When I was young, I remember being anxious. Not only was I scared of mice, snakes, and the usual assortment of phobia-inducing creatures, but I also was scared of going up and down stairs at night, worried about natural disasters that were unlikely to happen in our area of the country, and very sensitive to the feelings of others, whether real or imagined.
Some of my children have inherited my ability to worry about the world in general as well as being upset about injustice, disliking crowds, and having irrational fears. With children who are afraid of going outside after dark and worry about the apocalypse at four years old after hearing a sermon at church, I hesitated to use a program like Sonlight. After all, Sonlight uses stories with difficult topics.
Now, years later, I'm so glad I chose Sonlight because the books have helped us work through fears in unexpected ways.
Books Teach That Some Fears Are Irrational
The first time I picked up the book The Gods Must be Angry in Sonlight’s now Pre-K Program, I was shocked it was included in a program designed for such young children. It’s a small book about a young boy who broke a very important false idol in his family’s home, one that was helping their entire family to be happy. Without this idol, disaster might reign on their family and bad things would begin to happen, or so the boy’s family firmly believed. I placed the book up high on a shelf and resolved to forget about it.
But when the time came in the schedule to read it, there was this nagging feeling inside me that I ought to read it. I pulled it down, and looked it over, and had almost decided again not to try, when my daughter asked me, “What’s that book?” Quickly, I resolved to try reading it, but stop if she got too scared.
As we read, she was shocked that the boy would be so upset about breaking a false idol. By the time we reached the end, where the boy's family had left behind false idols and turned to Christianity, my daughter was overjoyed for them.
I seized the opening, and we talked about how the boy was truly afraid of something, but just because he was afraid of it, didn’t mean it was really going to happen.
While my daughter didn’t suddenly lose all of her fears, she began to see that just because she was scared of something or someone didn’t mean that her fears were fully based on reality.
Books Teach That Not All Scary Things Are Always Scary
When my third daughter reached the book My Father’s Dragon (now found in HBL K), she immediately vetoed it, convinced that because it had a dragon in it, it would be too scary for her. I knew that with my older children, I had also been skeptical reading any book that included dragons, even if they were good dragons.
Normally, I would not push my daughter to listen to a book about something she thought might be evil, but she was doing the level with her younger sister, who couldn’t wait to read it, and I had read it three or more times by then and knew it wasn't scary. So I gave her a green index card to hold up each time we read it. If she thought it was going to be too scary for her to hear, or it had evil things in it, all she had to do was raise the card, and she could leave the room.
She huddled anxiously, listening carefully for the slightest hint of danger or doom, while I calmly read the first chapter. The next day, she was a little less tense listening to the book. By the end of the book, she said she wasn’t scared at all by the baby dragon, and even looked forward to reading the sequels. She was able to participate in our crafts afterward, and was even the mastermind of creating our own Map of Wild Island.
I'm happy that my daughter learned that just because something is bad doesn’t mean it is always evil, just as a person who does bad or evil things is still worthy of talking to about salvation, because they also have some good in them. If we only look at and see the bad, we can never see the likeness of God in people who are making poor choices.
Books Teach that Small Children Can Still Make a Difference
The book The Hundred Dresses in HBL A doesn’t sound like a scary or intimidating book. However, it does deal with the painful topic of bullying. While my children have always been homeschooled, they are exposed to limited amounts of bullying at Sunday School or in small groups.
In the book, a group of young children start to poke fun at a little girl who acts and dresses differently. While most of the children aren’t even aware they are doing anything wrong, one girl slowly starts to recognize they aren’t acting right. She speak up although she is a little too shy and scared, worried the others might start teasing her as well. However, when it is too late to make a difference anymore, she begins to regret not saying anything.
After this book, my oldest daughter was able to identify with the girl who was too shy to speak up, but she also began to see the value in asserting herself when it comes to helping others.
I saw her newfound conviction borne out in her actions at church and with groups friends. While she still struggled to speak up for herself or give an opinion, anytime she saw even slight injustices to other children, especially the very young ones, she immediately inserted herself and tried to make peace.
Books Teach Children They Can Outgrow Fears
If ever there was a child who was taught to be anxious, it would be Elizabeth Anne, from the book Understood Betsy from HBL B. Elizabeth Anne is full of worries, fears, and anxieties, shared by her aunts, who were also afraid of many things. Eventually Elizabeth Anne comes to realize that her greatest fears were mostly fear of the unknown.
Once Betsy is able to face her fears, she no longer needs to be afraid of them.
My oldest son loved this book. He found that he, too, was able to start challenging himself to overcome his fears. First in small ways, by going to the bathroom at night using just his night light, and later in greater ways. He found some fears are not so easy to overcome. He has also learned that sometimes fears go away as he gets older.
Books Teach that Mistakes Can Be Redeemed
That same son used to worry greatly about making mistakes. Being the perfectionist that he is, even from a very young age, he has always tried to do everything perfectly and quietly. He was the child who made his bed every morning, even when the blankets were heavier than he was, and arranged his crayon box by color. He got upset when things got out of order, and would be very upset if he accidentally hurt someone.
However, the book George Muller in HBL B gave him great hope. George Muller didn’t start out life being perfect. In fact, by the time he was a young adult, he was doing a great deal of non-Christian behaviors, including drinking, gambling, and cheating. Yet, God had a plan for him, and one day, not only did he stop doing all those things that were displeasing to God, but God called him to be a man of great faith, with a faith so great, it would challenge even solid Christians to have greater faith.
My son learned that no mistake was too great for God to work with. Even if he had a past full of mistakes, he could still do great work for God.
More importantly, he learned to rely on God to help him overcome those mistakes, so he could do even greater works in the future.
Books Teach That Faith and Prayer Can Overcome Fear and Evil
One of my daughters used to be up late at night worrying about all the bad things that might happen someday. Her family might be hit by an asteroid, or die in a hurricane (in Minnesota), or perish by fire. She worried her family might be kidnapped and she would have to survive on her own, or she would be kidnapped and unable to escape. She would wake up with nightmares that she was dead and just didn’t know it yet.
To my surprise, one of the books that helped her the most was Gladys Aylward, from HBL C. Gladys Aylward is not the first book one would think of to help children overcome anxiety. Not only does Gladys undergo hardship and suffering, she is held at gunpoint, her house is bombed, and she leads over 100 children through the countryside of China while trying to avoid being caught in the middle of a war with insufficient food or water. It is hardly a calming or peaceful book!
Yet through it all her scary tribulations, Gladys held on to her faith and never wavered in her prayers.
She accomplished the impossible and narrowly avoided one disaster after another. Watching her go through so many hard times and come out with a faith that was refreshingly honest and pure helped my daughter to see that all natural disasters are under God’s control.
I could go on and on about the Sonlight books we have read over the years which have helped my children face their fears. Each time we read another story of a scared but brave character, my children grow a bit in their own personal victory over anxiety.
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