Does your child struggle with nighttime fears? Equip children to battle fear by recalling who God is, what He has done, and what His word says.Does your child struggle with nighttime fears? Equip children to battle fear by recalling who God is, what He has done, and what His word says. Click To Tweet
Little Man sometimes wrestles with nighttime fears. His 8-year-old mind is curious, yet cautious. While he wants to learn about tornadoes, volcanoes, sink holes and all kinds of naturally occurring phenomenon, his mind can become fixated on them in the quiet of the night.
About once a week, he mentions being scared the night before. Usually, he goes back to sleep on his own. He has a routine. First, he turns on the hall light, then uses the bathroom, and heads back to bed to pray. When he can’t shake the fear on his own, I learn about usually between 2-4 am.
A Short-Sighted Solution For A Long-Term Problem
Before talking about equipping our kids, can I share my heart? You guys, for quite a while, I wasn’t doing this nighttime fears thing right at all.
Between the ages of 3 and 5, our son was up almost every night. Added to his sisters’ nighttime feedings, I’m ashamed to say the frequent nighttime fears felt burdensome. I was exhausted. While I get up with him, sometimes with frustrated sighs and sharply whispered words, my attitude sucked. I’m not proud of it. Our son is tender-hearted and perceptive; he began apologizing for waking me up. I hate how my response made him feel the need to apologize for not being able to handle his fears on his own.
My focus was narrow and short-sighted, with the goal of just getting us all back to sleep. No, mainly getting me back to sleep.
I had no vision for anything beyond the next 20 minutes. With my poor attitude, I failed to equip him to cope with the fear or to battle it on his own. Of course it kept happening! My sleep-worshiping heart was selfishly hard where it should have been soft towards our son. We talked about other things for a few minutes, then prayed and headed for sleep. It was marginally effective at best, and didn’t equip him for any long term fight against fear.
My Own Struggle With Fear
As we moved past the baby stage of life, God began to gently remind me of my own struggles with fear as an adult. He also reminded me of my own childhood fears. I’m 37 years old and I had an all-too familiar recurrent nightmare from my childhood. I often needed help going back to sleep too.
The dream makes no sense. I’m alone in my grandparent’s basement; A place full of sweet childhood memories. Everything is the same, except for the floor is lava instead of mismatched carpet scraps. On top are chunks of weird white foam. I need to hop across the foam to the stairs where the dream implies I can ascend to safety. Oh, and obviously, there are crocodiles swimming in the lava that pop up, ensuring I wake with heart-racing fear. The nightmare’s origin was a childhood game. The floor was lava, and furniture was safe. We’d hop between them, cracking up when someone missed and ‘burned up’. My fearful mind transformed a child’s game into a nightmare.
Do you ever wake up and try to end a bad dream in a not-scary way? I used to try to convince myself I made it out. Of course, that didn’t work and just increased anxiety and further delayed sleep. Until recent years, I didn’t have a good tool to battle fear other than to wait it out.
Adults struggle with fear too. Do you? God equips us to comfort others as we’ve been comforted.Adults struggle with fear too. Do you? God equips us to comfort others as we've been comforted. Click To Tweet
Embrace Grace, Not Mom-Guilt
Through my fears, God opened my eyes to the opportunity we all have as parents: we have the chance to equip our children now, with tools to battle fear for a lifetime. It’s a chance we must not squander.
Let’s talk about what to do if you have handled your child’s nighttime fears like I did. Don’t be like me and wallow in mom-guilt. While true sorrow over our failures as parents is a right and normal response, mom-guilt is not. Nothing good will come of it and it won’t help our children either. Instead, recognize the truth of God’s uncommon grace. God’s grace is enough for our worst parenting mistakes. He promises to restore the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25), in you and your child. Beginning right now, He can help us parent in a new way.
Though painful, I’m grateful God revealed my selfishness. My heart aches over the way I handled things before. When I apologized to our son, he was so gracious, and I could see how much my apology meant to him. Now, I’ve asked God to help me greet our son with loving-kindness, no matter how tired I am. It hasn’t been perfect, but God is changing me. God has been faithful to me; He will be faithful to you too.
Don’t beat yourself up, move forward in the truth of God’s uncommon grace.
Equipping Our Children to Battle Nighttime Fears Is A Privilege
We can’t stop our child’s imagination from creating nightmares, or prevent them from having daytime or nighttime fears. But we can equip them to deal with fear, night or day, when it comes up.
God gives us the privilege and responsibility to get up in the middle of the night to help our children learn to battle nighttime fears. Equipping our child’s mind to focus on God in the midst of fear takes time and practice. Refuse to squander the opportunity by rushing, just because you might feel tired in the morning.God gives us the privilege and responsibility to get up in the middle of the night to help our children learn to battle nighttime fears. Equipping our child's mind to focus on God in the midst of fear takes time and… Click To Tweet
Distraction Isn’t Enough
Children have vivid imaginations. While imagination is a gift, it sometimes needs to be tamed in the area of fear. I recognize it, because I do too.
Fears can take adults by surprise. Real life situations involving loved ones are far more terrifying than a lava filled basement. Our minds run down rabbit trails of what-ifs of everyday circumstances: a husband traveling, a child’s food allergies, or losing sight of a child suddenly becomes the worst-case scenario. Unchecked, the craziest, scariest and heart-wrenching disasters send our hearts racing. We aren’t good at distracting ourselves out of these fears either, are we?
Distraction isn’t enough to stop a fearful imagination.
It takes discipline to STOP and refocus the mind. Even after years of practice, my mind wanderers more than I’d like to admit, but I do see improvement. I can choose to stop fixating on fear by focusing on God.
Our children can too.There is no better time than now to start.
Distraction is a short-term solution. It doesn’t lessen the frequency, nor does it give lasting peace or comfort. It’s a band-aid, covering over but not healing the wound itself. Distraction doesn’t change a child’s mindset or offer a way to rely on God when afraid.
The repetitive nature of a nighttime fears requires a new plan. We can harness our children’s ever-increasing age, and growing faith and knowledge of God to equip them to battle nighttime fears.
Turning Our Child’s Focus to God
The Bible has something to say about anxiety and worry that we can apply to nighttime fears.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
But saying a scripture verse alone isn’t really enough for a child or adult wrestling with fear. It needs to be digested and lived out. Apply God’s Word to our lives requires practice. As parents, we can demonstrate and help our child practice and learn to use God’s Word to battle nighttime fears. To do this, we need a practical way to equip our children to follow this instruction. I’m sharing ONE way to begin today.
For the past 6 months, we tried something different with our son. I’ve been using this tool for my own fears since I heard a wise woman talk about it at Bible Study Fellowship a few years ago. Not only has it given me a tool to use with my own nighttime fears, it’s changed my heart. I’m so excited to share it with you, because it’s working for our son too!
Using the ABC’s to Focus on God and Battle Nighttime Fears
Now, when our son is feeling afraid at night, we stop and use the ABC’s to recall:
- who God is
- what He has done and will do
- what His Word says
This method reminds us of a truth we need to know when afraid – God hasn’t failed us yet, and He won’t begin to fail us right now.Use the ABC's to recall who God is, what He has done and will do, and what His Word says to equip your child to battle nighttime fears. Click To Tweet
Using the ABC’s to battle nighttime fear is more than distraction. It trains our child’s mind to stop dwelling on fears and look to God, who is bigger than any fear. Young or old, we’re reminded that God is BIG and capable. Therefore, we can trust Him, regardless of our fear – come what may.
Here are our son’s answers from last night. The next post will include two printable resources to use with your family. One is a printable list of WORDS to use in the ABC’s, and one is a printable of ABC scripture verses to learn together. I can’t wait to share these with you!
A 8 Year Old’s Responses
- A – God is AMAZING
- B – God is BIG
- C – God is in CONTROL of all things
- D – Jesus DIED on the cross
- E – God is ETERNAL
- F – He is FAITHFUL
- G – GOD is GREAT and gives GRACE. God gets the GLORY
- H – HOLY, HOLY, HOLY
- I – The Holy Spirit is IN me. “He is the great I ‘something’ ” (I AM)
- J – He is GENEROUS (we talked about that being a G but I love his heart on this one)
- K – He is the KING
- L – God LOVES me
- M – God is MIGHTY. He MADE me
- N – God is NOCTURNAL (then, wait, what is nocturnal again? So we talked about how God doesn’t need to sleep when we do. He is awake and we can rest while we sleep because He never stops doing His job). And God NEVER changes
- O – God is OVER all things
- P – God gives us PEACE. He is POWERFUL
- Q – Jesus can QUIET the storm
- R – Jesus is the RESCUER
- S – Jesus SAVED me from my sin
- T – God TEACHES us
- U – God made US, saved US, loves US
- V – God has the VICTORY already
- W – God is WITH me
- X – God is EXTRAORDINARY
- Y – we came up with YEARNS for us to know Him together
- Z – we came up with ZEALOUS together
When finished, talk about how BIG God is and how He is trustworthy. Then, take the opportunity to pray together.
Praying after recounting all of these truths about God, is powerful. We know exactly WHO we are praying to because we’ve been reminded of who God is, what He has done and will do, and what His Word says. He hasn’t failed us yet. And we can thank Him for the peace and joy we’ve experienced through the process of praising Him.
Lord, thank you for reminding us of who you are and what you can and will do. God, you are faithful! Your Word tells us that nothing is too hard for you. Thank you for listening to us and hearing our prayers. We know you are with us. God we trust you. You are bigger than our fear and any dreams or thoughts we can have. Protect [INSERT CHILD’s NAME]’s mind from being afraid or having any more bad dreams. We love you. Amen.
We should have started sooner. I wrongly assumed it would be too hard. However, since day one, our son has been able to do most letters on his own. If your child knows their letters and sounds, they can do this; It only gets easier with time.
You guys, God is so cool.
Afterwards, our son’s prayers are confident and bold. I literally see peace washing over him before he dozes off. Distraction, without training his mind to seek God never brought this kind of peace.
And me? What better way to fall asleep than to know ALL this truth is hidden in our son’s mind and heart?
I know this seems like a big list. It seems like kids can’t possibly do this. But I urge you to not over-think it. Try it. Don’t worry about getting through the whole alphabet. Some nights we do A-G. Others A-M. How far you go really depends on how your child is feeling.
There is more hidden in the hearts and minds of our kids than we know. If it’s a struggle, practice during the day using the resources in the next post to build vocabulary for nighttime use.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (ESV)
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Learning the ABCs of God’s attributes, character and word creates a simple way to fulfill Deuteronomy 6 living with your family. Talk about God’s character during the day as you see Him working in your life. Talk about His creation as you explore the world. The vocabulary of God is unending!
While this method can help a child train their mind to focus on God, it is not a cure-all for fear or anxiety. I share it as ONE resource to try. As parents, we all need additional resources. Here’s some that your family may find helpful, and as always, consult with a medical professional if you have additional concerns.