Children & Emotions: How Can Parents Help?
Adults often struggle to know how to handle negative feelings. Both outside and inside the church, much carnage is wrought upon individuals, relationships, and society at large due to the mishandling of anxiety, shame, and depression.
But it isn’t just adults who struggle with handling feelings biblically. Children feel deeply and, due to their relative lack of life experience and maturity, have even fewer tools to work with. So, what can parents do to help children navigate tough feelings?
We believe that Scripture is sufficient for all that God requires us to believe and do (2 Tim. 3:17). So, while simply memorizing a verse will not cure the difficult emotions your child experiences, Scripture provides wisdom and guidance as we let it sink into our hearts. We can use it to equip our children to respond biblically when they experience anxiety (fear), shame (embarrassment), and depression (sadness).
Let’s look at one Scripture passage that addresses each emotion I’ve mentioned:
Anxiety (Fear) – Philippians 4:6-7
Has your child dealt with anxiety? They may not call it that, but you know it when you see it. Maybe they dread going to school because of an unkind person. Or, do they worry about what people will think of them or fear talking to new people? If they are a follower of Jesus, Philippians 4:6-7 gives them three great truths to live by.
First, God tells us we are not trapped. Anxiety is when fear gets ahold of us—either because we fear the wrong things or because we fear the right things too much. For instance, it would be right to do homework because you fear your teacher’s disapproval. But it would be wrong to fear the teacher so much that you don’t try. God’s Word says fear does not have to control you. It says, “Do not be anxious” (v. 6), which implies that it is possible!
Second, God tells us how to deal with anxiety. He wants us to turn our anxiety into prayer. And doesn’t this make sense? Prayer forces us to take our minds off of what we are anxious about and set our minds on the only one who can change anything. And when we turn to God in thankfulness, we recognize that he is sovereign over all things, that he means this for our good if we are in Christ. When we turn from anxiety to prayer and thanksgiving, we remind ourselves that we are firmly in his hand.
Third, he promises peace in the storm, not after the storm. If you wrote this passage, would it say the same thing? Or would it read something like “Do not be anxious. Pray and give thanks, and God will take away the bad stuff”? Instead, God promises something better. He will give us the ability to not be anxious no matter what kind of bad stuff is happening. He promises his peace will guard us. It is a peace that will let us move forward even when we’re scared because we know he is in control.
This is exactly why it is a peace “which surpasses all understanding” (v. 7). If you do not believe God is in control, you have every reason to be anxious. But he is, and so you can trust him. No matter what.
Shame (Embarrassment) – 1 Corinthians 1:27-31
Has your child ever felt embarrassed? Are they ever ashamed of the way they look, their school performance, or their ability to play sports? Or maybe they have battled deeper struggles and shame already in their young life. Regardless of its intensity, shame cannot stand against the truth of the Bible. If your child is a follower of Jesus, God’s Word offers hope in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31.
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul talks about how God’s ways are different from ours Where we tend to choose the strong and impressive, God sees things differently. When Jesus first came, he chose the outcast, the dirty, the poor, the uneducated.
He did that to shame the strong. If God only chose the strong, then they would think he chose them because they were so great. By choosing the weak, he showed that nothing we do can earn his favor. Similarly, nothing that we have done or that has been done to us can keep us out of his favor if we have trusted in him. There is an even playing field in Jesus. And so, we don’t focus on our success and boast or brag. And we don’t get ashamed when we have nothing to boast about.
If your child feels shame, they are exactly the sort of person God wants to save. When we feel shame, we feel like we don’t measure up. But none of us measure up to God’s standard. Ever since Adam and Eve, we have much to be ashamed of. We feel shame because we are guilty before the Lord. But in our shame, we can go to Jesus. Jesus takes away our guilt; in Jesus, we have nothing to be ashamed of.
Depression (Sadness) – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Everyone gets sad. But sometimes we get really sad or sad for a long time. Some people even seem more likely to get sad. You might even call this sad feeling depression. Has your child ever felt this way? If your child is a follower of Jesus, God’s Word has hope for them in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. In summary, these verses share that God is full of mercy and comfort; and when things are hard, God comforts us and uses it for the good of others.
So, what does this have to do with depression? Well, sometimes your child doesn’t know why they are sad. At other times, they do. Maybe a grandparent died, a friend moved, or maybe your child is experiencing the consequences for sin. Sadness itself isn’t wrong. Sometimes it’s right.
Regardless of the reason, God is mainly concerned with how we respond to sadness. If we turn our sadness into hopelessness, we sin—which just makes us sadder! But if we remember these verses, we can respond in a way that pleases him. We can talk to God about our sadness. And if we have sinned in our response to hard things, we can repent.
We could also ask this question: “What’s the next best thing I could do?” Then we do it. That could mean doing the chore that needed done or finding someone to serve. Ultimately, it means getting our eyes off ourselves and our problems, moving forward with the good things God has given us to do today, and looking for how he might use us to bless others.
Walking in Obedience
As with any emotion, we may need to teach our children to walk forward in obedience before they feel better. This step of faith proves that we trust God’s Word. Remembering these verses won’t immediately perfect your child’s response to negative emotions. But it will begin to transform their heart as the truth becomes surer than the emotion. These passages can go a long way toward helping your child know, love, and obey the God of all comforts.