Helping Children Overcome Fears

Invite your children to write or draw about something they are scared of.

Mormon GirlAsk your children which is scarier: The first time you watch a frightening movie, ride a scary ride, or do something you’ve never done before—or re-watching the movie, re-riding the ride, and repeating the scary experience? Generally, the first time is scarier because we don’t know what to expect.

Ask which is scarier: Going rock climbing when you’ve never done it before, know nothing about it, and have no one

 with you who is experienced, or going rock-climbing after completing a good course in the subject that included practice on rock climbing walls, and being accompanied by an experienced climber? Generally, it’s less frightening to go after being trained, because you are prepared for the experience.

Invite your family to share the things they are afraid of and to explain why they are afraid. Write the answers on a board or poster. Make sure no one is taunted for their fears. (You may want to discuss proper responses to the answers of others first.) Ask the family to look at the list and decide if any of the fears described could be lessened with either experience or training. Write an E or a T by those fears.

Ask them to look at the remaining fears and decide what could make those less frightening. For instance, being afraid of monsters under the bed could be lessened if a child trusted a parent’s assurance that there were no monsters. A fear of public speaking could be lightened through taking a speech class and gaining some experience. Fear during a tragedy might be alleviated by praying for comfort and reassurance. Make a note of the solutions to the problems.

The following suggestions for overcoming fear are from Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen, excerpted from a forthcoming book called, “What We Need to Know and Do.” Hand them out and discuss them with your family.

1. Have Faith—Increase your faith in Jesus Christ and go forward with a positive attitude toward the situation. A hopeful but realistic outlook often helps you know that others have made it past their fears. Sooner or later, your fear will pass.

2. Get the Facts—Knowledge gives you power through understanding. When you understand the situation and the cause, you can prepare and make adjustments to handle the situation. Venerated psychologist Carl Rogers once wrote, “The facts are friendly,” meaning that if you start with the truth about a challenging situation and put together a plan of action based on the truth, you will be far better off than sticking your head in the sand.

3. Prepare—The greater the preparation, the greater the confidence. Thus, preparation decreases fear. Preparation often can simulate the experience of fear in positive ways and show you that you can overcome it (see D&C 38:30). Above all, avoid worrying about things you cannot change—instead, prepare for the future with confidence.  “Preparation precedes power, the power to conquer fear.” —Anonymous 

4. Ask for Help—With the help and strength of others, you can handle the situation better and overcome your fears. Talk to people who have faced your particular challenge and have overcome it. Get their advice. Put together a response team—there are many people who would be happy to help.

5. Exercise Love—The scriptures are clear:  “Perfect love casteth out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Love has the power and inspiration to transcend our fear because it manifests a deep relationship with Heavenly Father.

6. Profit from Experience—Having been in a fearful situation or caught in the “line of fire,” your self-confidence can increases as you learn to use strategies like these. You can conquer the fear. Then you will know that you are not only a survivor but have the experience and wisdom to overcome fears in the future.

7. Fear God ( Reverence God)—We are well advised to shift our concerns and fears away from any obsessive focus on earthly things and instead learn to fear or reverence the Lord. Such fear embodies the spirit of reverence, service and obedience, as the illustration below makes clear. By fearing the Lord, we leave little room for the profligate practice of wasting time and energy with an overly consuming involvement with the fear of mortal challenges and adversities. The Lord reserves mighty blessings for those who fear Him and serve Him in righteousness.

Help children understand that fearing God does not mean to be afraid of Him. It means to love and honor Him.

Show a word card that says, “Fear is a choice.” God has promised us we don’t need to be afraid if we are living righteously and are prepared. This doesn’t mean bad things will never happen to us; it only means God will be with us and will help us through it. We can choose to be afraid, but we don’t have to be.

Flip the card over and reveal these words: Fear and faith cannot exist in the same place.”

To illustrate this point, ask one of your children to avoid thinking about elephants. Keep repeating, “You can think about anything else, but don’t think about elephants. No elephants, don’t forget.” Ask what she was thinking about. She will likely find—and so will those who were watching—that no one was able to think about anything but elephants. We can only think seriously about one thing at a time, and it’s not enough to say, “Don’t think about something.” We have to choose what to think about. When faced with fears outside our control, we can fill our minds with a favorite hymn or Bible story instead. This keeps Christ close to us during our time of trial. If we’re filling our minds with faith, there won’t be room for fear.

Ask your family why it is important to avoid living our lives afraid of the world. Fear can keep us from accomplishing our goals or from becoming the person God wants us to be. When we learn to overcome fear, we can do more with our lives. Remind the children fear is sometimes helpful. For instance, fear of being burnt keeps us from touching hot stoves. However, other kinds of fear simply keep us from experiencing the full joys of life.

Challenge each person to choose one fear to overcome. Be sure to tell the children you have the final say on their choice, and that you won’t allow them to do anything too dangerous or that is against your principles.

If you’ve done the lesson on goals, have them notice whether or not fear is keeping them from one of their goals. Help them develop a plan to overcome that specific fear.

You might also want to do something as a family that you’ve all wanted to do, but found a little too scary.

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