Helping Children Overcome Fear

by Amy Carroll

We Conquer Fears to Follow God Fearlessly


He cried all the way to school, and I cried all the way home. Day after day my 7-year-old’s fears loomed large in our lives. The latest fear was of school, but over the years, his other fears had kept us from normal life routines.

Thunderstorms kept us up at night as we tried to calm his terror.

He and I stopped attending a weekly Bible study with child care because of his fear of an automatic garage door.

A family trip on an airplane was approached with dread.

Screams from the backseat echoed as we drove past the mall where Santa was inside.

Panic ensued when balloons were brought out to add to the “fun.” (Just think about how many places have balloons.)

Both my husband and I are educators, so we pulled out discipline to psychology from our bag of tricks. By the time Nolan reached seven, his fears were truly overwhelming to the entire family and debilitating in daily life. We were exhausted and at the end of our rope.

Finally, in desperation we turned to a Christian counselor, Pat.

She met with Nolan several times, but then Pat began meeting with just me. In one of our first meetings, she asked me to make a complete list of all of Nolan’s fears from the beginning. I started the list, and then I listed some more. And I listed. And I listed. I was stunned when I looked at the full scope of all his fears at once. Although I had wanted to blame his teachers for his newest fear of school, it was clear when I looked at that long list that his fear of school was just one more symptom, not the root.

Each week when Pat and I met, she opened with prayer, asked for an update, and gave our family a new “homework” assignment for overcoming Nolan’s fears.

I clearly remember when I finally got the courage to ask the question that had been weighing on my heart from the beginning. Through tears I explained to Pat my family’s history of mental illness containing both depression and schizophrenia. “Is this just the beginning?” I asked. “I need to know what to expect.”

Pat smiled, explained that childhood anxiety is usually short-lived, and then told me a story. Pat had a friend who had struggled with overwhelming fear and anxiety since she was a child. As her friend grew up, she came to a saving knowledge of Jesus followed by a calling to missions.

The friend overcame her fear enough to move to a foreign country, but she confessed to Pat that there was constantly a gap of time between God speaking to her and obedience while she overcame the fear of change.

Pat gently reached for my hand and said, “Amy, you’re doing the right thing helping Nolan now to face and overcome his fears. If my friend had gotten help as a child, she would be able to obey God with joy instead of fear. That’s the goal!”

I sobbed with relief and stoked my determination to fight Nolan’s fears (and mine) to the death. If you’re in those shoes today, my friend, I want to encourage you. Your child’s fears can be vanquished, and it’s worth the work. Just keep your eye on the prize.

We conquer fears to follow God fearlessly.

My heart goes out to you if your child is struggling with fear. I know how hard it is to know what to do. Here are some steps that worked for us:

  • Memorize scripture with your child—Knowing key scriptures by heart was really important. At the very beginning of an “episode,” we would say these scriptures out loud and remind ourselves of the truths in them. We’d say the verse: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear….” (I Jn 4: 18a). Then I’d ask Nolan to say who loves him. Sometimes just doing this would calm him.
  • Talk about thought patterns—We talked about how fear is like a snowball rolling down a hill. The longer it rolls, the larger and faster it gets. When Nolan would start to panic, we’d say, “Let’s not let the snowball roll down the hill. Let’s talk about/think about something else.”
  • Make fun of fear—Nolan and his dad gave fear a silly name. (I’m not going to tell you what it really was, because you’d judge me. Ha! Suffice it to say, it wasn’t too terrible for a second grader, and it made Nolan giggle.) When Nolan would start to get scared, Barry would say, “Oh, there’s fear. He’s such a big dummy head!” For some reason only known to boys, it would get them both laughing every time. There’s nothing like laughter to break fear!
  • Work on desensitization—This method takes some time, but it’s very effective. The idea is to work up to facing the fear one step at a time. Here’s how it worked at our house with thunderstorms:
    • Step 1: Read books about thunderstorms that explain what causes them. Look at the pictures and talk through the book with your child.
    • Step 2: Listen to a recording of a thunderstorm with your child on your lap and with the volume low. Gradually turn up the volume until it’s very loud.
    • Step 3: Sit with your child on your lap watching a thunderstorm from inside.
    • Step 4: Sit with your child on your lap watching a thunderstorm outside from under a covered porch.
    • Step 5: The family sleeps soundly through thunderstorms. Oh, happy day!!
  • Enlist the help of a Christian counselor—Our family has hired a Christian counselor several times when we ran into problems we couldn’t seem to solve ourselves. In each case, we only saw the counselor for a very limited time before we were back on our feet again. We’ve been very thankful for the help, and I’m a huge advocate. If you are looking for a well-qualified, Christian counselor in your area, Focus on the Family has an excellent referral service.

Today, Nolan is a thriving high school senior. He didn’t overcome his fear and anxiety overnight, but we haven’t seen signs of them in years. He’s eager for his story to be told to help other kids, so he gave me full permission to share it here.

If you’re struggling with a child who is anxious and fearful, take heart! It’s a challenging road, but your child can overcome his or her fears and grow from the experience.

This week, I’m giving away copy of Lysa TerKeurst’s new children’s book It Will be Ok which addresses childhood fears. Just leave a comment to enter. If you’re in a hurry, just leave “Perfect love drives out fear!” as your comment.

Winner is Wendy Fernandez! Thank you to all who participated in this giveaway.

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Amy Carroll

*Please leave your comments below!

34 comments

  1. Jessie M says:

    My nolan is almost 5 and struggles with almost all of these same fears…i struggle to not get upset with him 🙁 Thank you for this post, it is very helpful & practical!

    • Amy Carroll says:

      Jessie, I’m praying for you and your sweet Nolan right now.

      I know your frustration exactly. It was hard to figure out what was real fear and when I was being manipulated (those precious little boogers will do that too!). It was also hard to have my schedule shut down by his fears. (Yes, you can read some selfishness into that sentence.)

      Hang in there! I hope some of the practical applications from the post will help you.

  2. Shannon says:

    Great article! With 4 kids there is always someone dealing with some sort of fear – they are pre-teens/teens but we still like to snuggle and read books together! I would love to add this to our collection!

  3. Wendy Fernandez says:

    Perfect love drives out fear! My 7 year old and I have been in counseling for a year now for issues with fear and anxiety. We would love a copy of this book!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Perfect love drives out fear. Thank you so much! I have been battling anxiety and fear myself lately, so I will use some of these suggestions for myself as well. Thank you!

  5. Emily says:

    So timely…my little guy has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this!! PERFECT love drives out fear!! Thank you Jesus!

  6. Emily says:

    I have a 2 1/2 year old that seems to be scared of everything. This post could not have better timing as I’ve been struggling with how to address it. I will definitely be getting the book if I don’t win 🙂

  7. Trinity says:

    This makes my heart take a deep breath! Our older son, Haven, who is 3, has been diagnosed with “an emerging mood disorder”…anxiety. Our hearts are heavy as we daily help him remember that Jesus’s perfect love takes away all our fear!! I’m encouraged to hear Nolan’s story and hopeful that these steps will help. Thank you!!

  8. Fawnda Dooley says:

    What great advice for families with a child struggling with fear and anxieties! My children were not over fearful/anxious as they were growing up, but I certainly had a couple of friends who did. It is a real struggle! Now that I have 2 grandbabies, I am glad to know that this is a great source to point my daughter’s to if needed. Thank you Amy for sharing such a personal story! This will be a great source to point my young mom friends who have a child struggling in this area!

    Thank you!
    Fawnda

  9. Kathy says:

    Thank you for a great post with great suggestions to cope with fear — I especially like giving fear a silly name. I’ll be using your advice when dealing with my granddaughter’s fears (and mine, as well).

  10. Teresa says:

    My daughter who just turned 13 struggles with fears of going to school, being accepted, being alone. We have struggled for along time. Just last week I had to make the decision to home school her to help her fears. Thank you for the post!

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