One of my worst fears as a child was being asked by my parents to go downstairs at night and make sure all the doors were locked and the lights were turned off before bedtime. At 8 years old, I’m fairly certain I could have won speed competitions for ascending a staircase as I ran away from what I thought was chasing me in the dark.
Some fears are childish and unfounded, but other fears are very legitimate possibilities. Kids and adults alike face fears like rejection, failure, and loss. How do you help your children (as well as your wife and yourself) face these types of fears?
The Nature of Fear
No one gets a pit in their stomach when they watch an action movie or read a thrilling novel for the second time. Why? Because they know the entire story.
Fear takes hold because we don’t know the future. Job loss? Health struggles? Challenging children? Heartbreak? Suffering? The boundless uncertainties can be paralyzing.
Find the Root
Every time my boys help me pull weeds from our garden I try to remind them to get the root.
When we consider fears, we often focus on surface issues and miss underlying problems. Your child’s fear of not passing a test, your wife’s fear about safety or health, or your fear about your job or the results of the upcoming election are actually just symptoms of deeper root fears. We must be careful not to focus entirely on removing those outward fears without dealing with the root, or those fears will return and multiply.
Here are a few common roots which need special attention along with biblical truths to help you guide your children.
1. The Fear of Rejection
We all love to be loved. As a result, our identity as a child is naturally connected to those people closest to us, especially family and friends. When your children face any sort of rejection from these people, it can be incredibly painful. The fear of rejection is ultimately rooted in a misplaced trust in people’s love and acceptance.
To combat this fear, help your child recognize their intrinsic value in God’s sight (Matt. 10:31). Show them how Jesus suffered ultimate rejection by his own father so that we could find ultimate acceptance as his children (Matt. 27:46; Eph. 1:5). My wife and I try to remind our children regularly that God loves them even more than mommy and daddy. Our children need to find safety and acceptance in the faithful one who will never fail them or reject them.
2. The Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is usually linked to unreached expectations. Parents, family, teachers, or coaches can pressure your child to reach certain goals in academics, sports, or music and your child may even add to those goals with unreasonable personal expectations. Focusing exclusively on these high expectations can generate great fear and anxiety. Ultimately, this fear finds its root in the fear of man and a pride that prioritizes man’s praise or approval over God’s. As you talk with your children, help them identify whose expectations they are trying to meet. While it is good for them to do their best, remind them that the “fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29:25). They are ultimately accountable to God for their actions and attitudes. Help your child see that if they’ve played a game or worked hard and have aimed to please the Lord, they should have no fear of failure even if they don’t succeed or win by man’s standards.
3. The Fear of Loss
Children may fear losing a friendship, a loved one, a special possession, a pet, or their reputation. The fear of loss is rooted in a mindset that either places too much value on earthly things or believes that God will take away someone that we love. We all fear losing what we value the most or whatever we have put our confidence in. If we treasure Christ above all else, we will have no fear of loss.
When your kids are afraid to lose something valuable to them, remind them that God is always good and always wise. If they are God’s child, nothing can separate them from His love (Rom. 8:38–39).
4. The Fear of Pain
Children often fear pain before going to the dentist or doctor, or they may be hesitant to try something new because they don’t want to get hurt (or get hurt again). When your child expresses fear about pain, use the opportunity to talk about how pain is the result of sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16–19). Share with them the good news of the cross, the empty grave, and the new creation where pain and suffering will be gone forever (Rev. 21:4).
When your child expresses fear of climbing a tree or stepping into a batter’s box because they don’t want to experience pain, it’s not always helpful merely to force them to overcome this fear. Acknowledging their fear and praying together for God’s strength to do hard things can help them take the focus off of their ability and give them confidence in God’s sovereignty and care. When God does allow pain in your child’s life, encourage them that He will always give the grace and strength that they need (2 Cor. 12:7–9).
5. The Fear of Death
At some point your children will begin to understand what death is and may fear what will happen to them after they die. In Hebrews 2 the writer describes the fear of death as slavery for all human beings (Heb. 2:14–15). For those who have received the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, however, death is gain (Phil. 1:21) and the sting of death is gone (1 Cor. 15:54–55) because to be absent from our earthly body means to be present with the Lord in glory (2 Cor. 5:8).
When your children express fear of death (or even before they express it), take the opportunity to remind them of Christ’s death on the cross that defeated death. The Bible is full of stories of people who were courageous in the face of death such as David, Daniel, Stephen, and Paul. Instead of ignoring the topic of death, help your children understand the brevity of life and give them courage to be confident in Christ’s power over death.
Don’t Contribute to Your Child’s Fears
Your children’s struggle with sinful fear comes from an unbelieving heart, but you may be saying or doing something that contributes to these fears. Do you mention the word “divorce” during a heated conversation with your wife? Do you express frustration and disappointment when your child doesn’t perform well? Do you ignore their fears and expect them simply to get over them? Make sure your words and actions are not actually catalysts for the fears your children face.
Remember that your children listen to your conversations with other adults about politics and the economy. They watch how you value your possessions and how you talk about health struggles. It is fine to admit to your children when you experience fear about something, but make sure you also share with them how God’s Word is strengthening your faith.
You Are Not the Answer
We can’t always be there with our children when they are fearful. We can’t save them from every loss, rejection, or pain, but we can help them run to Christ when they feel afraid. Jesus is their Savior and the only one who can help them conquer fear. We can help our families meditate on truth by memorizing Scripture and singing songs that help them remember God’s character. As Martin Luther wrote in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,”
And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, *We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us: The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.