[Editor’s Note: For a resource that helps your child learn to turn to and trust God when they're afraid, check out the newly-released Unshaken Courage Cards for Kids. Designed for kids of all ages, these are a means to encourage the fearful hearts of children in your life with the unshakable truth of God's Word. Each card features a Scripture related to anxiety, fear, or worry and a solid, simple truth drawn out from the Word.]
I was a bit caught off guard when my three-year-old buried her head into my lap one afternoon. A helicopter flew—very low—right over us, and she was terrified. Thinking the noise had startled her, I almost said, “Don’t be scared, honey. It’s just a helicopter.” I’m glad I hesitated.
Instead, I asked, “Are you scared?” She nodded. “What are you afraid of?”
She quietly replied, “I’m afraid bad guys are coming to get us.” Well, I wasn’t expecting that. And I didn’t quite know how to respond.
When We’re Speechless in the Midst of A Child’s Fear
We often feel inadequate to speak to a fearful child. They may be scared of something we know isn’t real, like the monster under the bed or the bad guys about to repel onto our roof. Sometimes their honest confessions make us chuckle, or sometimes we shrug it off like it’s no big deal. How should we engage with their irrational fears?
And what about the fears that are real? The child who got lost in the grocery store one time may feel terrified to let his mom out of sight. Fear of abandonment could keep the girl who was once shuffled from home to home in the foster care system from opening up to her new adoptive family. At some point, most children will fear sickness, accidents, and death. What words will help them?
We may be speechless when confronted with a child’s fear, but God is not silent about fear. In fact, some version of the phrase “do not fear” is stated over three hundred times in the Bible. Rather than ignoring or dismissing fear, God engages with us in the midst of it. We can learn to do the same.
If we want to help fearful children with our words, we must not offer false hope or partial truths about their circumstances but rather point them to God. He alone can help them fight their fears, and he will ultimately conquer each one.
Here are four principles to guide conversations with a fearful child.
1. Ask Questions to Help Identify their Fears
Instead of assuming we know the cause of fear, as I did with my daughter, we can seek to uncover it. Jesus modeled this with his disciples when they were caught in a storm (Mark 4:40). Of course, Jesus already knew why they felt afraid, but we can learn from him and follow his example. A child may not be emotionally mature enough to think reasonably about their fear or to discern the cause of it. But we can help them identify it by asking pointed questions like these:
- Can you tell me what’s making you scared?
- Did something happen to make you afraid?
- Were you surprised or upset by anything you read or watched today?
- Has someone said something that made you uncomfortable?
- Why does that scare you?
As we seek to understand their inner struggles, we’ll find ourselves better equipped to speak into their fear.
2. Offer Genuine Comfort in the Midst of Fear
I admit—it was hard to be serious with my daughter about her fear of bad guys. But the last thing she needed was a mom who thought she was silly. Regardless of how irrational a child’s fear may be, their emotions are legitimate. We’re aiming to shepherd their hearts, not reason away their imagination or even remove their fear.
A child’s fear makes them feel vulnerable and helpless. We can provide safety and comfort through our facial expressions, body language, words, and tone of voice. Words like, “I’m so sorry you feel afraid,” or, “That does sound scary,” help children feel loved and accepted. We can also empathize with them by letting them know we understand what it’s like to be afraid.
3. Speak the Truth into their Fear
I wish a few simple words could eradicate fear, but it’s not that simple. Sometimes, in our desire to say the perfect thing, we utter unhelpful words. Phrases like, “Mommy will always come home for you,” or, “God will never let that happen,” are not actually true. Only God knows the future (Prov. 27:1). We’re shaping a child’s theology every time we speak, so we must ground our words in truth.
Speak true words about their circumstances. Paul’s instruction to think about “whatever is true” (Phil. 4:8) helps us guide children through both their what-ifs and their current realities. We can remind them of the plans we’ve made, our desire for the future, and the realities surrounding us. This enables us to acknowledge any legitimately fearful situations they’re facing.
- God is in control of everything (Col. 1:17)
- God is with us in frightening situations (Isa. 43:1–5)
- God is a fortress and strength (Ps. 46:1)
- God loves us and will accomplish his purposes in our lives (Rom. 8:28–29)
- God will never forsake us (Heb. 13:5)
4. Point them to the Power of the Gospel
Children we love will experience fear. We can speak encouraging words and teach them to trust God. But we can’t conquer their fears. Only God has the power to remove fear. Thankfully, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, one day every fear will be erased (Rev 21:4). We won’t worry, imagine the worst, or be afraid of anyone or anything. Until then, we can remind our children that God is for us (Rom. 8:31–32). Nothing evil, scary, or terrifying can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38–39).
God is bigger than our fears.
Meet the Author
Lauren Washer is passionate about helping women to know and love God more through a deeper understanding of the Bible. She teaches the Bible and serves on the women’s ministry team at her local church. She and her husband, Bradley, live with their six children in Norfolk, VA. You can connect with her through her monthly newsletter, Hidden Treasure, or on Instagram.