Back to school – a few thoughts on making sure kids are ready

The annual ritual of sending kids back to school is here.  Kids are moping around houses throughout Eureka, realizing that their days of freedom are almost up.  I don’t know about your casa, but in my house the sleep and eating habits have slidden, and making the adjustment back to getting up before 10 AM is tough.  Compound that with the fact that my daughter is headed to middle school which starts so much earlier than our elementary and high schools (the bus arrives at our house at 6:35 AM on Tuesday morning), and things are really hard.   Kids are dreary-eyed and grumpy, and so are mom and dad as we try to adjust.

Getting back in the swing of things in the middle of August is always hard, but it also indicates that the time for kids to face the challenge of school and the pressure of their peers has arrived as well.  Most of us have made a couple runs to Wal-Mart to make sure kids have the right notebooks (with the Jonas Brothers in 3-D), good pencils and pens, and all the other supplies.  What I am being challenged with is the reality that we need to make sure kids are ready to grow in faith and handle the pressure as well.  So here are a few ideas you might implement to help kids get going and stay strong in the new school year.  Read my thoughts, and if you have some good ideas, reply to jump in on the conversation.

1. Assure your kids that you love them and accept them, no matter what their grades or how they fail.  Of course, we all want to have straight A students who are teachers pets and never end up in the principals office.  But what happens when they don’t.  I think it is so important that parents find times and ways to affirm their love and acceptance of their kids in clear and creative ways, and that they do this separate from times of discipline.  I am not saying that kids should not be disciplined if they get a “C” in a class where they should have excelled, get in a fight, or call their teacher a name.  But that discipline ought to flow from relationship and the realization that even in discipline, their love and acceptance by mom and dad never wanes.  This is the beauty of grace from our heavenly Father.  He does not love us more when we are doing the good stuff, and love us less when we are failing.  Because of grace, he accepts us in times of victory and times of struggle equally.  God is our model, and I believe that we as parents need to find times to share this with their children.  We need to get time alone with every kid, look them in the eye and tell them that we love them, and affirm that no matter how they do in school, or where they get in trouble, they will be loved and accepted in the family, and will be valued as people made in the image of God. The best way to do this is to do a date with each kid.  Mom or dad (or maybe even both of them) takes an evening or afternoon to spend doing something their youngster enjoys, and uses the time to express this love.

2. Help your child prioritize their spiritual life.  If your kids are not already reading the Bible and praying as part of life, this is a spiritual discipline they need to implement.  Our family has had fun this summer reading through Luke and Acts together.  For everyone, morning worked, so everyone read a chapter of the Bible after they woke up.  Later in the day when we got together we talked about our reading and what happened in the story.  But now that school is back, I don’t think my daughter is going to pull off being able to read at 5 AM.  I need to help her find the place in her day that will work, and encourage this personal time with God.

3. Make a family plan for conversation about the day.  I do think it is important for kids to have a place to process life and the events of the day.  Kids need to know that parents are concerned, and that they can be open and honest about stuff that happens at school, even the bad things.  I think it is so healthy for parents to create times where kids are encouraged to move beyond, “How was your day?”  “Fine.”   The best time is family dinner, and if you can find a way as a family to eat together, make it happen!  But if that absolutely won’t work, don’t allow the order of life to move toward TV and bed time without finding time to talk.  We like to ask our kids to share their “good things, bad things, and God things.”  The good thing is the best part of the day, bad thing is the worst, and the God thing is somewhere in the day where they could trace the hand of God.  As kids go back to school, figure out when your family can make this happen, and then make it something you do.

4. Have THE talk – or at least the one they need.  No matter where your student is in school, there will be issues of peer pressure and temptation that they will face.  In first grade it might be giggling at jokes made about the teacher, and in fourth it may be copying homework.  Of course by the time they enter middle school and high school they will begin to face pressures about drugs and alcohol, sexuality, cheating and honesty, and attitudes toward authority.  Set the tone by  having the tough conversations.  Lots of materials are available for you as a believing parent, if you need it.  Yes, when you share some of these issues with your kid they will squirm, and say “eeewww” a lot.  But you will also be amazed at how much they will learn from you, and how much they appreciate you being willing to be the source of information on tough issues.  It will also create openness for your kids to come to you when they have questions and struggles about these big issues.

That’s enough for me here.  Join the discussion and give us your ideas.  And have a great school year.

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