As a parent, both your children’s needs and your adult responsibilities clamor for your attention at the same time. It’s easy to make your own concerns the priority and assume your son or daughter’s issue is really not as big a deal as they make it sound.
We know that babies cry to get attention for every need. There’s a phase kids go through as they learn more advanced and accurate methods of communicating needs.
What do you do when your child is afraid?
It’s inconvenient. I’m relaxing for the first time all day, and my youngest son slowly descends the stairs to inform me that he’s scared. In that split second, I have a choice. How will I respond?
More than a few times, my immediate go-to move was an attempt to convince him there’s no reason to be scared. That never works, even though I desperately want it to. The truth is that he knows what he feels and my logic isn’t going to penetrate his emotional experience.
After listening to some of Brian Johnson’s childhood experiences with panic attacks and crippling fear in his audiobook, When God Becomes Real, I recognized that changes in my parenting style are needed. I could easily imagine Brian as a little boy, with real fears that needed to be taken seriously. I realized that I can’t say for certain whether my children have been that kind of scared before.
To me, a bad dream is over when it’s over. And yet, the fear that can linger could have lasting effects.
After careful consideration and self-talk, my process now looks like this:
- Listen to my child’s explanation
- Ask clarifying questions
- Offer comfort and/or solutions
It’s more important that my child feels safe than that I finish my tv show. It’s more important that he learns to trust me with his feelings rather than develop an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Listen to your child’s explanation
We diffuse some of the fear and tension just by listening. Listening is active, full of intention and attention, and it communicates to my son that he is important enough to give him my focus.
Ask clarifying questions
Even when I get step #1 down, it’s easy to jump straight into diagnosis and problem-solving before I really understand WHY or HOW something is scary. So asking clarifying questions allows me to get more details and prevents me from assuming I know what he’s talking about.
Offer comfort and/or solutions
Once I’ve got a clear understanding of what my son is dealing with, I can use my discernment to determine a best approach. Some approaches I consider:
- Speak lovingly and calmly
- Share memories of fun, laughter, and joy
- Pray for peace and comfort
- Sing peaceful songs of worship and praise
- Distract him from minor issues
- Demonstrate fear is unwarranted
- Declare authority over fear and imaginations
- Read a story from a book
- Let him stay up and sit with me
- Let him crawl into bed
There are other options to consider, but these are the main go-tos. Ultimately, it’s not about choosing a technique, but rather being a safe place for your child to run to when afraid. Even if I can’t completely resolve the issue, my child needs to know I’m always a safe place to turn.