Coping With Fear
How to teach your children to cope with living in a scary, sometimes unjust world.
Children react to fear the same way their parents do.
They reflect our emotions. If you are frightened and talk about it in front of them, they'll become fearful too -- and they catch everything, even things we miss.
Therefore, if you want to help your kids deal with living in a sometimes frightening or negative world, you need to learn to cope with fear yourself.
KIDS REFLECT EVERYTHING
I once heard the following story: a couple couldn't figure out why their three-year-old daughter became suddenly frightened of ants -- until they discovered that two days before, their grandmother had found some ants in the kitchen and said, "Oh no, look at the ants here! They'll eat up everything."
To that three-year-old, "everything" includes her!
"Oh no, look at the ants here! They'll eat up everything." To that three-year-old, "everything" includes her!
If you are calm and positive, that will also be reflected in your children.
During the Gulf War in Israel, when sirens went off to tell us that missiles were incoming from Iraq, everyone had to rush into rooms specially sealed against gas attack.
A friend of my daughter's was in our home when one of the attacks began. I had to quickly decide if she should stay with us or go back to her parents down the road. I am not sure the civil defense would approve, but I chose to bring her home so she could be with her parents.
When we were outside, walking to her building, the streets were empty and the sirens were blaring. This kid knew very well what the sirens meant, but she wasn't afraid. The person taking her wasn't afraid, so she wasn't afraid. Children reflect how we feel.
The real question is how to help parents deal with negativity and fear.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR FEAR
The Torah commands us to love God. In general, I would not advise you to command anyone to love you. It's not terribly effective.
And yet the Torah does. It also commands us to fear God, and commands soldiers not to be afraid during war.
How can the Torah command someone to have -- or not have -- a particular emotion?
It doesn't. The Torah is commanding us to act, to do something to bring about that emotion.
We are not commanded to keep a thought out of our heads. It's very difficult to stop ourselves from thinking or feeling something, but we are held responsible for what we do with it once it's there.
We are not commanded to keep a thought out of our heads. We are held responsible for what we do with it once it's there.
How do you handle fear and negativity if you can't just push it out of your head?
WHERE DOES NEGATIVITY COME FROM?
We have an unfortunate tendency to focus on what's wrong.
I have a mouthful of teeth but I don't even notice them. No one tells me that they are there, yet they are at my beck and call. My eyes are my faithful servants. I would definitely notice if they weren't there, or stopped working. But do I appreciate them when they do?
We don't appreciate the incredible gifts we have on a day-to-day basis. That is the foundation of negativity: thinking that things are coming to me.
When things are good -- when you have your health, your family, your way of supporting yourself -- you don't even think about it, because these things are coming to you, right? Wrong.
Nothing is coming to you. Whatever you have is a gift.
Every morning, Jews recite a series of blessings thanking God for what's good: for being able to walk, for being able to see, for being free. They teach us to appreciate all that we have, however much we might tend to take it for granted.
The blessings help me in two ways: they alert me to the fact that I have such gifts and they help motivate me to work to keep them.
FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE
How do you control your negativity? The simplest way is to find something positive.
Some people notice details, and they use this tendency to notice negative things. Turn it around and notice good things.
If you notice an ugly painting on your friend's wall, force yourself to appreciate that it is hung straight. Note how boring the wall would be without it. Recognize that it is centered on the wall.
If your child comes home kvetching about her teacher every day, let her. But insist that she also point out one good thing. The complaining will stop in a few days.
A favorite phrase of mine is: "For every ailment under the sun, there's a remedy or there's none. If there's one, find it. If there's none, never mind it."
For every ailment under the sun, there's a remedy or there's none. If there's one, find it. If there's none, never mind it.
Do what you can to make yourself safe, to protect yourself from harm. What you can do, do. What you can't do -- forget about.
Ultimately, feelings of security are best engendered by trusting God. When we realize that we truly are in God's benevolent hands, then nothing can paralyze us with fear. Certainly we make our best efforts to protect ourselves, but these steps do not take place in the context of fear, but of security.
Natan Sharansky writes that the fear of God, the "result of an inner stirring brought about by the lofty Divine vision, by a...respect for God's essence... is the one factor capable of conquering human fear. Thus all that remains for us is to repeat the words of King Solomon, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.' "
Just as a smaller pain is forgotten at a time of greater pain, and a smaller happiness is forgotten at a time of greater happiness, if you fear God, you don't fear anyone else.