What should you do when your children struggle with anxiety?
A few nights ago a situation arose in our home that reminded me how we parents have to have our eyes wide open when it comes to helping our children with anxiety and other heart-level issues. Here’s what happened:
Why would she come to that conclusion? Look at the indicators:
- The child was concerned about the cat waking them.
- They asked Mindi to take the cat out so that didn’t happen.
- Mindi said that she would.
- The child AGAIN came to ask the same thing, even though Mindi had already given them the answer they wanted to hear.
- The child was willing to DISOBEY a previous instruction (get in bed) in order to double-check that the concern was handled adequately.
Mindi followed up with a loving but firm confrontation of the anxiety. She:
- spoke about the LORD’s will for us concerning anxiety (Matthew 6; Philippians 4:6)
- pointed out the manipulative/controlling behavior that was flowing from the anxiety.
- showed the child how they were not trusting Mommy to keep her word.
- encouraged the child to trust Jesus with the situation regarding the cat.
- led the child to ask Jesus for help… to depend on the power of the Spirit to overcome the anxiety.
- and to consciously choose to submit the anxiety to Him, again and again, for as long as it takes.
It was a beautiful conversation.
A time of instruction in spiritual things.
A wonderful opportunity to help that child with their tendency toward anxiety (which we’ve noticed before).
HERE’S MY QUESTION FOR YOU: Would you have noticed the anxiety that was motivating those actions, or would you have simply been irritated that the child was back in the room asking the same question you just answered?
It’s SO EASY to do the later… and sadly, my response has too often BEEN the latter.
In those cases I slowly discover that I have not tuned my heart to be aware of what is going on in the hearts of my children.
Helping children with anxiety comes through regular communication and careful observation
Set the stage with REGULAR COMMUNICATION – As difficult as the conversation could have been (defensiveness, resistance, justification, etc.), Mindi’s talk with our child that night went very well.
That’s because it was coming after many, many previous conversations about heart-level issues. From the time they have been small, we have worked to keep the lines of communication open, especially when it comes to heart-issues like motives, besetting sins, insecurities, etc.
As you are confident and comfortable talking about things like selfishness, pride, greed, and anxiety, in you as well as in your children – they will very naturally follow your lead.
If you’ve not done a good job with that kind of communication thus far, you can always start.
Begin by confessing to your kids how you’ve messed up, and that you’d like to start over. You’ll be amazed how gracious they can be.
Then, begin to gently and lovingly wade in to those types of topics as they arise.
It will take all of you a while to get used to the new, more intentional tone of your conversations, but don’t let that deter you.
Stick to it, lovingly reminding everyone that you’re trying to make right some of your past wrongs, and press ahead. You will see the openness increase over time.
Express your care for your child through CAREFUL OBSERVATION – Turn up the sensitivity on your relational radar. Begin to notice tones of voice, repeated patterns of behavior, fears and questions that are expressed.
Lovingly and with great concern, approach the issues you see. Ask a lot of questions at the beginning. Investigate to see if what you think you are noticing is really what you are noticing.
As you discover anxieties that exist in your children’s hearts, go to the scriptures together to remind yourselves of the need for faith in God and the putting away of fear (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 13:6).
The final analysis regarding children with anxiety
In the end, when children struggle with anxiety, they are struggling in their willingness and capacity to trust God. It’s the same for you when you are anxious.
It will do no good to “logic” the problem.
You can’t convince someone into a state of non-anxiety.
Even if you are their mom or dad.
The only way to deal with anxiety is to take it to the Father, in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit, and leave it there.
You need to lead your children to that place of freedom…
and you need to learn how to go there yourself.