How do you comfort a fearful child? What is fear? Join AMBrewster as he uses biblical Truth to help Christian moms and dads parent their fearful children to the glory of God.
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Listen to the following episodes on Apple Podcasts by clicking the titles.
“Emotions and Parenting, Part 1” (episode 32)
“Emotions and Parenting, Part 2” (episode 33)
“Should Christians Parents Participate in Emotion Coaching?” (episode 34)
“Why Do Your Children Feel What They Feel?” (episode 97)
“Parenting Angry Children” series (starts in episode 287)
“How to help our kids with their wrath” (episode 294)
“The Merest Christianity: why your children do what they do" series (starts in episode 95)
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I pray your Autumn season has been delightful. There are a ton of great activities for the family during this time of year, so I hope you’re taking advantage of them.
I also hope you’re taking advantage of Amazon. It’s a great service that streamlines shopping . . . especially for people like the Brewsters. We live in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Our closest Walmart is 45 minutes away in a different state. And they don’t always have everything we need.
For example, Micah and I wanted to buy an apple corer so we could dry some of the apples we picked from the orchard, but guess what Walmart didn’t have.
Yup. No corer.
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Okay, let’s talk about how to parent fearful children.
Of course, we must begin with a definition of fear. And we need to make sure our understanding of fear aligns with God’s Word lest our wrong definition guide us to respond to it incorrectly.
dictionary.com defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”
Overall, that’s a great definition, but we still need to pick it apart a bit.
First, is fear actually an emotion?
“Duh, Aaron, of course it is.”
And this is where we get into trouble. I believe that fear can be an emotion, but there are also times that we experience something we define as fear that technically is not an emotion.
Life is rarely so cut and dry that it’s either black or white. More often than not, our human experiences are complex variations of grey.
But, for the most part, yes, I think it’s appropriate to call fear and emotion.
However, we must make sure our understanding of emotions is accurate — as defined by God’s Word.
We have a number of super helpful episodes all about emotions. I’ll link them below.
But, for the sake of today’s discussion, we need to understand that emotions are a unique thing because humans are such complex beings.
Humans are made up of body and spirit. What’s interesting is that the spirit controls the body, but the body has very little influence over the spirit . . . except for when it comes to emotions.
Sure, you may feel hungry and therefore choose to eat, but that wasn’t your body controlling your spirit so much as it was your spirit making a wise choice based off of the received information.
However, our emotions are a unique bridge between the physical and the spiritual.
Biologically speaking, emotions are nothing more than chemical responses to internal and external stimuli.
They can be influenced by the body and the spirit. And they can influence the body and the spirit.
This is why the unsaved individual believes emotions are the foundation of why they do what they do. If the supernatural doesn’t exist, and the spirt doesn’t exist, then I guarantee you no one understands the mind — the part of us that makes decisions. But what we do know is that our emotions are pretty persuasive when it comes to making such decisions. Therefore, it’s easy to believe they — more so than the accumulation of information — affect our choices more than anything else.
But this is not true for one main reason. If you choose to believe that faith is some nebulous, spiritual concept that has no place in the real world, you’re missing out on the foundational, most seminal reality in the human life.
It’s like conveniently pretending that while you’re driving down the road in your car, you’re actually moving forward because of the breakfast you ate.
Does the food you ate give you necessary energy to drive? Yes, but was the food the primary cause of your moving forward? Of course not. The car was. So, to say that cars don’t exist while you’re currently driving in one is completely delusional.
So, the world believes they make decisions based off their emotions, when — in actuality — they’re making decisions based off what they believe.
If you’d like to understand this concept better — and we all desperately need to understand it better — I invite you to listen to our Parenting 101 series called “The Merest Christianity: why your children do what they do.” We can’t hope to help our kids change what they do if we don’t understand why they do it.
This is why we’re dealing with this concept right now. I can’t help my kids with their fear if I don’t understand why they’re afraid.
So, let’s tie this concept up and move on.
The main points are that:
And if you take that last point and compare it to dictionary.com's definition of fear, you see that even they get it. They say fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”
So we have to help our kids understand their fear. They need to know why they feel what they feel and why they do what they do.
Technically, it’s not accurate to say, “I hid under my bed because I was afraid.”
Was your child afraid? Yes. Was that fear one more bale of straw on the camel’s back that encouraged them to hide under the bed? Yes. But, it was not the reason they hid under the bed.
We need to teach them this truth.
“So, Aaron, why did they hide under the bed?
We’ll get to that momentarily.
As we help our kids understand fear, that will require us to understand what should be categorized as fear and what shouldn’t.
Let’s talk about two things: adrenaline and respect.
Adrenaline is a hormone, a chemical messenger, that God gave us to equip us to better glorify Him in stressful situations.
One child may watch a scary movie, the adrenaline starts coursing through his system, he starts shaking, and he says, “This is scary!”
Another child, watching the same movie, experiences the adrenaline coursing through his system, he starts shaking and exclaims, “This is awesome!”
Same chemical response, different interpretation of that response.
I don’t like the term stage-fright. It’s not actually fear. “Stage-fright” is the inappropriate way people describe the adrenaline response they experience on stage.
You should experience that. It means your body is working the way God intended it to. It is a more stressful situation than normal, but it’s not fear. It’s adrenaline.
Everyone experiences adrenaline when walking on stage. Some people understand it and use the extra focus and power to be amazing communicators while others inaccurately interpret it as fear and therefore a legitimate excuse for not going on stage.
This is one reason I don’t like to call fear an emotion. “Fear” is technically the meaning we force into the emotion,
In the case of adrenalin, the chemical response doesn’t actually have a commonly accepted name like happiness or sadness. Some people call I fear, and some call it exhilaration. Some call it excitement, and some call it anxiety.
This is why we need to help our kids interpret life biblically. I refuse to let my speech students say they’re afraid. They’re not. They’re experiencing the same feelings that the other not-afraid students are experiencing. They’re just misinterpreting it.
The same is true fo the concept of respect.
My dad used to tell people he was afraid of snakes. However, my dad was fine around snakes. He would touch snakes and hold snakes.
I used to tell people I was afraid of water. But I would go in pools and on boats and white water rafting.
When you would ask my dad why he was afraid of snakes, he would present the very rational explanation that they can kill you, and you can’t easily tell which ones are dangerous and which ones aren’t. For that reason he avoided them unless he trusted that the one being presented to him was safe.
I would say I was “afraid” of water because I couldn’t swim. But put me in a lifejacket and I loved participating in water activities.
Those were both rational expectations for anyone in those situations.
That . . . my friends . . . is not fear. That’s wisdom. That’s having an accurate respect for the potential danger of the creature or activity.
The fact that you use oven mitts to remove something from your oven doesn’t mean you’re afraid of it. You know the inherent danger, and you make wise provision for it.
This goes for nearly all rational expressions of fear. Are you standing on top of a very high building in gusty wind with no protection? Then staying away from the edge has less to do with fear than it does wisdom.
Sure, you may be experiencing a ton of adrenaline, but that’s God’s gift to you in order to help you fight the situation or fly from it.
So, back to my dad and me, technically, neither of us were actually afraid. We just had a healthy respect for the situation. Our problem wasn’t the healthy respect or the adrenaline responses in such situations, our problem was an incorrect interpretation. We needed someone to help us understand and define the experience correctly.
If you want to learn more about how to help your children reinterpret life correctly. I’ll include a link to our episodes that fall under the category of Interpretation. You should check out episodes 186 and 231 first.
Okay, so we’ve established a baseline understanding of what emotions are, what adrenaline and respect are, how the concept of fear plays into all of that, and the importance of teaching our children to interpret their experiences correctly.
By the way if you’d be interested in notes from this episode, just click the link in the description to be taken to our free episode notes and transcript.
Now, before we finish, we need to address the last part of the definition.
Fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”
What is danger? What constitutes dangerous?
First, we have perceived danger.
When I when I was a child, I would jump off the top step of our staircase into the waiting arms of my father. But I would not jump from two feet into the same arms if my father happened to be standing in water.
I thought the second was more dangerous than the first.
Your children have thought the shadow on their wall was dangerous.
You may have actually believed that harmless spider was dangerous.
Fear is a question of danger, but — like everything else — we need to make sure God is allowed to dictate what is and what is not dangerous.
“Yes, but Aaron, some things are legitimately and objectively dangerous.”
Yes and no.
Are downed electrical lines dangerous? Yes. But so is bacteria.
Is an uncaged tiger dangerous? Yes. But so is driving in your car.
There are people who work with downed power lines and there are people who work with deadly bacteria. There are people who get into cages with tigers and there are people who drive cars.
Let’s be honest, in a world where peanut butter and mold can kill people, we’d be foolish to say that there’s anything that’s never inherently dangerous to someone in some cases.
So, it’s really a question of degrees of comparison.
But, we absolutely must never subtract God from the equation.
The Apostle Paul was never so safe as when he was obeying God. Sure, he was shipwrecked, and bitten by a poisonous snake, and stoned and left for dead, and beaten, and you get the picture.
But Jonah ran from God’s command because he was afraid of the dangerous Ninevites. But he was infinitely safer in the heart of that wicked city than he was running from God.
Here’s a contemporary example. I know a missionary who works in Muslim countries. I can’t give any details about him or his family because we would say, “His work is so dangerous.”
But can this man tell some stories of God’s protection!
Just one example is his wife and daughters were at a playground. And they are clearly out of place in most Muslim countries because of their obvious nationality. Well, to make a long story short, a group of men started harassing them, including lighting a box of cigarettes on fire, shoving it into the hood of one of the little girls, and pulling the hood up over her head.
By the time the mother got to her and pulled the hood off . . . not a single hair on her head had been burned.
On the other hand, my daughter — in the safety of our American home in Wisconsin — set her head on fire while washing her hands in the bathroom.
God gets to be the determiner of what is dangerous and what is not.
Obeying God is always safe, even when that takes you to a foreign country, into the lion’s den, into a firey furnace, or onto the cross.
But disobeying God is the single most dangerous thing a person can do. It doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by an army in your own personal compound. You will not escape the consequences of disobeying God.
Acts 5:29, in the midst of angry men who wanted to kill him, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” And he was beaten for it.
But he was far safer having experienced that than having disobeyed God by refusing to preach the Gospel.
So, what is real danger?
The ability to correctly determine whether something is legitimately dangerous requires accurate information about God, His will for my life, and my own sinful nature.
There is no need to fear sharing the gospel in a public school. There is no reason to be afraid of a bully when you are doing right. There is no reason to be anxious over the state of our nation if you are living a life pleasing to God.
The Lord is sovereignly in control of all things and is actively working in them all to glorify Himself and benefit you.
But just because you have Truth doesn’t mean you’re going to follow it.
This means, finally, fear is really a question of trust.
If I’m afraid, it’s because I don’t trust that I’ll be “safe” in the situation. I’ve concluded that the situation is too dangerous for me to escape intact. And I’ve likely interpreted “dangerous” to mean uncomfortable for me.
But is that true? How can I know for sure?
My friends, this is why this concept is so hugely important for you to understand. Fear and anxiety are rampant in our world. Your kids struggle with it. They need you to help them focus their minds on Christ.
There is good, Christ-honoring fear. We’ll talk about that next time.
But there is also sinful fear. We’ll discuss that the time after.
So, why was your child hiding under his bed? He believed the situation he was in was dangerous. It may have been. It may not have been. But he didn’t hide under the bed because he had an adrenaline response. He hid under the best because he believed it was the safest thing for him to do.
And it may have been. Or not. Our job, as parents, is to help our kids understand how they can best glorify God regardless of how they feel.
And — let’s be fair — that may have included hiding under the bed.
For now, we must understand these realities concerning fear:
I hope you’ll join us next time when we discuss “Parenting Fearful Children | the realities of good fear.”
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And also, please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets. There a lot of fearful kids in the world. That means there are a lot of care givers who need to understand how to parent those kids through their fear.
As always, if you need individualized family help, you can reach us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com. Our email counsel is always free.
Your kids will experience fear. Are you prepared to help them as an Ambassador of God? Let’s learn to do that better together next time.
I’ll see you then.
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