encouragement on how to help kids handle their anxieties, fears, and stresses. Working with kids, we know that this is a part of ministry. It could be “small” worries like getting on an elevator or “big” stresses like parents divorcing. Regardless of what it is, there are some ways to approach it that are helpful and others that are not. For example, telling a kid “oh, don’t worry, it will be fine,” is completely unhelpful and invalidating, not to mention, you don’t know if it will be fine and could lose the child’s trust. On the other hand, saying something like Stocks suggested, “You are safe, and I am here for you” can calm fears in an instant. Presenting a Scripture on anxiety also points the child in a godly direction; however, the Scripture will be better received if the child first feels heard and understood. Even in sad moments, Jesus reportedly wept; He was human and allowed to feel.
Research has proven that fears will grow if not confronted. Helping a child identify fears and then problem-solving to overcome them is an empowering experience. Perhaps a child may need to work up to conquering a fear, taking small steps to reach the total goal. For example, there may be a child who has great anxiety about joining in Sunday School games for fear of making a mistake or appearing foolish. Perhaps you allow the child to observe the first time. Then the child helps choose a game with which he/she is comfortable. Then the child joins the game for a few minutes. Finally, the child confidently participates in the whole game.
So, what about you? Do you have a child who could use an extra boost of support in facing some fears? Is there some timidity? Second Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” He wants us and the children we reach to live in boldness.