You may have read the title of this article and wondered, How can I help my children develop their faith? I’m still developing my faith!

Of course, we could ask a similar question about our anger management. Since we continue to lose control on some occasions, should we just not even try to teach our children to manage their tempers? Of course not.

Life is all about growth and improvement. If we’re still angry or still lacking in an abundance of faith, that’s normal. The important thing is that we are constantly working on ourselves. Our kids should be able to see concrete signs of improvement: fewer angry outbursts, greater patience, more self-control, less wringing of hands, fewer words of fear and worry, greater equanimity in the face of challenge, more verbal expressions of sincere trust in G‑d’s ways.

So yes, imperfect as we are, we have the right and theOur kids should be able to see concrete signs of improvement obligation to help our children develop their emunah (faith in G‑d). It is an act of tremendous kindness on our part to help our children learn to swim confidently in the deep end of life, to have all the internal resources they need in order to deal with every challenge they will face. So let’s look at how we can help kids achieve faith.

Instilling Faith and Trust: Do’s & Don’ts

Let’s begin with the “dont’s”:

  • Try not to share your worries and negative thought processes with your children. Children can easily pick up on their parents’ habits and are likely to become worried themselves.
  • When children express their own anxieties, never reprimand them with comments like, “Don’t think that way.” Anxiety and fears are not bad behaviors; they are emotions that require proper support and healing.
  • Don’t shut children down by saying things like, “It’s all up to G‑d,” or, “Don’t worry—G‑d always protects us,” and so on. Although these are perfectly true statements, they should not be offered until you have helped the child address his or her frightened feelings. Fear causes cortical inhibition (a diminished capacity to process and utilize cognitive information), so providing education while the child is in a frightened state is usually useless. Moreover, trying to doFear causes cortical inhibition so may be perceived as uncaring, which can harm the parent-child relationship.

Now let’s look at a few “do’s”:

  • Do accept your child’s fear with open arms: “You’re afraid? Tell me about it.” This helps the fear begin to move out of the child and into your welcoming arms.
  • If sharing the fear does not release it completely (which is quite often the case), offer other strategies for helping to calm the fear. (See “Fear Busters” below.)
  • Once the fear is settled and the child feels more calm, offer the wisdom of Judaism on the subject of faith in G‑d. For example, “Instead of running scary pictures through your mind, imagine the situation turning out just fine. As the Rebbe said, ‘Think good, and it will be good.’” Or, “No matter how it turns out, we can remember that there is a reason for everything, and everything that G‑d does is for our good, whether we see it right away or not.” Check out one of the many wonderful books or online resources that explain the the concept of Divine Providence—the fact that G‑d supervises and supports each one of us in all the small and large details of our life.
  • Take advantage of emotionally neutral moments to gently slip concepts of faith into your child’s heart and mind. Tell vivid stories of your own experiences of being supported by G‑d. For example, tell your child how you asked G‑d for help in finding a parking space right in front of a building because you were already late for a meeting. Sure enough, just as you were pulling up, a car pulled out right in front of the building, leaving you a perfect parking space. “Thank You, G‑d!”
  • Help your child create a “faith-builder” diary—a personal record, complete with stories, drawings, and photos of events in which the benevolent Hand of G‑d became obvious to your child, especially the occasions that were preceded by worry, dread and fear.

Fear Busters

There are numerous ways to help calm a child’s mind and body. Here is a small selection:

  • A child who worries is an expert at (negative) visualization. After the child has described his scary image of unfolding events, and you have accepted the worry with open arms, ask him to close hisA child who worries is an expert at (negative) visualization eyes and imagine everything working out just fine. Ask him to describe the positive events in his new “movie” to you. Ask him how the positive image makes him feel. Instruct him to repeat the exercise as often as possible and particularly when the scary story enters his mind.
  • Another use of this visualization skill is to imagine G‑d’s divine protection and assistance in various ways. For example, “see” G‑d’s messengers, His protective angels, surrounding the bed when drifting off to sleep.
  • Teach your child to use the breath to help calm the heart, which will then calm the brain, which, in turn, will release calming hormones to every cell of the body. There are numerous ways to breathe for this purpose, but a simple one is to breathe in normally and then breathe out slowly, thinking the number “one” on the out breath. To be effective in times of need, this breathing pattern needs to be practiced for one minute daily, forever. An ideal time for practice is at bedtime when falling asleep or in the morning just after awakening.

There are many other strategies children can learn that will calm their anxious feelings. Always help your child turn off fight-or-flight chemistry before talking about Divine Providence! Most important, keep your own faith-builder diary that can strengthen your own belief that G‑d is there for you. The most powerful way to help children accept the reality of G‑d’s kindness is through your positive modeling. When you sound like you believe it, your kids will too!