How to Help Your Child with Back to School Jitters

How to Help Your Child with Back to School Jitters

Does your child have the “back-to-school” jitters? Many kids dread going back to school…. unless they were incredibly bored during summer break! They face fragile self-esteem issues, fear unknown teachers and feel anxious about academic challenges and long lists of “extra-curricular” activities. What if your offspring changes schools or promotes to middle school or high school? Stress levels increase exponentially!

If your little one enters pre-school for the first time, you are either sobbing uncontrollably or gleefully driving to Starbucks for a much-needed half-caff, grande caramel latte, extra hot.

We all respond differently to new seasons of life.  

How can you truly help your child navigate these waters of change?

1.     Accept and affirm your youngster constantly. Create a safe environment in your home where family members are not permitted to be negative or unkind. Children and awkward teens usually look in the mirror and see flaws and failures.  Your kid is scrutinized the minute he or she walks through the classroom door. A bully doesn’t need to intimidate your son or daughter in person. A mean classmate can use social media cruelly and critically in a shroud of comfortable anonymity. Your church and extended family can foster healing and blessing in your child’s life.

I vividly remember my glasses, braces, pot-belly and pimply-faced eleventh year of life. I looked in the mirror with disgust and terror. How could I go to school looking like this? Would I always be the ugly duckling?

Mom and Dad always assured me I was beautiful and smart (even if I didn’t believe them). They sat through every piano recital, every basketball game, every tedious school play and applauded exuberantly. Because of them, I had a glimmer of hope that I would escape the horrors of puberty and become a confident young woman.

Mom bought or sewed for me a pretty dress for the first day of school. I stuck out my flat chest with pride, gulped hard and walked through the creaky classroom door. My folks gave me a confidence that my new school year held promise, not disaster.

God poured acceptance and love upon His Son even before He began His earthly ministry. Standing in the River Jordan, the thirty-year-old carpenter saw the heavens open and heard the reassuring, affirming voice of God, His Father:

“This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased!” (Matt. 3:13-16).

How often we read that passage and assume that Jesus’ baptism was a ritual necessary to build His resume. The day of Jesus’ baptism and the day of Jesus’ transfiguration were the highlights of His life! He miraculously heard the audible voice of His Dad. Christ endured accusation, rejection and brutal crucifixion still remembering that powerful, reassuring voice of His Father. “I am well-pleased, My Son.” “You can do this.” 

2.     Enthusiastically, equally encourage them! Of course, children need to be challenged, but don’t pressure them with high expectations the first day, or even the first week of school. Praise your over-achieving firstborn and your easygoing lastborn with equal gusto.

Brie, my oldest daughter, was commended for her brilliance! She basked in the glory of awards and accolades from teachers. Bronwyn, my youngest, hated school (except for band). My 15-year-old troublemaker escaped from her high-school prison and left to study abroad on a Rotary scholarship. Bronwyn decided on her own to take the GED and surprised us with an acceptance letter to a prestigious university upon her return. This spunky sprite wasn’t an under-achiever. She was a genius. We didn’t encourage Bronwyn enough. We do now. But I wish in those early years, she didn’t feel overshadowed by her older sister. She desperately needed our cheers and inspiration. 

Encourage like Barnabas did. Did you know that Barnabas was not even this apostle’s real name? “…Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement.” (Acts 4:36). Barnabas saw God’s hand upon Saul, the infamous murderer of Christians. Barnabas had so much faith in the new convert; he made Paul his partner in ministry. Young John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (Col.4:10) accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the mission field. (Acts 12:25).  

John Mark quit the team when he saw the jagged mountains of Turkey looming before him. Paul was livid. He didn’t have the patience to mentor and support John Mark. But Barnabas quietly trained him and restored him. John Mark became Peter’s companion (I Pt.5:13) and eventually penned the earliest gospel. The Gospel of Mark is said to be a brilliant compilation of Peter’s sermons.

Aren’t you glad Barnabas didn’t give up on John Mark? Could you encourage your child like that?

3.     Listen. Ask your offspring questions about their day, their friends, their classes and their feelings. Don’t interrogate them, but be wise, accessible and sensitive.  I have never raised boys, but I hear they often reply with a nod, grunt, “fine,” or “okay.” Tough nuts to crack! When possible, quietly sit down with each child. Trade their iPhone for hugs and cookies, even for a few, brief moments. Comfort them. Often. Sometimes just “being with” is a start to more open, warm communication with your child. Pray with your youngsters at bedtime. Your child or teen may be more open at the close of their day.

I have painted a glossy photo from the 1950’s. Most parents work or are single parents struggling to survive. Dinner is fast food and the pace is frantic. However, quiet, cherished moments can be cultivated even in the sanctuary of your car. Prayerfully comfort and listen.

Jesus was a good listener. He noticed a greedy little tax collector named Zacchaeus perched in a sycamore tree. I am sure Zacchaeus was hard-nosed and tough. Tax collectors were despised. He probably spent most of his life criticized and alienated. Jesus stopped. He invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home, much to the shock and dismay of onlookers. For the first time, this wounded man confessed the insults and mistreatment he had endured, the rejection he felt. Christ compassionately offered him love and forgiveness. Zacchaeus and his whole household became Christ-followers. (Luke 19:1-8).

But first, Jesus stopped. And listened. And so should we. 

Acceptance, affirmation, encouragement, comfort. Give these gifts to your child freely and often.

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