Moseying down one of our favorite roads, I was lost in the wonder of the moment. The children were chatting in the backseat. The day was breathtaking and life was good. Preparing to make a right turn onto a road we didn’t typically travel, I casually mentioned, “Let’s take this road. I wonder where it might take us?” Our daughter responded, “On an adventure.” Then she started giggling. Our son was quiet. Unusually quiet. I looked in the mirror. He was looking out the window at the trees. All at once he started screaming, “Tunnel of trees. Tunnel of trees.” He continued screaming until we exited the road and I was able to hold him. Red-eyed, tears streaming down his face, my two and a half year old son snuggled deep into my arms muttering, “Tunnel of trees. Tunnel of trees.” Days later as we were watching our daughter’s favorite movie, Beauty and the Beast, it hit me. Tunnel of trees . . . the scary moment Belle is lost and the trees come alive with mischief and haunting sounds. Tunnel of trees.
Over the years, we managed well with the typical childhood fears: first day of school, first day of middle school, first ball game, first recital, first concert, first date, first move, snakes, nighttime, new friends, fear of never having friends. The ones that caught us off guard were the ones that seemed to have no trigger, no distinguishable genesis until many days later.
How do you untangle the fears of a two year old . . . or a ten year old . . . or a sixteen year old . . . or a twenty three year old–especially when the trigger is unclear? How do you raise a fearless child? How do you make sense of your child’s fear?
You don’t. As much as we want to wipe out the monsters, slay the dragons and champion our children, the truth is they have to win the war themselves. They have to draw on their own resources to manage their fears, navigate the chaos themselves and ultimately comfort themselves.
So what does a Mommy do? What can you do when everything in you wants to jump in, clean things up and draw an imaginary bubble of isolation around your child? Here are four tips gleaned over my 23 years of parenting:
1) Pray for your child– everyday . . . sometimes more than once a day. As you change diapers, as you enjoy a cone of ice cream, as you wash clothes, as you sit down at your desk, as they come home from school, as their faces come to mind, pray for your child. I can’t tell you how many times our children have texted or called about a challenge they navigated successfully only to discover they had been in my prayers at that very moment.
2) Empower your child. Give her the resources necessary to conquer her fears. Remind your child of his strengths. Tell stories of how she championed past fears and overcame challenges. Talk about how she has within her all that is needed to slay those giants. Our own children have chosen life verses. They also know Philippians 4:13 because every morning from the time the oldest entered kindergarten we would exegete [in child-appropriate ways] the verse on the way to school. They know what “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me” means all these years later.
3) Provide options [life coach your child]. Don’t allow your child to defeat her demons or conquer fears with only one strategy. Brainstorm options. Ask questions that lead your child to discover answers for themselves. Think through best possibilities. This way your child has a mosaic of colors to defeat his fears.
4) Always listen. Always hear your child’s fears as if the world depended on it, but do not react as if the world depends on it. Keep your body language in check. Calmly dissect the moment with your child. If your son or daughter is talking to you they want help to regain control. They do not need another out of control person in their world.
I spoke with our daughter the other day. She is currently trying to decide on her next life season. Our son is trying to think through his chosen major. Both are amazing young adults, capable and competent problem solvers. Both still invite us to slay their dragons and as much as we still want to “fix” things for them, we do not. We pray, empower, provide options and listen, knowing they have everything they need to navigate their current “tunnel of trees” . . . and have years of experience doing just that.
Reverend Katrina Stipe Brooks is the proud mom of Tara, a second year student at McAfee School of Theology and Joseph, an accounting/finance major and an offensive lineman at Maryville College. Katrina’s husband, Tony, is employed with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board as a field strategist and Sunday School specialist. A graduate of Samford University and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Katrina serves as campus pastor for Lynchburg Christian Fellowship at Lynchburg College.