Fearful Child

How do I parent my child's paralyzing fears?

Question

My 13-year-old daughter is almost paralyzed by fears. She won’t try new things because of her fear of failure or disaster. Her conversations are peppered with “What ifs” and “I cant’s.” I know she is capable of succeeding in many things, and I also want her to learn there is no shame in occasional failures. What can I do to help her out of this downward spiral of negativity?

Answer

One of the greatest gifts that we can give to our children is the life lesson that occasional failures don’t mean that a person is a failure. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that few adults have learned and that even fewer parents intentionally seek to communicate to their children. Over the years we’ve worked with many adults who as children were labeled (or who labeled themselves) as failures and that label not only followed them through much of their life but for many became a script for their life.

Most Christians (and most Christian parents) don’t have a theology of failure and yet learning how to learn from failure is a significant theme in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible talks about the failure of man and the faithfulness of God. The life of David and the book of Psalms are a gold mine of wisdom and understanding. David spent much of his life riding a roller-coaster from the highs of success to the lows of failure and back up to success. David learned from his mistakes.

In our search of God’s view of failure we discovered six key principles:

  1. God knows we will fail
  2. He allows us to fail
  3. He is with us when we fail, and if our failure involves sin He is ready to forgive us
  4. He sees through our failure
  5. He understands the potential value of our failure
  6. He can use our failures for good.

For us the starting point is always God’s word. When we talk about failure we must start where He starts. One essential passage for you to apply in your own life and share with your daughter is II Corinthians 12:8-10. Here is one creative way to make application that we and many other parents have found helpful.

Whenever she shares a failure with you listen, ask some questions, and then take her hand and pray with her. Start by thanking God for many of her strengths, her good habits and characteristics and the things she does well. Then thank God that “in” this situation there is a great opportunity to learn and grow. Thank God for his promises to “never leave us or forsake us” and to “supply all of our needs” and to “cause all things to work together for good.”

The next step is to look for the growth opportunity. Help her put the situation into perspective and not blow it out of proportion. What can she learn? What could she have done different? How can she be more effective next time?

Don’t forget that the most important things she will learn about failure will come through the model of your own life. Have you shared some of your own failures with her? Do you catastrophize failures and blow them out of proportion? Has she seen that failures are not fatal or final? Has she observed the invaluable life lessons that can come from “mining the gold” of our mistakes and failures?

Although she is young it’s never too early to start to learn that whether you are experiencing a season of success or a season of setbacks every day, every situation, every success, every setback, every sin, every failure must be looked at through God’s eyes. What has He told us about who He is, His plan for us, His provision for our sin, His promises to supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory, His perspective on failure?

In John 10:10 Christ said, “I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.” In Ephesians 3:20 Paul describes God as one who wants to do “exceedingly abundantly beyond all we ask or think.” In Philippians 4:13 Paul tells us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Those are great promises. And they are true. Especially as we deal with failure.

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