Originally Published on www.DesiringGod.org
I clung to my mother, nearly breaking skin as I sunk my fingers into her arm. Trembling, heart pounding, terrified, I buried my face into her lap. She sat helplessly, stroking my hair and talking softly to me until I grew calm.
The source of my terror? Absolutely nothing.
My anxiety attacks began when I was about nine. Years later, when my daughter was about the same age, I was devastated to discover that she began experiencing the same symptoms. The manifestation was almost identical and, as I came to learn, hereditary.
For the first time in my life, I was grateful for that personal monster of mine, because I could relate completely to what my daughter was experiencing. Nevertheless, it was heartbreaking to watch relentless anxiety rob her of joy.
Five Ways to Fight Fear
When I became a believer in my thirties, getting to know Christ led me to freedom from anxiety. But my transformation did not stop my daughter’s scourge of irrational and unfounded fear, and I was faced with the daunting task of helping her come out on the other side.
The National Institutes of Health reports that up to 25% of American children are diagnosed with some type of clinical anxiety. But whether clinical or not, all children experience fear. When our daughter began having anxiety attacks, we were at a loss for how to help her. Through trial, error, and plenty of prayer, we found five things that worked to release her from the bondage of fear, enabling her to grow into a competent, joy-filled, and virtually anxiety-free adult.
Nothing says love like a good listening ear. Proverbs 18:15 says, “The ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Really listen to your child. Nod your head, repeat back to them what they said, make eye contact, and sit quietly. This is not the time to offer advice. Just let them talk, and make sure they know that you have heard them.
2. Acknowledge the fear.
Honesty, indeed, is the best policy. There is no need to deny or sugarcoat the intensity of the irrational fear of an anxiety attack. But while you are acknowledging the fear, don’t give it credence. Help them to see that God is bigger. Teach your child to push through it, facing the fear head on. Don’t resist it. Rather, ride it out. It will pass.
You might have them recite Philippians 4:13 with you: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Like all emotions, fear and anxiety are more than just mental experiences; they often manifest physically, as well. Simply encouraging your child to breathe deeply and slowly in through their nose and exhale through the mouth may help tremendously. Remind your child that they can do this any time they feel afraid, and to meditate on the truth of what they are saying.
3. Keep perspective, and keep moving.
Whenever my daughter would become stricken with anxiety, I would say to her, “Tell yourself the truth.” In other words, it is important in anxiety attacks to keep perspective. Look around — look outside yourself — and see what is really happening. Is there really anything in that moment to be afraid of? Together, list everything in that moment that you know as truth.
Remind your child that their enemy is “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and that their heavenly Father is the only one whose voice is worth listening to. Teach your child that their strength comes from Christ, while fear is from the enemy (2 Timothy 1:7). Tell them about Peter and the waves, encouraging them to focus on Christ, so they can walk on the water of joy and freedom from fear (Matthew 14:28–33).
4. Pray with your child, rehearsing God’s word.
When your child starts to feel anxious, stop everything and pray with them. This is a golden opportunity to help them realize the importance of prayer. It’s a good reminder for us as parents, too. Teach your child to go to God with their fears. Instill in them Scriptures that they can hearken back to when they are anxious.Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
Work together to commit these Scriptures to memory. My daughter told me that memorizing key verses, particularly Philippians 4:6, was pivotal in helping her calm down and keep moving whenever anxiety threatened to paralyze her.
5. Keep Christ at the center.
Modern culture places children square at the center of the universe — both their own and everyone else’s. But this is not biblical. Our children must be taught that Christ is the center, that everything we do must glorify him, and that in doing so, we will be given great joy and peace. When we model for our children confidence in Christ (as opposed to modeling a spirit of fear and self-focus), we are training them up in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).
Being allowed to exit life (staying home from school, isolating from friends, ceasing all activity) in response to anxiety is, I feel, an error too many parents make. It has been my daughter’s and my experience that when we stay in the game, focusing on Christ and telling ourselves the truth, we come out the other side stronger, more resilient, and closer to our only Source of peace.
Every attempt must be made to show your children that God is more real than their fears. He loves them and will delight in quieting and quelling their fears with the unsurpassable love of Christ. Freedom from fear through focus on Christ is a gateway to joy, the only joy permanent and powerful enough to overcome stubborn strongholds like fear.