The powerful web of fear can envelop us and zap our natural spontaneity and joy at any age. Many young kids struggle with vivid, fearful pictures springing from their imaginations. As they grow older, their fears grab at them in different ways. They become fearful of the world through stories they hear, TV shows they watch, real situations they encounter. The following ideas can help children manage their struggle with fear:
Encourage your child's relationship with God. When she turns trustingly to God, a child can share worries she might not be able to discuss with her parents or friends. There is a certain wonderful safety in knowing "God won't tell." God is flexible and can become anything a child might need at any given time. This personalized Divine Spark meets kids exactly where they are each moment. An anxious 9-year-old said, "God is like a blaze of power in my heart. When I need that power, I just feel it." For a 17-year-old, "God is a loving presence when I get scared."
Find a talisman that's comforting to your child, such as a picture of Mary, Jesus, Buddha, angels, a unicorn, a sunset, and let her carry it in a pocket during the day or put it under her pillow at night. Relics, rocks, medals, and home altars are also concrete objects that can be used to gain inner serenity and peace.
When a child touches a religious symbol or a crystal worn around his neck, it can be a reminder that God is with him. Or he can carry a special stone in his pocket and rub his doubts or fears into it.
When my kids experience anxiety before some major event, such as the first day of school, performing in a play, or a big test, I remind them to breathe. Most of us hold our breath when we are locked in fear, and just shifting our attention to breathing helps dissipate anxiety.
If your child is scared to go to sleep, find specific images to ease him into dreamland. One 5-year-old girl imagined angels flying around the room: "My angel is a pretty butterfly. She helps me fall asleep when I have a hard time. She has beautiful colors around her--like stained glass."
Designate a "worry tree" on which your child can hang worries that he's written on a card. Tell him that the tree is strong with deep roots and can absorb all the worries or fears a child needs to give. Use an actual tree that grows outside your home or an indoor plant. Or your child can picture the tree, place his worries there, and drift off to sleep unencumbered.
Help your children confront scary incidents by equipping them with knowledge. When a fear is aroused by a specific event, such as a big lightning storm or a loud, barking dog, information and facts can help free them from fear.
Very young kids use make-believe to "become" what they fear in order to manage it. They may pretend to be growling dogs, one-eyed monsters, gruff doctors, or roaring lions, and meet their fears vicariously while gaining a sense of control over their world. Give your children enough free playtime to organize their fears and conquer them.
Brainstorm with your child about ways to manage his fears. Often just by sitting down and taking the time to imagine options, your child will come up with his own unique and powerful solutions, as did this 6-year-old: "When scary pictures come in my head--like a witch, a monster, or our house burning down, I pretend it's from a photo album, and I turn the pages until I get to a picture I like."
Be conscious of the media messages children take in. Television news and scary movies, with their violent images, aren't appropriate for children under 10. Even older kids suffer when barraged with anxiety-producing content.
When our children experience fear, worry, and anxiety, let's listen to them, believe them, have a discussion, and then gently guide them to spiritual solutions.