Anxiety is a difficult problem in anyone’s life. Parents’ hearts go out to their children who suffer from emotional overload, racing thoughts, and continual feelings of unrest because of anxiety. That’s not what childhood is supposed to be like.
In this series we have revealed a number of tools to equip children with the maximum ability to meet the challenges that anxiety produces. If you continue to work slowly and deliberately through these solutions, then you’ll come to these two secret weapons with delight.
Don’t share all of the truths with a child at once. Each one requires that they build off the previous ones. In order to practice the secret weapons you’ll usually want to have had conversations about choosing to receive God’s grace and participating in the Great Exchange (The Suitcase Idea, part 3) to grow in peace.
Tucked away in the Philippians 4:6-7 anxiety verses is this statement. “by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” That word thanksgiving is powerful. In fact, if you engage in thanksgiving, you are doing therapy on your own heart. As gratefulness grows, anxiety decreases.
It’s been said that the greatest mental health exercise out there is gratitude. That’s why Paul told the Thessalonians to “give thanks in all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It exercises the human heart to focus on what good you already have. Frankly, sometimes anxious people are not grateful people. So, strengthening gratitude is powerful.
You might try this idea. Every hour, thank God or others for something. The first day will be easy as you work through health, food, clothes, a house, family, and friends. But here’s the challenge. Don’t repeat a previous item. Each time you offer thanks, it has to be for something not yet mentioned in that day or previous days.
Now, the exercise starts to grow on you. As you are forced to look for things to be thankful for, you open large new rooms of blessing. Instead of staying in the room of anxiety you take trips out to other rooms, other houses, and a whole world of things to be thankful for.
Exercising gratitude does something big in the heart of every willing participant. It helps reduce all emotional challenges, including anxiety. It makes you a happier person. You add light to any room and your thanks becomes a sweet smelling fragrance to all (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Maria had it right in the Sound of Music as she helped all the kids deal with their anxiety during a thunderstorm. You might play the short YouTube excerpt from the movie by doing a search in YouTube of “My Favorite Things.”
Paul shares the same idea in the anxiety passage in Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” The key is to recognize that your mind gets on a track and you can determine which track you ride on.
When faced with an anxious moment, the mind faces a choice. One set of tracks leads down the never-ending path of fear. The possibilities of potential danger expand as you proceed. The imagination runs wild. As the mind starts to move down the anxiety path, you get stuck. You can’t argue your way back. You have to jump tracks.
When parents realize that they can’t argue their kids out of anxiety, then the parenting strategy changes. Arguing doesn’t reverse course. Rather, it tends to cement the anxious person into a determination to keep going down the anxiety track. It’s better to offer comfort and firmness at the same time, balancing relationship with firmness. “You’re heading down the right path. You need to jump tracks.”
One of the signs of an emotionally healthy person is the ability to recover from upsetting situations more quickly. It is seen in all of the three big emotional categories of anger, sadness, and anxiety. Jumping tracks is the best tool and requires a choice, practicing determination, and having a plan.
The Rescue Journal
Children and young people who experience ongoing or regular anxiety benefit from a Rescue Journal. This ongoing writing exercise has lists, and each one has a heading from the passage in Philippians 4:8. There’s the true list, and the noble list, and the pure list, etc. Creating the lists is an excellent therapy for anxious thoughts. But revisiting the list in anxious moments is strategic for releasing the anxiety.
Keep in mind that anxiety as a condition is made up of anxiety as momentary pieces. In order to change the condition, work must be done on the daily experiences and challenges of anxiety. Psalm 94:19 says, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul.”
Another page in the Rescue Journal might contain Bible verses that a child could memorize or use for meditation.
Parenting the child who experiences a tendency toward anxiety can be challenging. Sometimes parents themselves experience anxiety because of their child’s anxiety. In our next and final blog post in this series, we will give you seven tools that guide you as you work with your child. They teach you how to position yourself well. You can’t control your child’s decisions but you can certainly influence them.
These specific strategies were developed by coaches in the Biblical Parenting Coaching Program. They look at scriptures and then apply them to children in practical ways. The program takes parents on an 8-week remarkable journey of change in their child. You can learn more about the coaching program here.
This is part 4 in a 5-part series on Helping Children with Anxiety. If you missed our first article in this series, Click here to read Two Quick-Fix Anxiety Solutions that Usually Don’t Work.