Leading Our Kids (and Ourselves) Through Anxiety

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:6-9 NIV

Although anxiety is thought of as a negative emotion that we want to completely remove from our lives, it is a normal emotion to experience in our fallen world. Anxiety does an important job for us and our kiddos; it helps us anticipate and prepare for future needs. To lead our kids through times of fear and anxiety, we can use the steps below to live out Philippians 4:6-9.

“Do not be anxious about anything” sounds like an impossible command, but it is followed by clear instructions on how to handle anxious thoughts and feelings. Following God’s instructions to ask for what we want and need through prayer, with thanksgiving, and choose what we think about afterward really does help anxiety for both us and our kiddos. Let’s break it down into steps that even my 3-year-old can follow!

We help our children:

1. Recognize that they are feeling anxious or fearful
2. Use words to express their fear to us and to God
3. Ask us and God for what they anticipate they will need and thank God for how he has helped them in the past
4. Choose to think about positive things if/when the fear and anxiety tries to come back

These steps apply to us as adults too! Modeling this process for our children is part of how they learn.

Step 1: Help children recognize that they are feeling anxious or fearful

To teach our children to recognize their feelings we name our child’s feelings until they do so for themselves. Then we help them explore what they are anxious about. You can clue into your child’s anxiety by studying what they do when they are feeling afraid or anxious. Do they bite their nails? Do they complain of an upset stomach? Do they wake frequently in the night when that is not normal for them? Do they have angry outbursts with siblings? Do they become clingy or whiny? How does your child express their fear and anxiety physically?

For example, you could say to your child, “I’ve noticed that you are biting your nails and you often do that when you feel afraid. What are you feeling nervous about?”

Or, “When we feel scared of something that might happen in the future it’s called anxiety. What are you worried might happen at school today?

Also, consider your emotional experience. How do you notice your fear and anxiety in your body, attitudes, and interactions with others?

Step 2: Help children use words to express their fear to us and to God

When our kiddos start naming their fear and anxiety for themselves we help them say why they are feeling nervous, both to us and to God.  For example: “Thanks for telling me how you’re feeling. I want to help you, and God does too. How about you take a second to tell God that you feel anxious about starting a new school?”

Watch out for my next post on the third and fourth steps.