As the editorial staff developed the May issue of Forward in Christ, the mandatory quarantines had just begun. We had no way of predicting what would be taking place when this issue is being read. Yet no matter what, the information that Sarah Reik shares here can be applied to so many situations as we parent our children. Since the fall into sin, life has a tendency to be unpredictable. How we react to that—and teach our children to react to that—is one of the most important lessons I believe we can share with our kids.
— Nicole Balza
We all go through times in our lives when we face uncertainty, and in the last few months we have experienced how unsettling that can feel. As difficult as uncertainty can be for adults, it can be even more of a struggle for children. Here are four words to remember as we seek to help our children cope during uncertain times.
Children are often sensitive to our emotions and respond to them, even when we don’t express them directly. We are not immune to fear and anxiety during uncertain times just because we are adults. Because we have the power to set the tone for our children, it is important that we are intentional about calming ourselves so that we don’t project our own fear onto our children.
If you are struggling with your own anxiety, share your concerns with another adult before you talk with your children. Practice relaxation and deep breathing. Go to God and “cast all your anxiety on him” (1 Peter 5:7). Plan what you want to say and practice it ahead of time. Often just talking at a slower pace using a quiet, reassuring tone speaks volumes, even more than the actual words you are saying.
When our dog was sick and it seemed like she might die soon, I shared my fears with my friends and the vet and cried in the shower. When I finally talked to my children about the possibility of losing her, the tears still came, but I was able to express hope that she might get better and that if this was her time, she had lived a great life with us.
Whether you are sharing facts and information or simply listening to your child ask questions or express emotions, setting aside time for communication is crucial during uncertain times. I’ve found that bedtime is often a time that my children want to talk—although it may just be a delay tactic.
We can’t give our children a life free from uncertainty, but we can model and encourage calm during uncertain times.
It’s helpful to check in about how our children are feeling and let them know that we will stop what we are doing to listen if they need to be heard. Devotion time is an opportune time for encouraging deeper thoughts and more open communication. Asking our children what prayer requests they have can give us some insight into how they are coping and what their concerns might be.
Some children aren’t as eager to talk but might be willing to write back and forth with you in a notebook or text what they are feeling. Whether you have a chatty child like my 11-year-old daughter or a not-so-chatty child like my 13-year-old son, the message that you are available and listening is powerful and reassuring.
In uncertain times, it’s helpful for our children to have as much consistency as possible. Any type of routine that is familiar will be comforting. What is possible will depend on the situation, of course, but usually some aspects of life can stay the same. From mealtimes to naptimes, from school routines to bedtime routines, consistency communicates stability, even amidst great change.
Setting aside time for communication is crucial during uncertain times.
When schools were first closed because of COVID-19, my children’s teachers worked tirelessly to provide some consistency amid the chaos. They may not have communicated it in so many words, but my children definitely found comfort in the fact that even though so much was uncertain, they still needed to complete math assignments and research projects. We can tell our children that God knows our need for consistency too, and he has promised, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Genesis 8:22).
God extends his promises to us during times of uncertainty. The devotion I just read last night encouraged this prayer: “Ask God to remind your heart of three things: that you are not in control of your life—only he is; that he loves you far more than you love yourself; and that he is infinitely wiser than you are about what is best.”¹ What a wonderful message to share with our children during uncertain times!
I grew up in a pastor’s family, and we often had times of uncertainty. My dad received 11 calls when I was in grade school! We wondered if he would take a call and we would move. Yet we were always encouraged that God knew what was best and would guide us toward the right decision. When we made the move from Colorado to Wisconsin after my eighth grade year, the message from my parents was clear and reassuring: “We may not know what our lives will look like, but God is leading us in this direction, and it will be an adventure that will work for our good.” During uncertain times, we can confidently assure our children that the God who loved them enough to die for them knows and controls the present and the future and that he is guiding us all toward a life with him in heaven.
We can’t give our children a life free from uncertainty, but we can model and encourage calm during uncertain times. We can communicate our love to them through our presence and an eagerness to listen. We can establish consistency when possible, and we can assure them of God’s control. After all, it was during one of the most uncertain times in Israel’s history—when God’s chosen people were exiles in Babylon—that God gave his people one of his most comforting promises: “ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).
I can’t think of anything more reassuring than that!
¹The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple’s Devotional by Timothy and Kathy Keller, p. 77.
Author: Sarah Reik
Volume 107, Number 05
Issue: May 2020