Children of all ages face anxieties. Here is what you need to know about these worries, and how you can help ease their concerns.
Children’s Anxieties – Ages 2 to 4
Preschoolers are concrete thinkers. So they react fearfully to the unexpected. Things such as darkness, unusual life-size characters, or death are out of their control or experience. Two-to 4-year-olds are usually apprehensive about separating from Mom or Dad. They have an instinctive need for routine, for knowing what comes next. Changes in regular home or classroom routine set off alarm bells in a child’s mind.
How to Respond
Provide a brightly lit, warm, welcoming atmosphere. Have children come to the same room each week. Establish permanent drop-off and pick-up procedures for parents and children. Allow children to come with one security item, such as a blanket or stuffed animal. Keep your classroom routine simple and consistent. Vary your activities within a set schedule. Staff preschool rooms with the same teacher each week — one who sets consistent behavior limits and boundaries. Emphasize to children that God is loving and in control.
Children’s Anxieties – Ages 5 to 8
Children this age think literally and love rules. Fears arise when rules are changed. They become anxious when fair play is violated. They’re afraid they won’t be accepted by others for what they wear, say, or do. Children have anxieties about not being able to give the correct answer or stumbling over the proper words in a prayer or during a Bible reading. They’re worried about looking stupid in front of their peers.
How to Respond
Listen to and observe how children feel. Are they sad? happy? Do they make eye contact? look down at the ground? Always encourage fair play. Tell children that you’ll see that everyone plays by the rules. Don’t force nonreaders to read aloud. Use group prayers to include kids who feel uncomfortable praying aloud by themselves. Plan different activities for children to choose from. Emphasize that God loves them for who they are, not for what they do.
Children’s Anxieties – Ages 9 to 12
Older children worry about their self-image. Peer pressure and hormonal changes add to their anxieties. They worry about what it means to “look cool.” Kids have anxieties about the opposite sex and aren’t sure how to act. During these years, many parents divorce and remarry. So kids are often concerned about their family situations. Kids this age also worry about the fragility of life and the finality of death.
How to Respond
Emphasize God’s love and acceptance to help kids’ self-esteem. Understand and listen to kids’ concerns. Then use Bible lessons that connect with these concerns. Discuss how others cope with that worry or concern. Talk about how God can help them and be their strength. Avoid embarrassing a child in front of a group and acting shocked or overly concerned about a child’s worries. Help kids solve their own problems. Lovingly explore the problem together and ask for the child’s solutions. Talk about how others have solved their worries. Pray together.
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