“The life of giving is not an empty life…it is the first step to encouragement, to clearing your mind, to being fulfilled. Scripture is very clear on this—if you seek to be full, give…When you empty yourself for others, God fills you up. But not so you can suddenly retire with your little packet of joy. God gives to us so that we may give. We give, He gives us more, with which to give more…Christ’s life given up for others is the centerpiece of our faith. Our lives given up for others is the centerpiece of our faithfulness. The glory is that, in both cases, death is not the end. Christ has died for us for all time. But the trail he blazed does not end in the grave. He tells us to follow, to imitate him.” ~Rachel Jankovic, Fit to Burst, pp. 13-18
I have a 4-year-old daughter who is very emotional and very sensitive (your story about Caly was so encouraging because I see so many similarities) but these are dramatically intensified by the fact that she is tremendously fearful. Many of the outbursts we deal with stem from situations in which she is so afraid of something that she is just unable to function along with dramatic outbursts. This could be something as simple as hearing a rumble of thunder or even seeing a bug. I wondered if you could speak more specifically to a good approach to dealing with a very fearful child.
Yep, I hear ya. This past week we’ve had fears about ants and ticks and Baby Einstein puppets. For my emotional Caly-girl, fear was a massive issue when she was your daughter’s age, and still is. But thankfully, as God has helped her to grow in self-control, she can now talk calmly about her fears and receive our help.
To answer your question, we had a little girltalk huddle and came up with a few starter-suggestions for helping children deal with fear.
1. First Lessons in Fighting Fear – Our children’s fears present a precious opportunity to teach them how to turn to God in trouble. It doesn’t need to be complicated or elaborate. We can simply pray a little prayer with them when they are scared or teach them a one-line verse, such as Ps. 56:3: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” When we comfort and reassure them of our protective presence, it will give them a taste of the comfort of God. Little songs, sung by mom, also go along way to soothing big fears.
2. Self-Control (again) – I know we keep talking about self-control, but especially for the emotional child, this is one of the best ways to help them deal with fear. When Caly was a toddler, she would scream and go into hysterics over a bug. Now she can come and calmly tell us she is afraid of the bug, and receive our assurances that there is nothing to fear. Although we should always comfort a young child when they are afraid, we also want to gently but firmly help them get a grip on their emotions, and resist the temptation to submit to fear.
3. Laugh in the Face of Fear – One of the best ways to help children overcome fear is to teach them not to take their fears too seriously. The brave laugh at fear! So, for example, (and you have to get your timing right) if your child freaks out about a noise in the basement, you might smile and tell them not to worry—it is only the mouse family brushing their teeth before bed! Cheesy, but that’s the idea. Being nonchalant, cheerful, and even funny about fear has gone a long way toward abating Caly’s fears.
4. Brave Mamas Make for Brave Children – How we react to our children’s fears teaches them how they should react. If we take our cues from our children’s emotions and go into panic mode or freak out right along with them, we only reinforce the habit of fear. But if we model tranquil and cheerful emotions, appropriate to the situation, we are showing them what it looks like to be reasonable, and even brave. The stronger our own trust in God, the better we model it for our children. 5. Turn off the Tube – Sheltering can have a bad reputation, but as parents we must be especially discerning about the temptations to fear that can arise from exposure to television, media, even conversations between adults or other children that are scary. Often, we can underestimate the effect of media on a small child’s psyche; even if they aren’t scared of a particular character or scene in a show, the seriousness of the subject matter can have an outsized effect on a small child’s emotions and generate fresh fears.
6. Avoid Lobster Tanks – When I was little, I had nightmares about lobsters, so my mom made a point of avoiding the seafood section of the grocery store. What temptations to fear can you minimize for your child? Maybe you need to buy a night-light or avoid the street with the scary Halloween decorations. Strategic decisions to avoid unnecessary temptations to fear can help make it easier to deal with the many unavoidable situations. And some fears are better left un-faced. For example, I was also afraid of sleeping at other people’s houses when I was a child (you see where Caly got her propensity to fear!), but my Mom wasn’t big on sleepovers anyway, so she never insisted I run into this fear.
7. Hold Their Hand – Once our children have learned to respond with a measure of self-control to fearful situations, we can, carefully and wisely, begin to help them face and overcome specific fears. It is helpful to talk ahead of time about why this is important, explain clearly what small step we want them to take, and pray with them that God would help them to be brave. Then hold their hand until they can do it on their own. By being proactive to help our children overcome one fear, we will teach them how to face many more.
These are just a few ideas. Start small and keep the big picture in view. Our goal isn’t just to raise composed children—we want to give them training wheels to learn how to trust in God. Bugs and thunder can be scary. But by the grace of God, our children can learn how to face their fears.
“You are more wicked than you ever dared believe but you are more loved than you ever dared hope. Don’t be too proud to accept what the gospel says about your unworthiness. Don’t be too despondent to accept what the gospel says about how loved you are.” ~Tim Keller
When my youngest was little, and he didn’t get his own way, he would go stand in the corner of the room and put his hands over his head to block his eyes. You know, as if he couldn’t see me, then I couldn’t see him? He did it quietly, and sometimes I didn’t realize he was gone until I looked over and saw him hugging the wall.
It was so tempting to let him pout a while. He wasn’t causing any trouble. In fact, he was quiet and still, and maybe I could get a project done while he was busy pouting. If I just ignored him, I knew he would snap out of it sooner or later and probably even forget what he was mad about.
But I also knew that his emotions—while maybe expressed more subtly than some of his sisters—were just as sinful and in need of loving correction. Pouting was just as unacceptable as a temper tantrum.
When a child throws himself on the floor in a public place, we have to do something, and do it fast. We can’t just walk away, no matter how much we want to. And so, that child often forces us to parent, whether we feel like it or not!
But the quiet child is easy to ignore. He may seem more “well-behaved.” He doesn’t embarrass or inconvenience us too often. He may not be happy when we say “no” but he is unhappy in such a way that makes him easy to ignore.
Quiet kids can easily fly under our parenting radar.
That is why, with the quiet or less expressive child, we must be all the more intentional to teach them how to handle their emotions.
Let’s be as faithful to correct pouting as we are to correct tantrums.
Let’s go after grumpiness with the same diligence as we address screaming.
Let’s correct bad attitudes, even if they are only a drooping head or an angry face.
You see, our children’s emotions reveal their hearts, and even if they express their emotions quietly or subtly, or not at all, we as parents must not let the sin in their heart go unattended.
Remember: our goal in parenting is not just to eliminate embarrassing outbursts. We are seeking to raise children who respond to our Savior with God-glorifying emotions, whether in quiet thankfulness or expressive praise.
I know, I know, “opportunity” isn’t the first word that springs to mind when you are leading a crying child out of a crowded room and everyone is staring at you. But our children’s emotional outbursts are like intelligence reports, marked urgent. They reveal the secrets of our children’s hearts and give us as parents an opportunity for strategic and effective parenting.
Outbursts are a chance to help our children learn to handle their emotions in a way that glorifies God. But not all “outburst opportunities” are alike, so we must apply some good, old-fashioned parental discernment in order to handle them wisely.
An Opportunity for Comfort – Tender love is what Ryle calls the “grand secret” of effective child training. When our child falls and gets a bloody knee or if another kid calls them a mean name and they burst into tears, we might be tempted to see their emotional outburst as inconvenient or embarrassing (if it is in public), but we should receive it as a chance to express our love and affection for our child, to enter into their sorrows. Isn’t that the kind of love our Savior shows to us?
An Opportunity for Self-Control – We should be quick to comfort, but also seize the opportunity to teach self-control. Even if the reason for our child’s tears is understandable, we must not allow them to lose all control over their emotions. For example, we might tell our child that it is OK to cry when they fall down and scrape their knee, but not to scream. And, if necessary we should gently help them bring their crying to a close at an appropriate time. This will teach them the difference between appropriate and excessive grief.
An Opportunity for Discernment – If a child becomes unusually weepy or more tempted to outbursts than usual, this may be an indicator to us as parents that they need rest, or a break from activity. As we’ve already said, a wise parent will minimize temptation wherever possible.
An Opportunity for Discipline –If a child’s outburst is angry or rebellious, then the intelligence we are receiving is of a serious nature and must be dealt with firmly and biblically. We do not serve our children by ignoring or overlooking angry outbursts or by getting angry in return. An angry outburst calls for a loving heart and firm discipline. And if the child is no longer a toddler and yet angry outbursts are still frequent in nature, we may need to consider whether or not we are exercising biblical authority in the home.
An Opportunity for Focused Training – Frequent outbursts can be abated by a season of focused training. Consider rearranging your schedule, eliminating unnecessary events, focusing your teaching and your discipline on this one area and often you will see good results in a couple of days or weeks.
So the next time we are that parent, exiting the crowded room with the emotional child, we should smile, and even laugh a little. We’ve just been handed a golden parenting opportunity.
2014 at 8:44 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
“It is scarcely surprising, then, that so many people imagine housekeeping to be boring, frustrating, repetitive, unintelligent drudgery. I cannot agree. (In fact, having kept house, practiced law, taught, and done many other sorts of work, low- and high-paid, I can assure you that it is actually lawyers who are most familiar with the experience of unintelligent drudgery.)”