A few weeks ago, I woke up early to get cinnamon rolls ready for breakfast. My kids love them and it was going to be a nice surprise. Surprise they got!
Within a few minutes, the rolls expanded more than usual and some of the filling dropped on the bottom of the oven—eventually setting off the fire alarm! Everyone was suddenly awake, screaming, and running!
Not the morning surprise I was planning!
A Pattern of Fear
While fear is natural in this fallen world, some struggle with it more than others. One of my kids is prone to deep fear on a regular basis and let’s just say the “Cinnamon Roll disaster of 2023” has produced a few weeks of difficult bedtimes as she wrestles with fear. These patterns of fear require a comprehensive response.
Not One Solution
In an effort to “fix” problems, dads often look for “the cause.” Life, however, is rarely that simple.
Forced simple solutions often harm as much as they help. We are a composite of parts: physical, mental, social, spiritual, etc. When deep patterns arise, we should expect to address them comprehensively.
In other words, perhaps our energies are better spent working everywhere that could help rather than trying to identify “the one cause” behind the trouble.
My Part: Addressing the Spiritual
In our child’s case, we’ve approached her fear physically, mentally, socially, and more. In each of these areas, I rely on experts for techniques and aids from their fields. I would encourage you to consider each of these aspects in your own parenting.
As a pastor, however, I would do well to stick to my area of expertise in this post: the spiritual response. I do, however, want to emphasize that many problems require a full response that addresses each area of the human experience. Help in all of these areas comes as a grace from God.
Helps for Children Dealing with Fear
Let me offer four starting points when helping your child respond to fear spiritually.
1. Listen and care like God.
In 1 Kings 19, God finds Elijah hiding in the wilderness despairing of life and on the run from Jezebel. He cries out, “O LORD, take away my life…” (1 Kings 19:4).
Remarkably, God listens to him and never speaks. He then meets his immediate needs by providing food, drink, and rest.
With our child, I’ve noticed her settledness before God is largely dependent on my ability to mimic God’s care for Elijah. If I am quick to dismiss her fears (e.g., about the fire alarm going off again), her fears grow. When she expresses fears, it’s important to hold her and ask her questions, to listen to her and make her feel safe.
2. Learn to ask foundational questions.
When my daughter expresses fear, my default response is to make statements. “That’s not true. That won’t happen. That’s impossible.”
I’ve found questions, however, are much more powerful because they force her to work through fear personally. And ultimately that’s where she needs to grow.
Nearly ever answer comes as a result of the questions who, what, why, where, when, and how. When asking questions of my child, I’ve found all of these questions are helpful, but in the right order. I save why and how questions for the end, since they are more analytical and require a base of facts to ask.
Throughout these questions, I introduce God into her fears. Here is a sample of questions I have asked my daughter:
- What are you afraid of? What started that fear? How long have you been afraid of __?”
- When do you feel those fears? What does your body and mind do when you’re afraid?
- Where are you when you are afraid? Who is around? Does it happen when others are around?
- What goes through your mind when you are afraid? What are you thinking about? How do you try to stop your fears?
- What do you think God thinks when you’re afraid?
- How do you know God is in control? What do you tell yourself about God when you are afraid?
- What reasons do you have for not fearing? Why should you not be afraid?
These types of questions can help your child identify the spiritual realities that should impact the way (s)he faces fear.
3. Equip your child with the Bible.
As dads, part of our job is to mature our children to independence from us. As Christian dads, we want our children’s dependence on us to be transferred to God.
One of the best ways to help your child depend on God is to teach them key passages relating to their troubles. They’ll need these passages at a moment’s notice, so help your child memorize the Bible and then use these passages as helps during times of fear. Here are some verses we’ve found helpful:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6–7) ”Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.“ (Philippians 4:4–6) “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
4. Teach your child a big God!
Whatever the trouble, God is the answer. Often God’s care is mediated through people, words, medicine and more, but all of these graces trace back to the Fountainhead.
A good friend pointed me to Psalm 11, and in it I’ve found a lot of help for my child. Verses 1–3 likely point to the words of David’s advisers as they counsel him to discouragement: “what can the righteous do?!”
The answer comes in the form of reminders about God’s control and power: “The LORD is in his holy temple” (4). Fear is ultimately conquered by fear of the Lord.1
God’s glory can be explained to children by a few analogies:
- Size: God is larger than anything, like a mountain peak stands above surrounding hills.
- Grandeur: God is more splendid and impressive than anything, like a majestic overlook is better than a parking lot.
- Beauty: God is more desirable than anything, like a sunset is better than a lightbulb.
Deep-seated fear is only conquered in stages as God’s glory is routinely impressed upon our hearts, souls, and minds. Make a practice of pointing each grace back to God’s glory. During regular life, point to God’s presence, helps, and person.
The “fear of the Lord” is a hard concept to capture in a single word like “reference” or “respect.” It either sounds too weak (e.g., “just respect God”) or too intense (e.g., “be afraid of God”). A good working definition is “taking everything God is and says seriously.” ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
Chris serves as a part-time associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Liberty, Utah. He and his wife, Megan, have three young children—Ella, Nora, and Jude.View all posts by Chris