So, when your child tells you he or she is struggling with anxiety, shame, or depression, what, as a parent, should you do? Well first, celebrate the reality that they felt comfortable enough to share. Second, do not freak out. Those seem like two easy things to do, but we all know that when such a reality stares us in the face, they are not easy. When our children are hurting or sharing hard things, we want to fix it, we want to help, we want to solve the problem.
Why do parents feel this way? We all want what is best for our kids. I do. You do. It is a natural—and quite honestly—a good thing. As their parents, we should want what is best for our children. However, sometimes fixing the problem does not actually fix the problem.
Don’t Freak Out
You tracking? Quickly “fixing” depression with a trip to get ice cream does not help when your 17-year-old is suffering from anxiety. It’s tempting to try to alleviate their pain with a quick band-aid, but that does not work. Time, patience, talking, seeking Jesus, and getting help are great steps to getting true help.
What do I mean when I offer the advice “Do not freak out”? Simply put, freaking out happens when you stop listening and immediately go into action mode. Instead of asking questions, you start making statements. You put an action plan together, forgetting that your child just wants to be heard, not dealt with.
Often, when your son or daughter shares hard things like this, they simply want to be heard. They want you, the parent, to acknowledge, listen, and ask questions. Not asking condemning questions, but caring ones. So do not freak out means this: remain calm, ask questions, show you care, listen, validate their thoughts, and point them to biblical truth, reassuring them of God’s promises.
Gaining Your Child’s Respect & Trust
I know that at the end of the day, there will be moments when you will have to discipline, make decisions, or do hard things for your son or daughter. They might respond, “But you are not listening to me!” Having the discernment and maturity to know when to listen and when to take action takes years of practice. It also takes failure, and it’s ok to acknowledge your failures. That actually can help earn respect and trust. And ultimately, trust will be the best—and hardest— thing to gain.
When it comes to building trust, every child is different. Some have walls built up that will take time for their parents to deconstruct. Some relationships have yet to even approach the subject of mental health. Some parents are naïve to the reality that this might be necessary in their home. Sometimes kids are doing great on the outside, yet their parent has never seriously asked how they are and therefore does not know the struggle that their child faces.
While each family dynamic is unique, there is one thing that is universal: the currency of trust that a parent and child should pursue. Building such a relationship, one that is built on the foundation of Jesus and also built on trust, is a goal each parent should have.
Remember You Aren’t Alone
At the end of the day, you are the parent God chose for your student. Praise be to God. Yet, although you are the parent God chose for your child, that still can be so difficult when your child is struggling with their mental health. Parents, take heart and know that you are not your children’s Savior. You cannot save them, but you can listen to them. You cannot prevent them from struggling with mental health, but you can show them Jesus and offer to them a Savior who will always listen, always be near, always offer peace, and always love them. I pray you show them Jesus is better.
Lastly, you are not alone. First, the Lord is with you. Second, your church supports you. Third, other parents are walking through similar hardships. Fourth, counseling is available for you, your student, and both of you together. Never be afraid to ask for help and admit you are struggling. The reason we need Jesus is because we are broken. All of us. So, I encourage you to seek help and get guidance on how you can continue to support your family and your child.