The first few weeks of staying at home
were likely all about trying to find a way to make everything work. The world and all of our routines were
different and unfamiliar, but still a bit intriguing for children. There were
new experiences like school on the computer, zoom meetings with classmates,
parents at home. It was unfamiliar but not necessarily fearful.
Now the difference has become the new
routine, but things are not as we would like them to be. The intrigue of the new
has given way to the frustration of what we cannot do. We would rather be with
people than see them on the computer screen.
Parents are at home, but they are busy and stressed. At this point,
children begin to grieve the familiar. This is the time when anxiety rears its
While anxiety often shows itself in
typical behaviors, it also hides behind other behaviors that might be
misinterpreted. As you live and work at home, now is the time to consider the
emotions behind their behaviors and respond with grace. By this I mean to
respond with what your children need rather than what they might deserve.
Signs of Anxiety
When young children are seemingly
glued to your leg, it is easy to recognize that this is a symptom of anxiety.
However, if your children are short-tempered, defiant, more tired than usual,
withdrawing and refusing to do their school work, or looking for distractions
in all the wrong ways (i.e., being naughty or disruptive), these are also clues that
they are trying to cope with anxiety. Additionally, if they are bothering you
for small things or lacking the confidence to accomplish tasks that have been
easy for them in the past, anxiety may also be the culprit.
The Why Behind the Behavior
Our brains are all about creating
shortcuts. We love routines and anything predictable because with them the
brain can simply summon up a script for what to do, say, or feel. When we are
in a strange situation, we have to do more thinking, and that creates a burden
on the brain. In addition, if there is a chronic worry, such as the impact of
the virus, the brain must tackle extra work to cope. The behaviors that result from
anxiety are simply signals from the brain that it is trying to catch up. In
addition, when the news makes us stressed, or when we are around other family
members who are stressed, our brains are getting a constant signal for the need
for hyper vigilance . All of this creates a situation known as cognitive
overload. When the brain is in this state – the world doesn’t make sense like
it used to.
Schedule the Day
The best way to counteract anxiety is
to create a new normal. Find a way to schedule the day as best you can so your
children know better what to expect. A child can better handle time set aside
to be free from interruption if you can assure them that it will be followed by
time to be together. Set your schedule
by alternating family chores, work time, story time, family game time, and quiet
time for reflection such as journal writing or drawing.
If you are working from home, set your
phone alarm to remind you to do a quick check-in with your children at several
points throughout the day. You might find that periodically reaching out to
them will reduce the number of interruptions.
The benefit of such a schedule is that
you are teaching your children how to cope with anxiety in positive ways.
Spending time together as well as spending time alone in reflection are both
excellent ways to reduce stress. Don't feel bad about lowering your expectations on what will get done. Learning to cope is an important life lesson.
Share Your Faith
When you take moments out of the day
to bring faith into your family routine, you are teaching your children how to
tackle anxiety and the lesson that faith is a part of every aspect of our
lives. How can faith help when we are afraid if we only use it on Sundays and
in desperate prayers? Think about what repeatable faith activities might
work best with your family:
Are you comfortable praying together?
Even a short prayer such as “Dear Jesus, bring me peace. Amen” will remind your
child of God’s care when anxiety rears its head.
Can you choose a Bible verse to
memorize and repeat? Here a few of my
The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.
Hebrews 13: 6
The LORD your God is with you, He is
mighty to save. Zephaniah 3:17
May the Lord give strength to His
people! May the Lord bless His people with peace! Psalm 29:11
A family motto can serve as a strong
reminder of how God helps us to treat each other with love and understanding.
In this family, we show patience.
In this family, we forgive.
In this family, we help each other.
Each of these small moments of faith
sharing will not only help to release some stress but will teach your children
how faith is woven into our every day life.
During times of chronic stress, acts
of grace shown toward each other are your most effective tool. It is not a time
when you can ignore work that needs doing or the importance of family rules,
but these things might need to take a second seat to sitting together, hugging
each other, and practicing forgiveness. When children learn to cope with
anxiety then they will be better able to learn other things. The world calls it
“cutting each other some slack,” but in a faith-context, grace is so much more and does so much more. Grace teaches and
nurtures. Grace is living God’s love. Grace heals.
Doubting Thomas and Fear
Disciple Thomas’ reaction to the news
of Jesus’ resurrection is an excellent example of the wrong way to cope with
anxiety (John 20). Thomas experienced great fear in watching the crowds go from
shouting “hosanna” to “crucify him!”in a week's time. His brain likely barely comprehended
Jesus’ death, and now his fear was impeding his faith and denying his acceptance of Christ's resurrection. Even when his friends
told Him Jesus was alive, he could not accept it. He tried to take control of
his fear and instead denied his faith.
Jesus’ response was to give Thomas
what he needed. Thomas received no reprimand but instead was able to turn to
his faith by touching the wounds of his Savior.
During times of great difficulty, we
also have the opportunity to experience great learning. Pray, read God’s Word
and experience your faith with your children. God is most willing to give you
what you need.