Children aren’t the best conversation starters about their emotions and worries, because they don’t yet understand them themselves. Sometimes, they don’t even know that they are worried. They just know that their tummy hurts and they feel sad. They won’t necessarily connect that feeling with the fact that it’s their turn to do ‘Show and Tell’, or the week before their big sister starts secondary school.
As adults, we need to be on the lookout for the hints our children give about their worries. These might be physical signs of anxiety (for example, a tummy ache, headache, fast heart rate or feeling like they need to go to the toilet a lot), or a slightly odd question or comment.
Once, on a beach in May, my son started asking me about school shoes for September! I was tempted to just bat this question away—'We don’t need to worry about that now’—but it’s always worth being curious so I asked a follow-up question, ‘Why is that bothering you now?’ His answer revealed a tangle of hidden anxieties, ‘What if there’s another lockdown and all the shops shut again? What if you lose your job and we can’t afford them? What if I arrive at school without the things I need?’
When the worries come spilling out, it’s easy to lose it yourself, to join the doom spiral and wonder how you could have failed to protect them from having such thoughts. Instead, stop. Take a breath. Pray for God’s help. Remember, this is a good moment not a parenting failure. Your child trusts you enough to share a worry that might seem silly. It’s not our job to prevent our child from ever feeling worried. It’s our job to teach them what to do when it happens.
Listen, understand then point
Try to understand what they’re really worrying about. It’s not actually about the shoes, it’s the unknown, the lack of control, the unexpected. All those ‘What if … ?’ questions are a reminder that we don’t know the future. In the past few years, our children have faced big changes in their lives, and many of them are struggling more with anxious thoughts as a result. But throughout it all, God has been faithful to his people and has kept his promises.
Once we’ve taken the time to listen to our children talk about their worries—the things that feel big and hard—we can also point them to the God who is good and is with them.
For instance, ‘Even if all the shops are shut, and you can’t get new school shoes, your teachers will understand. Let’s imagine I lose my job and we have very little money. Can you think of other people who would help us? Psalm 46 describes for us a day when it literally feels like the sky is falling, and the mountains tumble into the sea. Even in the absolute worst of disasters, God is our safe place to run to. Can you think of ways he has been kind to us in the past? We can trust him with the future. He is big enough to hold our worries for us because they are too big for us to hold on our own. Let’s talk to him about the shoes, right now.’
Faith in Kids have a 7-week Sunday School resource called ‘Who am I?’ which helps children to see that their identity is rooted in Jesus, so they can take all their worries to him because he made them, cares about them and understands how they are feeling.
Have we run out of money?
Right now, our kids may be noticing that there’s more talk about money at home. Maybe there are debates about the heating, or a parent’s frustration about lights being left on has gone up a notch.
Something big: talk about the problem
Left to themselves, our children might worry that this is their fault. As adults, we need to explain clearly what’s happening and put right any misunderstandings.
Explain that things like energy—the electricity in our lights, the gas in our heating and the fuel in our cars—cost more money than they used to. The food we buy at the supermarket and our housing has also become much more expensive.
At the moment, we have to pay more money for the energy we use, the things we buy and the home we live in, so we are trying to be careful. Can they think of some things we can do to save money?
Something hard: talk about what we do when life is difficult
Reassure them that it’s good to talk about their worries. It isn’t their job to hold onto worries on their own. God has given them grown-ups to care for them at home, in school, at church, and in all the other jobs that people do to keep children safe. We all feel worried sometimes. When that happens, it’s good to share our worries with someone else. Name someone they know who you share your own worries with. Who do they feel safe sharing their worries with, as well as you?
Something good: remember what God is like
Most of all, we can share our worries with God—he won’t think they are stupid. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to give all our worries to God because he cares for us. We can tell him how we feel when we pray.
Ask them to think of some examples of how God cares for us. Pray together, thanking God for his care, telling him how you feel and asking for the things you need. (Remember to look out for answers to these prayers so that you can thank God for them at another time.)
Praying before bed is a great way to hand the worries of the day to him to hold, so you can sleep safely in his care—both parent and child!
If you want to think further around this topic, why not join Ed, Amy and their guest Eliza Huie on the Faith in Parents podcast as they talk about Parenting Big Emotions.
This series of two articles originally appeared at Faith in Kids here and here.
Ed Drew is the Director of Faith in Kids, which exists to see confident parents and thriving churches raising children together to trust Jesus eternally. He is the host of their two podcast streams for parents and families and the author of Raising Confident Kids in a Confusing World.
Amy Smith is a writer for Faith in Kids and co-hosts the Faith in Parents podcast.
In this delightful new adventure, Madison learns that no matter what our circumstances might be, we need not be afraid; God is with us and he’s working in all things for our good.
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