It was one of those mornings. Things had started off well enough with my personal devotion time, followed by making school lunches for my two kids. A quiet peace permeated the kitchen as I toasted an English muffin and slathered strawberry jelly, my favorite, on top.
And then my son woke up.
What transpired in the next half hour was a tornado of stress and confusion that tore through our morning routine. As he got dressed, ate breakfast, and hustled into the car for the drive to school, my son’s anxiety level soared to levels only matched by the height of Mt. Everest. There were tears. Words of concern. Glowering eyebrows. Raised heart rates. And did I mention? Oh. So. Many. Words. Of. Concern.
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Raising Godly Boys with Anxious Little Hearts
Now what induced this epic level of anxiety, you wonder? What terrifying, difficult task lay before my frightened son? Well, they were going to make gingerbread houses at the second-grade Christmas party.
Yes, the prospect of making gingerbread homes from graham crackers, frosting, and all manner of sugary decorations had my dear son in a tizzy, because he had never made a gingerbread house before. (I know. I know. I’ve never made gingerbread houses with my kids… Let’s just agree that this is not a reflection on my parenting and move on, deal?)
Even with reassurances that I’d be on-hand as a party volunteer, my sons’ stress level soared as I drove the van toward school. I managed to get him through the doors of the school that morning, but I felt like I had run an emotional marathon. My own anxieties had started bubbling over, and it was barely 8:00 AM!
I’m guessing most of you have lived out some version of this story with your own anxious sons. It’s amazing how seemingly “little” challenges can become super-sized anxieties in our little boys’ hearts. As they grow into the teen years, hormones only add to the craziness: Dealing with these anxious boys is not for the faint of heart!
The tendency of some parents is to simply brush off the fears, sending their boys the unspoken message that they should just “man up” and get over it. At the other extreme are parents who ruthlessly eliminate every stress from their sons’ lives. Their sons receive an unspoken message too – You don’t have what it takes to handle stress, so avoid it at all costs.
Neither one of these extremes actually helps a boy grow in his ability to handle stress. And if left to fester, these anxious hearts can become twisted in alarming ways: The statistics about depression and suicide are haunting. But just as sobering are the stories of men who handle anxieties by trying to control everything—and everyone—around them.
It’s a little overwhelming, isn’t it? We don’t want to raise macho men who overcompensate for their vulnerabilities by hurting others. But we also don’t want frightened wimps who let fear hold them back from God’s plan for their life.
What’s a mama to do? If you have an anxious boy in your home, take heart.
Here are a few strategies to help you move past the anxiety and raise godly boys:
1. Affirm His Worth
It’s no wonder that anxiety has become such a huge struggle for our boys. We live in a performance-driven culture and much of the way it defines manhood put focus on the externals of what they accomplish. At very tender ages, our boys get bombarded with messages about how they should measure up in areas such as sports, school, or friends.
Our kids need to know that they are valued for more than their performances. They need to know we love them for who they are, even when they struggle. So, celebrate the character traits you see growing in your son’s heart, not just the external rewards or accomplishments he achieves. Assure your son that he’s loved and that it’s okay to make mistakes—we all do.
Life circumstances will trigger anxious moments for our kids, and we can’t control how they arise. But we can alleviate the stress of unrealistic expectations and the pressure to perform for us. And we can fill their lives with praying the truth of Scripture. For anxious boys, having a sense of secure love makes it easier for them to face their fears.
2. Check What You Are Modeling
As parents, we may feel at our wits’ end when our kids get overanxious about every. little. thing. Why are they worked up all the time? Why can’t they calm themselves down?
And then we have to look in the mirror.
Truth is, adult worries might get more “sophisticated,” but they’re worries just the same. And our kids notice far more than we give them credit for. You might tell your son “not to worry so much,” but does he see you worry a lot every day? When you face a stressful or fearful situation, do you find ways to stay calm and move forward—or do you avoid it?
Consider: What are the biggest worries in your heart? And how can you handle them in a way that models good habits for your son’s own anxious heart?
3. Let Him Struggle
When you have an anxious child, there’s a huge temptation “fix” situations for him—or to just avoid stressful situations altogether. Let’s face it: Sometimes we’re already feeling stressed, and we just don’t have it in us to deal with the anxieties of our sons!
The reality is, God wired us to feel anxiety/stress when we’re facing danger: It’s actually a healthy emotion if we learn how to handle it well. We want our boys to be wise and cautious as they step into new situations, right? We just don’t want those natural stresses to hold them back from being all God wants them to be!
So be careful how much you shield your son from stress. God can use these struggles to help him grow into a courageous man. Assure your son that anxiety and stress are a part of life and that he can find a way to move forward. Work together to find a few baby steps he can take to move forward despite his fear. It might be hard to watch him struggle: But each small victory will give him a little more courage for the next time worries arise.
How often have you reacted to your son’s anxious thoughts with words like “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. It’s not that big a deal”? I have this knee-jerk reaction all the time. But our boys can’t just “turn off” their worry. Offering dismissive comments like these might actually add to his anxiety: Now he’s worried about being worried!
God gives a wonderful parenting example to follow when it comes to handling worry: Just consider all the biblical reassurances about his presence amidst our struggles. Offer your son the same kind of love. Empathize with his fears instead of trying to talk him out of them. Be fully present to his fears, assure him that stress is a natural part of life.
We parents often want to move quickly toward advice. But your son needs to feel assured that you really “get” it before he can even consider that advice. When he knows you hear him, understand him, and are for him in the struggle, he’ll feel more confident facing those fears.
5. Teach Him to Talk
Too often, boys struggle with their worries alone. But God’s made us for community—and despite cultural messages to the contrary, there should be no shame in men or boys talking about their fears. Encourage your son to share his anxieties with others—even if the only “other” at this stage of life is you.
Help him process his feelings by asking good questions like “What is it that you think will be hard about this?” or “What’s the part that makes you feel the most scared?” Help him understand his worries better by getting specific: Is he afraid of failure? being hurt? disappointing a friend? being embarrassed?
Ask clarifying questions and give your son space to talk. His answers might just reveal a whole aspect of the situation you didn’t understand at first. Most importantly, all those big, scary anxieties will look a little more manageable when he can put them into words and share them with others.
6. Take Him to Jesus
We can try all kinds of strategies to help our boys fight anxiety. But the most important thing we can do? Lead him to the One who understands that heart even better than we do.
Teach your son that Jesus is right there with them, in their scary, anxious places. Simply remembering God’s presence and love can go far to alleviate fears. But we can go one step further and teach our sons to pray: They can ask God to give them peace, courage, and practical wisdom for the challenge at hand.
When it comes to my own anxious boy, I’ve found that praying Scripture can be especially helpful. Worry tends to exaggerate. And we can’t forget that Satan, too, loves to plant lies into our son’ minds. God’s Word cuts right through these exaggerations and lies. So teach your son to fight his anxiety by praying the truth of Scripture when he starts to feel overwhelmed.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Some kids struggle with anxiety more than others. You might find that implementing a few of these strategies is enough to help your son calm his heart. But some of you may continue to struggle, no matter what you try. If you feel like your son needs more help than you’re able to give him right now, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Help might come in the form of a Bible study group that offers to pray for you when you’re vulnerable enough to share your struggle. It may come in the form of a book you pick up at the library or a podcast you listen to on the radio. Or it may come at a family therapist’s office—a few sessions might be all it takes for you to gain some tools for dealing with anxious little hearts.
Dealing with anxious boys can be both frustrating and overwhelming. We get tired and stressed ourselves, and as much as we want to, we don’t always get it right. But take heart, dear mom. You don’t have to be the perfect one, because your son already has a Perfect parent. And you can trust that He will be at work in your sons’ heart, even in the moments when you are broken and weak.
Hopefully, the suggestions you’ve read here will help next time your son’s anxiety comes rolling in like a tsunami. But never forget: You are not in this alone. You can ask God for the guidance and grace to do your best while dealing with anxious little hearts—and then trust your son to the One who actually crafted that beautiful mind of his.
He can take a boy full of worry and transform him into a man whose thoughtful, wise, and empathetic to the fears of others. He can take an anxiety-riddled youngster and mold him into a man who has courage, despite his fears.
In his great wisdom, God decided you would be the perfect one to walk beside your sons with anxious little hearts. So I’m praying for you, mama. Go with God’s grace to be the peace in the midst of your sons’ storms.
A Tip from Dad (Amy’s Husband):
When you are trying to get your son’s attention or ask him to do something, always count to ten before you get frustrated by a lack of response or make the request a second time: Boys like to compartmentalize, so they always need a few moments to process what you say and get into a “new” compartment. (I think he would probably agree that this goes for “big boys,” aka dads, as well!)
Resource for Boy Moms:
Heroes of the Bible Lego Challenge & Character Study by Tauna Meyer of Proverbial Homemaker.
Amy is a Jesus follower, wife, mom. Sister, daughter, budding activist, friend. When she’s not driving the family taxi, chatting with someone over coffee, or devouring popcorn and good books, she likes to write for her blog, More Like Grace, where you can find encouragement and resources for building a grace-based heart and home.