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Charles H. Betz, Family Life Consultant, Oregon Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Volume 8 Number 11
Help Your Child Become Confident and Courageous

A pilot from Delta Airlines was talking to a group of fearful flyers. Later, he said, "Boy, I'm glad that's over. Speaking in public scares me to death." Every parent would be pleased to have his/her child step out into the world as a responsible, confident, and courageous adult. The tendency toward timidity and fearfulness in children is often inherited. Genetics can be unkind to us.

There has been considerable research done on the socially, backward child. The good news is that with the right care this can be overcome. Lawrence E. Shapiro, Ph.D., says, "Whether your child is born with a strong potential for fearfulness or is very social, no child goes through the stages of childhood without encountering some fears. How parents handle their child's fears, however, can have a significant impact on their overall development." An Ounce of Prevention, p. 115. David, in addressing his son Solomon said, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged." 1 Chron. 22:13, NIV. This is God's ideal for His children.

It is estimated that 40 per cent of the population suffer from shyness. I suppose that much of this is fear of being negatively evaluated. How can we help children to be self-confident, assured, and courageous? Dr. Shapiro offers some suggestions. He says that after we get older the thinking part of our brain actually helps us calm our fears. (Ibid, p. 117.) Alvin, age four, was very shy. His mother met an old school friend in the store, so Alvin moved around behind her so he could hide behind her skirts. "Alvin, now stop trying to hide. Come over and meet Dorothy, my friend from highschool," she said. At four years old Alvin can reason. So, that night, as she was tucking Alvin in bed, she sat down and talked to him about his fears. She asked him to tell her why he was afraid. This is one thing that parents can do--reason with children about their fears. Help them sort things out--and be a good listener.

"Danny, I will leave the light on in your room if you insist, but you are a big boy now, almost four years old. You don't need the light. There is nothing to be afraid of. Your Daddy and I are right across the hall. We turn our light off at night. When you start to feel afraid, why not ask Jesus to take away your fears. Think about your memory verse we learned yesterday. 'Lo, I am with you always,' Jesus will come and be right by your side."

When you see your child making progress in handling irrational fears, affirm him or her. This will help them develop their own coping mechanisms.

It is encouraging to know that a fearful child, with help from parents, can outgrow crippling fears. Dr. Shapiro suggests that general "anxiety disorders...can best be treated in the elementary years."

Anxious parents may do life-long damage. So avoid being overprotective. Don't give in to your child's fears. All children have the ability to calm themselves. And don't be at your baby's beck and call. Of course, you will check to make sure that everything is all right. Talk reassuringly. Don't let your child's timidity dictate the way you respond. Provide a Teddy bear for him/her to hold. Shapiro suggests "Four"R's" to help children overcome their developmental fears: "Reason, reassurance, relaxation, and reenactment." Ibid, p. 127.

Ellen White says, "Every child should be trained to self-reliance....If they would stand in a position where they shall influence others they must be self-reliant." Child Guidance, pp. 156, 157. For school-age children, help them develop social skills. Get them involved in school activities. Mary began talking to her daughter, Lucy, about making friends. "Give me the names of some children you might like to have as friends." Lucy named three or four. "Why not invite them over for games next Sunday afternoon. I'll be glad to help you and to pick them up." The occasion went well. Remember, shy children are often more comfortable with friends a bit younger.

When shy children become teenagers, their fears often intensify. Parents can help. Sam, age 14 had few friends and was socially backward. His parents tried to model friendliness. They invited acquaintances over for swimming who had teenage children. This seemed to help. Then they asked him if he would like to learn to play the saxophone. "Yes, I sure would," he replied. He learned rapidly and he was soon playing in the band. This gave Sam skills that increased his confidence. Then natural relationships developed.

"Because shyness is so common, most shy teens will probably not get professional help, but when symptoms are severe, you must intervene. Teens do not outgrow extreme social phobia, and left untreated, it will develop into a lifelong burden, becoming more entrenched with each passing year." Shapiro, Ibid, p. 146.

The Bible says that, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly" Prov. 18:24, KJV. Jesus was a very social person. Friends enhance our happiness and also provide opportunities for sharing our faith. "'You are my witnesses' declares the Lord" Isa. 43:10, NIV.

 

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