Helping Your Children and Teens Deal With Anxiety

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As we cross the 1-year mark of the global pandemic with COVID-19, we recognize the incredible stress and anxiety that families have gone through as a result of the interruption with schooling and extra-curricular activities. The adjustments that children and teens have had to navigate can sometimes be overlooked by parents, and the anxiety caused by these uncertainties can weigh on a child as much as it does on an adult.

Parenting during “normal” times can be daunting enough as is, but when moms and dads take on the additional role of homeschooling while bringing work from the office at the same time, the toll that this takes on families and marriages has been evident. While some of you may feel like your family has adjusted well to a new rhythm, others may feel completely overwhelmed, so here are three principles for parenting that can be helpful to keep in mind.

1. Embrace Every Season

Every new parent has heard the encouragement that “it gets better” but the reality is that every season in a child’s life comes with its own set of challenges. It may start with meeting the physical needs of diapers and toilet training in infancy, but you will find yourself dealing with emotional needs arising from peers and exposure to social media soon enough as they move into adolescence.

I am thankful for Pastor Cheryl’s advice to us as new parents to enjoy the rewards that come with parenting in each season, as they are truly unique to each stage in our children’s lives. Some of those life stages can be incredibly short and we may miss the opportunity if we fail to enjoy the moment. A key to “successful” parenting is recognizing that children’s needs are different as they age, but I have appreciated how critical it is to teach and model Biblical values for them right at the start.

“Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)

“Children are a gift from the Lord: they are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver if full of them!” Psalm 127:3-4 (NLT)

2. Move from Training to Teaching to Trusting

I watched a documentary recently that showed the increase in stress on teens when their parents tried to help them complete a task in an experiment. As a homeschool parent for many years, I have personally experienced the stress on Michelle and I as the teachers, and the anxiety on our kids as the students. Many parents that were forced to homeschool at the beginning of the lockdown have developed a greater sense of appreciation for the work that schoolteachers do on a daily basis.

While homeschooling did not become a permanent arrangement for most families, many have expressed gratitude for being able to spend more time with their children at home. I believe that parents should always be the primary educators for their children instead of deferring guidance completely over to the schooling system.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1-4 (NIV)

Pastor Robert Morris (Gateway Church) shared a great Biblical model on how parents can progress as their children move into adolescence and adulthood:

I. Training Children
The Bible is clear about the importance of training a child in the way they should go. When children are young, the Bible says in Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” As a parent, be clear, be convincing, and be compassionate when you train your children.

II. Teaching Adolescents
Adolescence describes the years between ages 13 and 19 and is considered the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. At the age of 12 or 13, we move from training to teaching. When Jesus was in the temple at the age of 12, he was listening to the teachers and asking them questions. At this age, parents must guide their children through the process of teaching, so they are prepared to think for themselves.

III. Trusting Adult Sons and Daughters
When children grow up and become adults, parents must trust them and trust God to guide them. They are no longer children but are adult sons and daughters. In Christ, they are considered brothers and sisters. The parenting role changes to a mentoring role. Adult sons and daughters should come to you for advice, but every decision is up to them to pray about and decide. Some adult children need to grow up and step into adulthood, and some parents need to trust God more with their children’s lives.

3. Affirm and Love Unconditionally

I connected with a Richmond high school counsellor recently and she expressed how teenagers are experiencing high-stress levels mostly due to the high-performance culture within the school. This may not be unique to her school as many teens are linking their accomplishments to acceptance, and success to significance. The widespread message our teens receive is that they have to be good, or even best, at everything – and anxiety develops as they are terrified to expose any inadequacies or insecurities to others.

This is where we as Christian parents can serve as a template for how our children should perceive God. While parents can feel equally inadequate, and even hopeless, in dealing with anxious teens, we have to be careful to not allow our anxiety to escalate and overflow into our kids. The best way to raise children who find freedom from the pressure to get it all right in order to be accepted and loved is to allow ourselves the freedom to not get it all right as parents! (Read Pastor Kevan’s blog on “Giving Yourself Permission to Receive”)

We need to ask God to help us in trusting Him with the stewardship of the children that He has entrusted to us. I recently reflected on leadership axiom from Pastor Craig Groeschel (Life Church), where he pointed out that we can either have growth or control, but not both. I believe this can be applied to parenting as well, in the sense that we need to let go of some of our parenting control. We need to increase our trust, both in the Lord and in our children, as they grow. Nothing is more stressful than a controlling parent, especially for children that already feel insecure about themselves. While we play a significant role in our kids’ lives, we have to ultimately trust that God is their very Good Father and equally sovereign over their lives, as He is over ours as parents.

Therefore, as you focus on God to do His part, continue to spend as much time together with your children as you can. Delight in your kids and praise your teen for his or her unique personality and qualities, as they long for acceptance and unconditional love from you as parents more than from anyone else. Our hope is that when the Enemy whisper the lies to our children and teens that they are insignificant, or that they do not measure up, we want them to know, deep in their souls, that the only One who gets to define them is the God who created them and calls them His beloved.