Tips for setting achievable resolutions

It’s a running joke every January at the fitness club I attend. One of the “regulars” looks around the packed club and grouses, “Why are there so many people here?” Someone else inevitably replies, “Just wait until February.”  

It’s so true. If you search online for the “top 10 broken New Year’s resolutions,” losing weight and getting fit is number one. Another online statistic reports that about only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions keep them. Ouch. I’m no scientist, but attempting something repeatedly with such low probability of success seems a little futile. 

So why do we even bother to make New Year’s resolutions? Maybe it’s human nature to want a fresh start in a new year. Maybe it’s in response to eating way too many Christmas cookies and not wanting to buy bigger pants. Whatever it is, it’s also a part of human nature to try—and sometimes fail—at making lasting, positive changes in our lives. 

So should we even try? And should we encourage our children to set New Year’s resolutions? I think that everyone needs some achievable, tangible goals, even if they aren’t written in red pen on January 1 on our calendars. But here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Resolutions should be realistic, measurable, and tackled in manageable chunks. Instead of vowing, “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year!” perhaps start with: “I am going to commit to walking for 30 minutes, 3 times per week.” And who doesn’t want to commit to spending more time in God’s Word? So, if “I am going to read through my entire Bible this year” seems too daunting, try: “I am going to find a manageable Bible reading plan and read my Bible for 10 minutes each day.”
  • Accountability can help us make positive changes in our lives. There are times my husband has had to pull me, groaning and griping, off the couch to get me to exercise. There are times I’ve done the same for him. Families are great accountability groups. Parents, try sitting down with your kids and asking them for three realistic, measurable goals for the new year. Ask: What steps do you need to take to achieve these? How can I help you stick to these goals? Then parents, you do the same. Set goals for yourselves, share them with your kids, and ask them to keep you accountable. Pray as a family for God to bless your efforts and give you strength to achieve your goals. And don’t forget to celebrate every little victory along the way.
  • Ask God’s forgiveness—and forgive yourself—when you stumble. We’re human. We fail every day. What a comfort it is having a loving God who forgives our failures through the blood of his Son, Jesus!

And ultimately, remember that even the best resolutions can fail. We can plan and plan and try and try, but some things are beyond our control. Stuff happens. Remember, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the  LORD  establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Some things we want just aren’t in God’s plan for our lives, and that’s okay. Knowing that our loving God already has the entirety of our lives mapped out in his perfect plan is a huge comfort to us—and to our kids. 

Teaching kids to work toward goals

I’ve never liked the term resolution. It has an ugly connotation in my mind of failed attempts at weight loss and unsustainable, temporary life changes. For several years now, my husband and I have spent New Year’s Eve setting goals rather than resolutions for the coming year. We record them on one of our phones and keep each other in check on achieving those goals. This process is meant to be fun more than anything—a chance to learn a new skill or shave a few minutes off a race time, but they can also be geared toward strengthening our faith life, both personally and as a family. 

Our kids are often a part of this process, more our daughter than our young son (who would rather just snitch leftover Christmas cookies while the grownups are distracted!). We encourage Anna to set goals for herself as well. Anything from learning a new skill to reading the Bible daily to training for a race. 

When I think of goals versus resolutions, one thing stands out to me. Resolutions tend to be an immediate, often dramatic change in behavior, while goals are achievable, eventual changes that can be measured. Teaching our kids to work toward goals will be a huge help to them as they grow in their personal and professional lives, and we’re (hopefully) showing them that it’s not a scary process to tackle. 

Setting goals for personal change can be a good thing, if we don’t allow it to become an idol for ourselves. I believe involving our kids in our tradition allows them to see their parents working toward—and often achieving—fun and reasonable accomplishments. It also allows them to see us struggle or fail occasionally. We can pray about our progress together. We can work together on spiritual goals like family devotion time or family service projects. Working toward and achieving goals as a family and supporting each other in our personal goals has been a wonderful bonding experience for our family—something we all look forward to each year. 

How to keep resolutions from fizzling out

“Hudson, my man! Let’s talk about the club we’re starting.” 

Hudson is my eight-year-old grandson. In January 2018, Hudson and I are founding a photography club.  

“I have ideas about how to make sure our club doesn’t fizzle out,” I say. “Want to hear them?”  

“Sure.”  

I show him the note app on my phone. “I have seven suggestions. Tell me what you think. The first is that we promise each other to keep our club going. Can we shake on that?” 

Hudson slaps his hand into mine. We shake hands like we are making a million-dollar deal.  

The second thing is to tell others about our club. It will be harder to quit if others know we’re doing this. Better yet, we can give permission to one or two people to encourage us. I’m going to tell Nana. Whom will you tell?” 

His face squinches in thought. “Mom and Dad.” 

“Good choice. They’ll want to help.”  

“Here’s the third thing. We can tell Jesus we’re doing this and ask for his help. Would you be willing to pray about our club?” 

Hudson nods his commitment. 

The next thing we can do is schedule our club meetings. If I don’t put a meeting on my calendar, I probably won’t have time for it. Would the second Saturday of each month work for you?” Hudson looks uncertain. “Let’s ask your parents if that would be okay.”  

Number five: we need a sign to remind us. Something for my office. Something for your room. Would you make us each a sign? Maybe it could say, ‘Remember the photography club.’ ” 

“I could do that, I guess,” he answers. “I could draw with a bunch of colors so we won’t miss seeing it.” 

“That sounds great. Thank you.” 

Number six is that we reward ourselves for sticking to our commitment. What if we go to Culvers for a frozen custard cone in July?” 

“Yes. That would be cool!” 

“Okay. I have one more idea to help us keep our New Year’s resolution. Let’s decide we will do our photography club first of all to thank Jesus for loving us. Does that make sense?” 

Hudson ponders for a moment. “Yes, it does,” he says. “Papa, I can’t wait to start our club. It’s going to be fun.” 

“It will, Hudson. Let’s hug on it.” 

Cultivating a mission heart in children

These are my five ways to cultivate a mission heart in children.

1. Build awareness: When I was a young child (think three years old), I thought that everyone knew and believed in Jesus. As I grew older, the reality that a kind neighbor, relative, or friend in my small world didn’t believe was heart boggling. What did that mean for them?

When children learn that not everyone believes in Jesus, they can feel sad. We have the opportunity to build them up. We know Jesus and the comfort that God our Savior “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:4-6).

That knowledge comes with an opportunity. God gives us—young and old—the privilege to share the good news about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Romans 10:13,14 says, “ ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

It is such a joy to witness children sharing their faith! They talk about Jesus with their neighbor, the hurt child at the playground, or even the cashier at the store. When children learn that they carry the powerful good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness with them, it is hard for them to keep it to themselves.

2. Be an example: Children imitate what they see more than what they are told. As we consider how to cultivate a mission heart in young ones, we first need to discern our own heart.

  • Do we hold Jesus as our own example to follow?
  • Do we view lives from an earthly perspective or an eternal one?
  • Do we believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ in whatever job or role we have?
  • Are we willing to make personal sacrifices (time, comfort, materials) for the good of others?
  • Do we treat and speak about others who are different from us with compassion and respect?

When I was a young teen, my dad asked me to accompany him on his guitar for the new Spanish worship services at our church. At the time, I did not want to share my time or talents, but out of reluctant obedience I agreed. God certainly reached more than the Spanish-speaking believers who walked through the door. He changed my heart as I watched families strengthened in their faith with others in worship and got to know them personally.

Now I greatly treasure that experience. My dad not only encouraged me to serve others but also took me by the hand and led me by his example. He still does. Thank you, Dad!

As 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells us, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

3. Use resources: There are many different tools that can cultivate a mission heart in children:

  • Read and talk about God’s Word. This is where children learn their own need for a Savior and see that the entire Bible points to Jesus as their risen hero who has won eternal life by grace for them. The Spirit strengthens their faith, knowledge, and heart through the Word to share the gospel.
  • Learn about past missionaries, persecuted Christians, and martyrs throughout history from books, magazines, videos, and audio books. You can start with Jesus (of course!), the disciples, Saul/Paul, Polycarp, John Huss, and Martin Luther.
  • Pray for missionaries and persecuted Christians who are alive today. We have missionaries in East Asia, South Asia, and other places. Their work is often difficult. Make a list of their names, print off their pictures as reminders, and bless them as a family. Consult the World Mission office of our synod for assistance (414-256-3234 or bwm@wels.net). Children can be pen pals with mission children from a different country or in orphanages. The opportunities to serve others in your own community and abroad are many. Your family can help stuff meal bags or help pick out food for the hungry when you go grocery shopping. They can even share hope with a child whose parents are in prison.

4. Take a trip: Consider taking your family on a mission trip. Often when family vacations are planned, they are purposed to serve ourselves with entertainment and rest. There is nothing wrong with taking a family vacation. But consider how your family can grow closer to each other and closer to God when your vacation has a greater purpose than yourselves.

When I think back to family vacations, I remember a variety of bad attitudes that would creep up—entitlement, bickering over small issues, and discontentment. Serving others can cause little ones to see the needs of others as well as their own. What if we considered taking our time—yes, even our vacation time—and using it to serve others and our Lord?

5. Serve at home: You don’t have to travel far to be a missionary! Look in your backyard, your community, or elsewhere in your state and discuss with your children ways that you can reach others with the gospel in words and action. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Often Christians are criticized when it comes to helping others in need because we’d rather send a check than get our hands dirty. But you can go out and be a testimony of Jesus’ love by how you treat others.

Who are the weak, poor, or neglected in your community? Is there an elderly neighbor who could use help with lawn care? Is there a population of homeless that can be intentionally served by your family? Are there any recent immigrants that could use a helping hand? Is there a women’s shelter in need of donations? Include your children! They may complain at first, but they will see how God can use not just their money but also their time to bless others.

Your home is an excellent place to welcome and serve others with hospitality. These opportunities can be big or small—invite a new guest at your church over for dinner, hold a Bible study, host an international student, allow a family member in need to live with you, plan a play date for the young families on your block, or (on a grander scale) have a block party for the neighbors. You’ll find out that they are just as weird and uniquely made as you. Food brings people together!

Let’s give others true food that never leaves them empty: “ ‘For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ ” (John 6:33-35).

Jesus brings believers together eternally.

Amanda Rose and her husband, Frank, have four young children and live in Kingston, Wisconsin.

 This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com, a blog with “chatter that matters” for women of all ages.

Embrace the quietness

It seems that we live in fear of quietness. Not only do we as a culture shy away from it, but we don’t particularly like it when our children grow quiet.

I would encourage you to embrace the quietness.

One of the benefits to homeschooling for six years was that I was able to easily incorporate quiet time with God into our day. Now that most of them are in brick and mortar schools, it is a little more difficult, but my children have learned the benefits to taking quiet time.

Jesus modeled quiet time on a regular basis. Whenever his disciples couldn’t find him, it was usually because Jesus took time out to be in solitude with his Father.

What a gift to model to our own children. When we are frustrated, scared, confused, or even full of joy, how often do we find solitude to hang out with Jesus? When my children are angry or overwhelmed, they can learn to take the time to break away from the chaos (or even the perceived chaos) and lean on the True Comforter.

What about when our children grow quiet to isolate themselves in an unhealthy way? Tad and I work hard to create space. Safe space. Space to feel disappointed, hurt, overwhelmed. Let them share without judgment or the need to fix (this is a constant struggle for me). Listen. Really listen. Without reacting.

Sometimes our kids just don’t want to talk to us. I truly believe that is okay. Tad and I have prayerfully asked for guidance to find Christian mentors for each of our children. We found people who foster relationships with our children so they can go to them when they don’t feel like they are ready to talk to us. We intentionally ask people who we know will provide the spiritual guidance that will bring our children closer to Jesus.

One last thing I would like to add is to pray. Pray for them. Not only in the quiet of your bedroom at night, but also out loud in front of them. Maybe pray outside their closed door. Maybe pray in the car while they are strap . . . I mean, buckled . . . in. Maybe even put your hands on them and literally pray over them. Let them hear the words you share with your heavenly Father on their behalf. Maybe pray in their room when they aren’t in there. Whatever it looks like in your home, keep praying.

Is it a problem when our kids are silent?

One of the greatest skills of parenting is communicating with our children. Truly hearing them, reflecting their words, giving them an understanding that their thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged. Don’t we all want people like this in our lives? What a wonderful demonstration of love to be fully present with another person in close communication. As children grow and develop and experience a multitude of new things, there is a lot to process and understand. What if we get the sense that our child doesn’t want to talk about it? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Parents of young children: Now is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of proper communication. Get them used to talking about the day. Consider making it a bedtime ritual. Share one great part of your day and one not so great part—both child and parent. Then spend time in prayer thanking God for the highs and asking for his help regarding the lows. This early communication sets the stage for the teen years.

Another thing to keep in mind is our children’s temperaments. By nature, don’t some kids seem to think out loud and others internalize? Some kids want/need to be verbal. Others, not so much. We parents have these same natural preferences.

Here’s a recent example in my family. I picked up Kayla from an after-school practice and said, “Hi.” I got a, “Hi,” back, and then I sat comfortably driving with my thoughts. After a few seconds of silence, Kayla said, “Ask me something about high school.”

Boy do I have it made in the communication parenting skill area with her! Not only did my extroverted daughter tell me about her day, but she even interjected questions to herself for me! “Let’s see, what else happened today?”

Now my seventh-grade son, Josh, is a bit different. I picked him up from school and made the mistake of asking him a closed question: “How was your day, buddy?” He replied with, “Good.” Insert silence.

I have come to understand that Josh prefers to process his thoughts internally and needs to be drawn out with more questions such as, “What was your favorite thing today?” “How come?” “What did everyone play at recess?” Reflecting some of his thoughts and feelings keeps the communication going. But, there are times when an introvert simply needs to spend time in thought in order to process effectively. Silence is important.

Is it a problem when our kids are silent? Maybe for some. If Kayla grew silent, I’d be quite concerned. I would check on her for sure. Josh’s silence can be harder to decipher. Is it his natural tendency or could he be troubled? Whichever the case, my wife, Kelly, and I make it our goal to watch for those opportunities to check in and give both kids the understanding that we are here and willing to talk if or when they need. It is our way of demonstrating our love for God in their lives.

When your teen stops talking

Sometimes I think half the battle of parenting is not to take anything too personally. When your teenage boy goes quiet, for instance, it’s usually not about you.

It can be a hard adjustment, though, because wasn’t it just last week when he was sitting in the kitchen, going on and on while you were browning the ground beef? I once listed everything my 11-year-old son talked about in a 20-minute stream-of-consciousness deluge, at which my only requirement was to nod and grunt. His oration included palindromes, peristalsis (which is why you can drink milk upside down), how his arms were getting stronger (so adorable), and the middle name of Harry S Truman. (It’s “S,” by the way. I know this because he told me.)

But then the chatterbox morphs into the one grunting, and you panic a little: Why doesn’t he talk to us anymore? Is he in trouble? Does he hate us? 

What I learned is this:

  • A bit of silence is normal. Teens are supposed to grow up and separate from their parents. Part of that is talking to you less often.
  • Asking a million questions does not work. Even though you just want him to know you’re interested in his life, it can come off as prying and controlling.
  • It sometimes works to ask about a friend: “So why isn’t Riley going out for choir this year?” That can lead to an actual conversation—about other friends, Riley’s pool party three weeks ago, and maybe even the girl he’s had his eye on. (Mission accomplished.)
  • Respect his privacy. Don’t share the news about that girl he has his eye on with your book club.
  • Don’t make everything a teachable moment. If he tells you he’s going to skip college and take his garage band on the road, just say, “Okay!” Chances are, he’ll figure out how dumb that is all on his own. But if you shut him down now, the next time he has a big dream or crazy idea, he won’t bring it to you.
  • Have adult conversations about adult topics at the dinner table—the latest political question, a home budget issue, something you saw at the store that made you uncomfortable. Let everybody weigh in. Treat all responses, even the immature ones, with equal respect.

Now it’s possible that a teenager’s silence is a warning sign. If he’s hiding in his room all the time or is exceptionally surly, he may be struggling with something bigger than he can handle—a traumatic breakup, guilt over a sin, an Instagram situation that exploded, some kind of violence, even depression or substance abuse.

In this case, although he’s silent, he’s actually crying out for help, and you need to be the parent. Search his room. Check his social media. Ask another adult he trusts—an uncle or teacher—if something’s going on that you should know about. If the situation warrants, talk to a counselor with him.

But that’s the exception. Usually a little silence is just part of your teenager’s individuation—growing up and separating himself from you. (This is the goal, remember? We don’t want to be doing their laundry when they’re 23.)

If you give him respect and love and space, he’ll know he can come talk whenever he wants to. You’ll be browning the ground beef some evening, and suddenly he’ll feel the need to tell you—everything. Whether he’s 11 or 17 or 30, just nod and let the boy talk.

The challenge of teaching the Reformation

When it comes to teaching our children about the Reformation, especially our young children, we have to admit the challenge of it. Perhaps, the most obvious challenge is that the official date for recognizing the Reformation is Oct. 31, 1517. There is a part of me that wishes that Martin Luther would have had some foresight with his choosing of a date! Didn’t he know that this would become Halloween and that children would be hopelessly distracted? I am thinking that it probably isn’t enough to dress up your children as Martin Luther to help them understand the joy of the Reformation.

In addition, the Reformation isn’t just competing with Halloween. It’s also competing with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My daughter, Tayley, came home from public school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day impacted in ways that I rarely see, trying to tell me the story of the civil rights movement. In fact, she is having the hardest time accepting that Martin Luther King Jr. was named after another Martin Luther that was greater than he.

With that said, perhaps the greatest challenger in teaching our children about the Reformation are the truths themselves. Most of the key ideas are framed by Latin slogans or “solas.” Whoever decided to frame the Reformation in this way didn’t have children in mind. What is more, if someone challenged us Lutherans to put the Reformation itself into a single sentence, we might say, “The Reformation was all about the Bible’s teaching that we are justified by grace through faith by Christ alone.” Try teaching that to your six-year-old!

The ideas of the Reformation are saving and powerful, but they are also abstract. Somewhere along the line, I remember learning that kids under a certain age simply cannot grasp abstract concepts. For parents wanting to teach their children about the Reformation, these are the challenges.

I’ll tell you what I am going to do with my kids to meet the challenge. I am going to teach my kids about the Reformation during the entire month of October. Really, whenever it comes up in daily life, we are going to talk about it. I am going to buy a children’s book from Northwestern Publishing House. There’s one called Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World that looks especially good, but I’ll look into other possibilities as well. We will talk about the different “Martins” and why October 31 is special to us for better reasons than candy.

But what about the truths of the Reformation? How can we share abstract truths with them in meaningful ways? We will let Luther guide us with Scripture. His first thesis, which guided the other 94 theses, stated, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This is where everything started. He was wanting the world to know that the life of a believer has two parts 1) contrition or sorrow over sin and 2) faith in the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s actually a pretty simple concept to understand. That’s what I intend to teach my girls.

I am going to teach them to apologize to each other and to their God. I am going to hold his law in front them and show them their sin. Then, I will show them their Savior who died for them. I will speak to them of Jesus’ love and grace and about how forgiven and washed and loved they really are. I probably won’t even call it repentance. They will learn that word later, but they will learn about Jesus. That’s really my number one goal.

Even if they never do come to know with great clarity the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr., I want them to know Jesus. That after all is what the Reformation was all about.

Timothy Bourman is a pastor at Sure Foundation in New York City and co-host of the podcast Project 1517. He and his wife, Amanda, have three young daughters.

Telling—and showing—children the story of the Reformation

Would you like to tell your children a story this Halloween? The 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation gives you that chance.

You can tell the story of a young man bothered by the practice of paying off sin’s punishment with money. You can tell the story of a young man who was brave. He didn’t keep his mouth shut, even before those older than he, because he cared about souls. You can tell the story of a young man who cared about God’s truth, wanting to understand what true repentance meant and wanting the leaders of the church to treasure God’s grace. It is an amazing Halloween story, the posting of 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517.

There is a story to tell. But that story didn’t end on October 31 five hundred years ago. There is a continuing story you can tell every day you are with your children. In fact, you get to live out the story. On each of your days you have the chance to put on display divine Reformation truths that are at the heart of our salvation—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.

We are all in favor of these Reformation concepts. Yet as parents, it is easy to live something other than grace and faith and Scripture. When a child has sinned, we may forget that any Christian discipline intends to have an ultimate happy ending, in the grace of God. In our pride we may overlook the reality of our absolute dependence on God, the centrality of faith for eternal life and for every other moment in life. In the busyness of life, we may speak of Scripture’s importance but let its priority slip. We may speak a story of Reformation when the anniversary hits, but it’s very hard to live out the Reformation during those many moments God gives us with young precious souls.

Being a parent means confessing sin. That’s a Reformation truth. There are times when we sin against our child by assuming the worst and thinking they had done the very thing we had warned them against, only to find out that we were wrong. Can you look your child in the eye and tell him you are sorry, explain that you have a sinful flesh too, and ask him to forgive you? There is no greater joy than to hear a representative of Christ, at the young age of seven, smile and forgive.

Being a parent means forgiving sin as well. That’s a Reformation truth. Your child sins, and she is sitting on the couch in the basement in a timeout. After some screaming and crying there is silence, and then a very different voice rises up the stairs: “I’m sorry.” Can you walk down the stairs and have the first words from your mouth be, “I forgive you, and Jesus forgives you too”? Yes, parents can offer guidelines and loving consequences after assuring their child of forgiveness, but we don’t want our direct response to “I’m sorry” to be a threat—“Don’t let that ever happen again.” Those little souls can be tricked by the devil, but they can be crushed when God’s love is withheld. You don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. We know how precious God’s love has been to us. Shower his grace on those you love.

Being a parent means depending, depending on someone else for your salvation and for every other challenge in life. Can you humbly commiserate with your children? Can you agree with them that we are all weak and we do not have the power to obey as we want? Can you mourn with them over their wicked flesh, but then can you give them hope as you remind them that our peace when we disobey and our power finally to obey comes not from ourselves but from our God? We depend. We trust. By God’s grace, we believe. Faith—that’s a Reformation truth.

Being a parent means listening, listening with your children to words that come from a God whose word made the world and raised the dead. Bible stories are powerful words. The truths of those stories are power to rebuke, to comfort, to guide. Read God’s stories. Talk about God’s stories. Have Scripture be a daily meal in your home—that’s a Reformation truth.

There is a Reformation story to tell. Do speak of Luther’s Reformation. But even more, make the Reformation—by God’s grace and power—your daily beating heart.

Stephen Geiger is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. He and his wife, Anna, have six children ranging in age from 10 to 1.

Begin the year with patience and grace

As an early elementary school teacher, I was both nervous and eager to begin each school year. Every new school year held so much promise. Yet beginning something new took such patience and hard work.

I always knew that by mid-October all of the hard work would start paying off as individual students became a classroom community, learning was evident throughout the day, and teachers and families were settled into their new routines and relationships. However, the first weeks can be tough, and how we all handle them sets the tone for the rest of the year.

Parents, teachers, and students are very tired at the beginning of the school year. Be patient! It is exhausting to implement and learn new routines, recognize new faces, and memorize new names while also focusing on academic learning and homework. Give each other time to get everything running smoothly, and try not to make quick judgments based on information gathered in the first couple weeks of the school year.

Choose a Bible verse, like Colossians 3:12, on which to focus as you interact with your children, other families, teachers, and administrators: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Stressful times can give our sinful natures a foothold, but focusing on God’s Word supports us as we build and grow relationships at the beginning of the school year. Posting an encouraging verse in your car, on the fridge, or on your mirror can be a gentle reminder throughout the day of how you would like to treat others in this time of change.

Just when it seems like things are going smoothly and it’s going to be a good year, a couple things often seem to set off a normally patient, kind, and gentle parent—homework and “mean” kids.

• Homework: Often schools have homework philosophies, and teachers need to follow what is required of them. Teachers work hard to give homework that is not too hard, not too easy, beneficial for every student, and that fits every family situation, but . . . this is tremendously hard to accomplish. The only way for a teacher to know if the homework is or is not working for your family is if you discuss it with him or her. If the amount, type, or content of homework is not working for your child or family, please ask to speak to the teacher privately and then share how homework is going. Ask the teacher to help you problem solve so that your child can best benefit from the homework he or she is doing.

• “Mean” kids: At the beginning of the school year, students often have some kind of social growing pains. They may not have spent much time with friends in the summer, and they now have to learn or remember how to problem solve, work, and play in a group and navigate the recess scene successfully. All kids struggle with some aspect of social learning as they practice being part of a group that includes others and treats others with respect. It’s important for parents to remember that other kids are not enemies—they are kids who are working on learning how to be kind friends and successful learners just like your child. When talking with your child about these experiences, try to help your child remain calm and focused on how to help the situation be better the next day. It is hard to hear that your child is sad or upset, but learning how to problem solve and build relationships with others is a vital skill that your child needs time to learn.

Teachers want you to know that we see these relationship dynamics and are closely monitoring interactions between children. However, we will not always step in, as it is so important for kids to practice their problem solving skills and then ask adults for help if needed. If you are concerned about a situation or relationship that seems to be bothering your child, please talk with your child’s teacher in a respectful way. Often asking the teacher for his or her perspective on the situation sets you up for a conversation focused on helping your child, which works better than an attack on the teacher.

Whether you are frustrated about homework, worried about your child’s friendships, or unsure about a teacher’s decisions, remember the grace that God gives you every day and pass that grace along to others. Choosing to interact with people in a spirit of love, kindness, and patience will make all the difference as you strive to begin the school year with positivity and grace.

Rachel Blum and her husband, Matt, have three young children and are members of St. Paul, Green Bay, Wis.