By Janis D. Gioia, MAEd.
When the day dawns soft and still, I curl up on the sofa under my softest blanket, with my Bible and devotionals by my side.
No matter what challenges I’m facing, or maybe because of them, my morning prayers fill me with a connection to God and a peace that carries me through the day.
During this quiet time I’ve “met” a writer whose words, interspersed through the devotional’s pages, speak to my heart and lift my spirits.
I often find myself skimming through the pages, jumping days and weeks ahead, looking for her relevant messages of hope, faith, family and commitment to God.
That writer is Tricia Goyer, a homeschooling mom of ten, grandmother of four, and the wife to John.
She’s the founder of Hope Pregnancy Center in Kalispell, Montana, and now leads a teen mom support group in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Tricia is also an award winning author of more than sixty books.
You may know her from books like Mom’s Night Out, which was recently made into a movie.
You might enjoy her historical, contemporary or Amish fiction, have read one of her over 500 articles, or some of her numerous contributions to family and homeschooling blogs.
Of all her works, it was a blog post Tricia contributed to The Better Mom that really resonated with me.
That post is the reason I wanted to interview Tricia for Comforting Anxious Children.
In “Why It’s Ok to Label Our Kids” Tricia discusses the right ways to label children.
(Tricia isn’t talking about the alphabet soup of letters resulting from a diagnosis and needed to secure special education services. Those labels can sometimes become limiting to a child or make them feel the pain of stigma.)
Instead, Tricia writes about labeling children as who they are as God’s child, who they will be with God’s help and what God is doing in their lives.
In an earlier post on Comforting Anxious Children, “8 Things An Anxious Child Never Wants to Hear You Say (And What They Wish you Would Say and Do Instead) I shared things that are harmful and hurtful for a child with anxiety or mental illness to hear.
In the following interview with Tricia Goyer you will learn additional words to say and hope-filled words to pray.
Tricia’s words will fill you and your child with comfort and peace.
Comforting Anxious Children (CAC):
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts on comforting a child with anxiety.
How should a Christian parent of a child with mental illness, pray for their child?
There are so many things we can pray for our children, and many people don’t understand children who have mental illness, due to past trauma to biological issues.
Unless you have children who struggle it’s hard to know how to pray.
These are things I’ve prayed for my child:
For God to:
-give my child a sound mind
– give my child peace
– give my children an understanding of themselves and their needs.
I’ve also prayed the God would bring the right people into our path.
We’ve found an amazing support system of doctors and therapists. I also pray for good mentors and friends.
Our children need so much love and support. Thankfully God knows where we can find this support.
How should Christian parents respond to remarks that their child wouldn’t be anxious if they or the child had more faith in God and Jesus?
Anxiety, I’ve discovered, happens for many reasons.
Our adopted children have anxiety issues because of past experiences. I’ve learned that their brains were actually wired differently because of the trauma they faced.
The core of the problem isn’t having faith. The core of the problem is they process things differently than other kids.
Most people don’t understand the causes of anxiety in children.
Yes, I want my child’s faith to grow, but I also know there are physical and psychological issues that also need to be addressed.
Children with disabilities are aware of the labels that follow them throughout school.
How as Christian parent can you acknowledge the illness and offer hope for healing through God’s Word?
It’s often hard for us to talk to our kids about personal issues, like anxiety, but ignoring it doesn’t solve any problems.
Anxiety is something that is very real. Our children can feel it, and they often can’t control their responses.
Anxious responses can’t be fixed by telling our kids to calm down. Anxiety isn’t overcome through rational discussions “in the middle” of the moment.
Instead, I’ve learned to talk to my children before their anxiety flares up, and to help my children thing think of things they can do to regulate themselves when they start feeling anxious.
If I’m available, I also teach my children to come to me, knowing I will support them.
For example, one of my younger daughters knows she can come to me, hold my hand or ask for a hug when she’s starting to feel anxious. This helps her.
For one of my teen daughters, she knows that she needs to find a place of quiet. She often has permission to dismiss herself and head to the bathroom to quiet and space.
I also have my kids go with me to talk to teacher or leaders who might need to provide help or give them space to escape for a time.
Reading Psalm 139, I remind my children they were knit together by God and He has divine purposes in mind.
I tell them that God tells us to comfort others as we’ve been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:4), and I tell them that whatever challenges they have that God will use those challenges to help others.
We all need to have a purpose in life. Our challenges make us stronger.
They also force us to turn to God when we are weak, which is a wonderful place to be.
Children shouldn’t be made to feel as if they have something to hide or that they’re broken. Instead they should understand that even though there are hard things in life, we can use those things to serve and care for others.
From my research, I’ve found many parents tend to deny a child’s anxiety.
This minimizes the anxiety, which is damaging to the child’s self-esteem and increases the child’s anxiety, because it isn’t addressed.
Specifically regarding anxiety: How can you speak who you want your child to be, with God’s help?
What are some God-inspired NEW labels you can give your child?
Our children will believe what we say about them. These are things we should speak over them:
Speak WHO we want them to be with God’s help. “You are designed by God for a wonderful purpose.”
Speak WHO they already are in God. “You are God’s child. You are beautiful and amazing.”
Speak WHAT God is doing in their lives. “You are being so considerate” or “Thank you for being so thoughtful.”
All children need to hear:
“You are a child of God, beautiful and amazing, uniquely designed for a wonderful purpose God has planned that will not only benefit you, but also the world.”
This is the label we should place on them.
(The challenge is to acknowledge the anxiety disorder, the diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, or similar special need, but also to address the healing power of God in their lives.)
How do you speak “Who They Are to God” when they are already struggling with the challenges of anxiety and mental illness, the stigma associated with that diagnosis and the knowledge that despite what they are hearing about how God made them and that God is good, they don’t feel that way?
As a mom, I try to speak about their preciousness and their gifts as often as possible. I also strive to make sure these are the voices they hear the most.
As a family we’ve chosen to homeschool for this reason. We want our voices to be louder than any others in their lives.
How do you help an anxious child Speak what God is doing in their life when many children with special needs feel that they are less than, different, and that they were made wrong, or a mistake?
They best way for a child to embrace the truth of who they are is to work with them to memorize Scripture or to post it around the house.
When they start to complain or criticize themselves I ask them to repeat what the Bible says, such as “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
I have heard a child say, “Well, if God made me this miserable then He must not love me.” Or “Why would God make me like this…does He want me to suffer and be in misery all the time?”
I have met anxious children who thought that suicide, while a sin, was better than living with chronic fear.
How can Christian parents help an anxious child enjoy church experiences like Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, faith-based youth groups?
It’s important to prepare them as much as possible. Let them know what to expect.
Talk to teachers and leaders ahead of time and help them understand your child’s unique needs.
Encourage relationships with other kids who are patient and kind.
Yet also give them a way of help or escape.
I let my kids know that if they get overwhelmed or anxious they can call me and I’ll come.
Often just knowing I’m available if necessary is enough.
In conclusion, as a special education teacher, I have a growing toolbox of calming games, products, resources, etc. that I use to help calm anxious children (my own included).
Do you have any Christian suggestions for this toolbox?
We use bubble breaths, where they capture their breaths, hold them and release them.
Sometimes we write Scripture verses on notecards. I’ve bought fidget cubes too, which help.
Thank you for your time, Tricia. This has been an amazing interview. So many great ideas and comforting words we can share with our children.