The Early Years typography
“As homeschooling parents, we have the ability to come alongside, make adjustments, and empower our children. Fears and concerns are a real part of life, and it is comforting to know someone will listen and understand.”
Helping Children Overcome Fears typography
Cheryl A. Bastian

“Cheryl, I want you to spend the first ten minutes of recess working with me on your mistakes.”

Everyone looked at me. They knew my paper was full of errors, again. I hated missing recess and needed time away from paper and pencil—fresh air and playtime with friends—to help relieve the stress of my academic struggles. Needless to say, some mornings I had tummy aches and wished I could stay home.

For some children, the fear of being wrong and not measuring up can be a breeding ground for perfectionism, anxiety, and an assortment of other emotions. As homeschooling parents, we have the ability to come alongside, make adjustments, and empower our children. Fears and concerns are a real part of life, and it is comforting to know someone will listen and understand.

“Do not fear, for I am with you, do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

–Isaiah 41:10, NASB
Be an Encourager

New skills take practice. Children master skills on unique timelines with varying degrees of practice. Some need two minutes, while others need a few days. Some master a concept with three practice problems, while others need repeated introductions. Skill and concept acquisition are highly individual.

When a child is acquiring a skill, whether trying something new or working toward mastery, words of encouragement and affirmation breathe hope into the effort. These sentences might include:

“I believe you can spell these words.”

“You are working so hard on this problem.”

“I know you will make the good choice.”

“I know you can finish this problem on your own.”

“Let’s take a break and come back fresh.”

Math and language arts are the two most common subject areas where fear and anxiety rise to the surface. This may be related to working too quickly through content or moving on before concepts are mastered.

Fear or anxiety may also stem from the instructional methods. Take time to sort out the reasons why these feelings are surfacing, and allow children to share their thoughts.

Listening to children may reveal:

  • They need a hands-on approach to cement the content, for example, cutting a pizza into equal parts to understand fractions.
  • They have not correlated objects and symbols, for example, three buttons and the numeral 3 or the “b” sound and the letter “b.”
  • They need a connection to real-life examples or usage. For example, one dozen is two rows of six, or how reading frequently used words like exit, stop, push, or pull is the means to mastery.
  • They are visually overwhelmed. A page that contains too many problems can be folded in half to help them.
  • They need to build muscle strength. Have them use a vertical white board when writing numbers, letters, equations, and spelling words.
  • They aren’t developmentally ready to sit at a table for long periods of time. Frequent breaks may be needed in order for them to be successful.

Words are powerful. Conversations provide avenues for discovery about self and circumstances. Not only are words powerful energizers, but they are also able to shed light on hard places and open the possibilities for refreshment and stress relief.

Change is not always immediate, so consistent encouragement can be the steadfast bulwark our children need to persevere with courage, especially in hard times when small steps are needed to make big advances.

You can encourage your child, even in the hardest of hard. The words you offer and the kindness you extend can be catalysts to support your children in overcoming fears and anxieties. Consider what would bring encouragement your children’s day. How could you breathe courage into your children when they find a skill difficult? Is there a change in teaching methods that might ease anxiety? As you offer assistance, remember to leave time in the day for children to share their feelings, concerns, and fears. Sometimes the greatest inspiration we can offer is found in the gift of time and conversation.

Be Real

When the rising waters of fear, anxiety, or perfectionism begin to seep into our day, I know something is going awry. This is my cue to take a closer look. Sometimes a food sensitivity causes hypersensitivity and tears. Perhaps we started a new set of spelling words or a child took off his training wheels. Maybe we shifted our routine or an upcoming event has brought tension. All of these scenarios, and the emotions and feelings that come with them, affect how children respond and react. We can help our children navigate these situations.

Often our children face similar challenges we have tackled. In those times, my children find comfort in knowing they are not alone and that someone in the family has been where they are now. When I can, I share stories from my life, times when I faced something similar. Their eyes often widen with surprise and their shoulders drop with relief, thankful someone understands what they are going through. Telling the stories on the child’s level without exaggeration helps safeguard against any of my fears becoming my children’s.

“Sometimes the greatest inspiration we can offer is found in the gift of time and conversation.”
As children grow to be more abstract thinkers, they tend to have more fears. This is expected. Reading picture books with themes related to our children’s fears and concerns helps them navigate their feelings and ask questions. Talking about how the main character dealt with a particular fear or challenge has been a catalyst for addressing more personal scenarios. Some of our favorite reads have been:

  • Town Mouse and Country Mouse by Jan Brett (jealousy and envy)
  • Stone Soup by Marcia Brown (greed and selfishness)
  • Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Burton (courage and perseverance)
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (forgiveness and bullying)
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman (fear and determination)
  • Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats (the birth of a sibling)
  • Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats (facing a hard task, mastering a skill)
  • The Raft by Jim LaMarche (fear, change, and courage)
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (getting lost or separated from a parent)
  • One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey (losing a tooth)
  • The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper (courage and perseverance)
  • Curious George Rides a Bike by H. A. Ray (responsibility and honesty)

Stories are powerful and connect us with our feelings and speak to our hearts. Knowing others have faced what we do helps us to be courageous.

Be Empowering

When I begin to see behaviors like inattentiveness, procrastination, or negative self-talk, it’s a red flag. Often these are cues that something is not right. By trying to remember how I faced my own fears or worries, I know how to better respond to or care for my child. In those moments, I ask myself how I would feel if I repeatedly miscounted sets, heard different phonetic sounds when I was writing or reading, or could not remember the steps to brushing my teeth. With this perspective I can better pray for insight about how best to come alongside my child.

father and son
Our words can empower our children. The comments we make stick in their memories. Knowing this, I am intentional about the phrases or statements I use. I try to remember sentences like:

“I remember trying to hit the tennis ball. It takes practice, kind of like an experiment you get to do over and over.”

“Little steps add up. Keep trying. You can do it.”

“I know this will be hard, but you are capable of making this decision.”

“Though you have had difficulty with multiplication in the past, you know these facts well now. You will become faster as time goes on.”

Sometimes mastering a skill, overcoming a fear, or changing a habit requires breaking down the obstacle into manageable chunks. Small steps allow children to feel successful and confident in their progress. If we are honest, adults can feel the same way. There are times when overcoming something feels big and cumbersome. Breaking down the task and having someone to walk alongside helps.

Children tend to be afraid of the dark. Several of our children have wrestled with this fear. When they share their concern, I tell them about how I would sing Jesus Loves Me to myself. I explained that this helped me remember that God was with me. This shows them that they, too, have the ability to remind themselves God is with them, all day and all night. As a mom of littles for over thirty years, I’ve learned that if I begin singing Jesus Loves Me to my babies and toddlers—and even into the preschool years—I model a powerful tool for them to adopt for themselves. I end the conversation by reminding my children that sometimes I am still afraid in the dark. When I am, I pray and sing.

Another way we have helped our children learn to navigate their fears is to ask questions. By asking questions and talking about concerns, children are empowered to be directly involved in finding solutions. These conversations help us come up with a plan. For example, when talking to a child about fear of the dark, we might ask, “What is your greatest fear?” If he or she shares the fear of the front door not being locked, I offer to have him or her help us lock the door as part of the nighttime routine. Other open-ended questions include:

“How could I help you feel more comfortable learning how to ride on two wheels?”

“How can I help you overcome being scared you will forget how to subtract?”

“If we go to Aunt Cheryl’s, what would make you feel more comfortable?”

Giving my children tools—ways they can handle their fears and concerns—leads them through steps, little by little.

At times, I had to help a child avoid a fear for a season. For example, young children have a hard time distinguishing between real and pretend. When I knew we would likely encounter someone in costume, I would prepare my child ahead of time and reassure him or her that we would stand or sit together, away from the character. Eventually, when the child understood the difference between real and pretend, characters were no longer scary.

New developmental and academic stages offer opportunities to learn new skills and defeat obstacles. The process also brings risks and challenges, situations that require courage. We can help our children process their concerns and give them tools to overcome them. Children conquer their fears when they have a significant person to encourage and empower them—to lock arms with them through the fear.


heryl Bastian has been married to Mike for thirty years and began homeschooling in 1993. A mother of eight children—preschool through adult—Cheryl knows the trials and triumphs of embracing each season of life and is passionate about equipping and inspiring parents who want to nurture a desire for life-long learning in their children.