Turn Anxiety into Opportunity

anxious-girlFear is everywhere. I have it. My kids have it. We’re all afraid of something.

When the fear is persistent it becomes anxiety. Whether or not the anxiety is rational, when my kids are anxious and hurting, I tend to be anxious and hurting too. Of all the emotions that can paralyze, anxiety tops the list. I’ve found that my anxiety rarely if ever does anything to help my child.

So now what? This is a deep subject, but here’s one story about how we overcame anxiety with our daughter.

We homeschooled our daughter when she was in junior high. This was an amazing opportunity to build our values into her while having a great amount of one-on-one time.  She has always enjoyed sports and this particular year she thought she would give volleyball a shot. She was excited about playing and looked forward to it for the weeks leading up to the first practice. Having not gone to the local junior high she started becoming anxious about who she would know and how they would treat her.  Anxiety began to grip her.  There was no amount of rational conversation that seemed to make a difference.  She wasn’t going and that was that!

I grew anxious as my daughter did. I began to project my own fears into our interactions. “What if she doesn’t go? She’ll never be able to handle life’s challenges if she doesn’t go.”  I felt embarrassed too, thinking, “What kind of parent am I if can’t even get my child to go to a junior high volleyball practice. What if she does go and then has a meltdown on the court?” With these thoughts in my mind, I pushed my daughter harder. We were getting nowhere fast, or even losing ground.

I settled down a bit and she was willing to talk about it at bedtime and prayerfully invite God into the situation. We prayed through Philippians 4:6-8 and asked God to help her to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  No matter how much we prayed, it still seemed like a mountain.

anxiety kid pin

The breakthrough came when my wife, out of a combined sense of desperation and God’s leading, said, “I believe that there is someone at volleyball that really needs your smile and friendship. My guess is that you will know who it is when you walk in the door.” If there is one verse that everyone in our family knows it is Ephesians 2:10. In essence, God has prepared good works for us to do each and every day and this just might be a way that God uses you to do something “good” for someone else.  My wife was off by 1 day!  On day 2, the “teammate who needed her” appeared and my anxious volleyball player was able to reach out to someone else.  My daughter enjoyed an exciting and encouraging year of 7th grade volleyball and learned a great lesson along the way.

Here are some principles I’ve learned about guiding my children through anxiety:

  • Calm myself and ask the Lord for wisdom about my child’s anxious feelings.
  • Ask questions about the future worry and invite their perspective.
  • Remind the child of their past successes over anxiety.
  • Develop a “possibility plan” of at least 7 ways they could deal with the worry.
  • Allow them to the pick the best one.
  • Reassure them that God is with them and you are there for them too.

For kids with deep-seated, chronic anxiety, these issues may warrant medical help, so of course, consult your pediatrician. For my daughter, all she needed was a refocus on the opportunity instead of the challenge. For myself, I needed to let go of my own anxiety and worry.

Anxiety is normal. We all get anxious. The most important thing to remember is that there is opportunity in anxiety. And when we can help our kids to see life’s challenges as opportunities, then they can better focus on doing the good works God has called them to do.

Want help implementing these principles in your family? Check out our coaching options!

[Photo Credit: Juanmonino | iStockphoto.com]