7 Things you Can Do to Help Kids Negotiate Fear

Recently, my ordered, predictable, hope-filled world has become disordered. I feel like I’m being controlled.  Controlled by virus particles that can only be seen with the strongest microscopes. Controlled by a nebulous disease none of us had ever heard about two months ago. Controlled by 24/7 breaking news and alerts that keep me perpetually distracted from the work I hope to accomplish. And because I’ve had my predictable life taken away from me, I fear. I fear for my children, my spouse, the community, the nation, and the planet. I fear getting sick or losing my job also. That said, I understand that I must manage my fear in a healthy way because of my most important job, raising my children. As a father called by God to protected those in my care, I recognize that I must give them tools they can use to work through their own fear.

The Wrong Response to Fear

When we are afraid, anxious, or angry, we usually want to displace “all of the above” on someone we can hold accountable. I, for one, am ready to wag my finger, that is, blame someone for all the trouble our world is dealing with in Spring 2020. The problem is, I’m not sure where to point the finger. Should I point in the direction of the “so-called wet market in Wuhan,” where everything is said to have originated? Or maybe the government of China for not containing the virus or telling us about it sooner?

I could also point much closer to home, toward all the people here in charge of supply chains, medical response, getting the word out, and mobilizing the tools of government. What about all those who think that social distancing is a joke, or those who’ve amassed a stockpile of hand sanitizer in the garage while others have been unable to purchase the first bottle? Surely all of the above are culpable for some portion of all this mess? Surely, they caused my fear? I could also just point my finger skyward, all the way to the top. I wouldn’t be the first to ask, “Alright God, is this your work? And if, so why us? Why now? Did we finally cross some sort of line with you?”

I’m afraid because I feel like I’m – we’re – spinning out of control. Unfortunately, finger pointing doesn’t address the spin. The disorder. My anger. The same is true for you. Fear requires an active response to whatever it is that is causing the fear. If you’re afraid of the dark, do you yell at the lightbulb that expired? No, you get another lightbulb. If you are afraid of how a virus will impact health and work, do you yell at President Xi over in China? No, you safeguard your life to the best of your ability, and you help your loved ones – especially your children – respond in a healthy way to their own fear.

Seven Proactive Responses to Fear

Name It

One of the most important things you can for your kids is give them space and permission to name their fears. How do you create this safe space for naming? Permission giving. If you name your fears to your children first, letting them see your vulnerability, you are giving them permission to name their fears. Psychologists call this, “therapeutic use of self.” I call it being an emotionally present dad.

Help Your Kids Grieve

Sometimes fear is connected with losses of routine, great plans, normalcy, connections with friends, etc. Help your children name the losses that put their vision for the future in jeopardy, and let them know it’s okay to be upset over these losses or potential losses. Once again, it may helpful for you to articulate your grief first.

Mark the Sharing Time as Holy Ground

When people fear or grieve, they often connect with God through prayer or ritual. Make this happen for your children. Share a helpful passage from scripture (maybe a psalm) and pray together. Name the fears and grief in the prayer, and also share some words of thanks for the blessings you and the children can continue to name.

Make a Plan

Remember the manta, “When it gets tough, the tough get going?” A sublime, simple truth for trying times. Help your kids name and execute some plans in response to fear and grief. A hike through the woods? Tilling and planting for a garden? Finishing up an unfinished project in school or around the house? It is vital to be responsive in the face of things that challenge us.

Honor an Old Routine

The loss of some patterns and priorities doesn’t mean that all is lost. Continue an old family routine that has always been a source of comfort and peace. Perhaps it’s something as simple as family supper or a drive on a mountain road. Routines keep us grounded when the world is spinning. Honor an old one.

Stay Connected

If you have older children, their connection with friends becomes an important conduit for processing fear and grief. When storms arrive, strong dad’s help their kids stay connected with the important people in their lives. Give your kids space to spend outdoor time with their friends or indoor time through social media. Support networks are vital in the face of unsettled times.

Dream New Dreams

A big crisis can upend our big dreams. As we rise from the rubble, it’s important to assess the damage, reset, and dream new dreams. Help your children envision new things for their futures in the aftermath of setbacks. The greatest weapon in the face of fear is hope.

Final Thoughts

In these days of COVID-19 – as the world wobbles in the kind of disorder I loathe – I, for one, seek clarity not complexity. In my fear, I’m looking for someone to blame. Maybe you’re in the same place.  Well, let’s be honest with ourselves: there’s really nowhere to point.  All of this is too complex for the easy, one line, judgement.

As dad’s we need to model a healthy response to fear that’s honest, safe, and responsive. So, let’s do just that. Let’s help our kids work through their feelings, stay connected with God, family, and friends, and imagine days of joy beyond this season of fear.

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