“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
— Exodus 14:14
When a soldier goes into battle, he takes a weapon—a sharp sword, a loaded gun, a ready shield. In the face of an enemy, he needs something to defend himself and ward off the inevitable attack. Without protection, he is vulnerable and unlikely to survive.
Eric knows weapons are essential for survival. He knows the feeling of terror that surges to the surface anytime he feels exposed and vulnerable. But Eric isn’t a soldier. He’s a fifteen-year-old boy, and his fight is waged at home and has been for as long as he can remember.
It starts when Dad walks through the door. Eric never knows what to expect. Will his dad be the kind and loving father that jokes and plays basketball, or the angry and violent drunk with a short temper and quick fists? Eric has to be on guard, ready to hit back, to respond with his own rage, to survive.
Sometimes Eric pits his parents against each other. If he can stir up conflict between them, they fight with each other, keeping Eric and his younger sisters out of harm’s way. He would rather watch them attack one another than suffer an attack himself or worse, watch them attack the girls. Every day is a battle and he’s determined to survive. His weapons are:
Poor Behavior or Protection Strategies?
These natural responses to extreme fear are called “protection strategies.” As adults, we might label them “poor behavior” and tell a kid to stop being violent or manipulative or controlling. We forget these weapons are useful and protective strategies.
With our “stop,” we rip the weapons out of their hands, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. Instead, our job is to communicate, “This is a safe place to lay your weapons down. You won’t need them here.”
When we picture a scared child hiding behind the shield of control and the sword of violence, suddenly a new opportunity emerges to exchange weapons for tools.
“Instead of control or violence, use the tool of your voice and ask for what you need. I promise I will listen to you.”
“Instead of the weapon of manipulation, use the tool of negotiation and ask for a compromise.”
Rather than stripping away the only weapons a child or teen has ever used to survive, we can make an exchange.
Fear provokes the pulling out of weapons. It’s why God repeatedly tells us not to fear, we are His, and He will do the fighting.
“He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1 ESV)
He knows that when we are fearful, our natural response is to reach for our fear-driven weapons. When we do, we end up looking more like our enemy than like God. He teaches in His Word that it’s safe to lay down our weapons, to release the old sinful strategies we’ve used to protect ourselves and learn the new tools of the Kingdom.
When you see a child or teen using a protection strategy (i. e. , manipulation, violence, lying, aggression, control, or triangulation) ask yourself: What are they afraid of?
Increase felt safety by relaxing your own body, speaking in a calming voice, and lowering yourself below their eye level. Even sitting quietly in a child’s presence can calm them. Proactively teach new tools like how to ask for something with respect or to ask for a compromise. Then, gently remind them to use the tools they have already learned.
1. When I feel unsafe or insecure, which weapons do I reach for?
2. What is one truth about God I can depend on to believe He is fighting for me?
3. What are one or two phrases I can use to redirect a kid or teen toward understanding they are safe and don’t need their weapon?
An excerpt from Presence Matters: A 40-Day Journey into the Relationship between Faith, Science & Trauma by Beth Guckenberger
From the back cover:
Join a movement of safe adults looking to be empowered and equipped through trauma-informed care. Learn through real-life examples, Scripture, bite-sized trauma principles and questions for personal or group reflection.
God is calling us to engage in His healing work — rebuilding, restoring, reconciling and entering into the lives of vulnerable children as a safe presence. This resource will unpack spiritual principles and scientific findings on the topic of trauma. Compiled by a team of dedicated practitioners, these are actual examples of how wise interventions turned stories around. A perfect gift for anyone who connects with children with a trauma background — classroom teacher, foster parent, coach, neighbor, volunteer or grandparent — these insights will equip adults with practical tools and wisdom.
Chapters cover relationships, the past, our felt needs, regulation, feeling safe, the relationship between connection and correction, and the power of presence. What is our role in healing? How do our own histories factor into our interactions with children? What do we do with feelings triggered by someone else’s behavior? What are first steps we can take when a child is melting down? Find the answers to these and other questions as you learn the rhythm of a trauma-informed life.