Family summit sets the stage for a successful school year

The school year is upon us. This brings newness to the air. New teachers, new schedules, new goals, and new expectations. So how do we, as parents, help set the stage for a successful school year?

My husband, Tad, and I are a part of a parent coaching group where we learned about family summits. Basically a family summit is a family meeting. In this meeting we sit down and create space for each child to share a few basic, but important, things. Here is the agenda for our meeting:

1. Prayer—We intentionally invite the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be present and active in our summit.
2. Ground rules—We explain that this is a time to share and listen. When you aren’t sharing, you are listening without judgment and without interrupting.
3. Defining success—Give time for each child to think about and write down what a successful school year means to him or her.
4. Share time—Share with the family. It’s amazing how different this can look for each child.
5. Self expectations—Give time for each child to think about and write down his expectations for himself.
6. Share time—Share with the family. It works so much better when the expectations are theirs and not just yours.
7. Family expectations—Give time for each child to think about her expectations for your family. In our home our children didn’t always realize the kinds of expectations they have for each other.
8. Share time—Again, share with the family. This is also a time to talk about what are realistic expectations of themselves and of each other.
9. Mom and Dad time—Tad and I share our ideas of success and our expectations. These include their answers.
10. Blessing—Close with a blessing on our school year.

So often as parents we assume that our children’s ideas are the same as our own. Doing these summits has been eye opening for us. God is uniquely equipping our children to do the work he is putting in front of them. We want to cultivate a discernment that helps them see what that work is. I am humbled when their ideas come out because oftentimes they see it more clearly than I do.

Having these conversations has been invaluable in our home. It gives us insight into their hearts. It gives us direction when we are called upon to encourage and discipline our children. It keeps our desires for our children in check and helps us keep looking to our heavenly Father for guidance as we guide our children.

May God bless you and your families this year and always.

Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have five children ranging in age from 8 to 16. They are also licensed foster parents.

Back to school: Tips for a smooth transition

Are you ready for school to start? Some parents love the freedom and fun of the summer schedule. Some are like my husband and have a countdown on the calendar with a smiley face on the first day of school. No matter how you feel about it, the school year is beginning. Here are some ideas to help the transition go more smoothly.

Routine
Set clear goals right from the start regarding home and school responsibilities. What does the morning routine look like? What gets done the night before to prepare for the next day? (Hint: as much as possible!) What chores does your child have and when do they need to be done? At our house, chores like unloading the dishwasher are done in the morning. Responsibilities like practicing piano can be done after school.
Establish with your children when they are going to do homework and where. Having a specific time and a comfortable place set aside prioritizes homework and provides a structure for study. If homework has been a struggle in the past, consider hiring an after-school helper to provide a different perspective and take the tension out of the parent/child relationship.

Along with setting clearly defined routines, it’s important to practice them. Use the week before school starts to begin getting up at the right time, going through the morning routine, and sitting down to read during the scheduled study time.

Rest
Apparently fifth grade at our school is when every activity possible becomes available for students. Last year, our son decided he wanted to be in cross country, soccer, flag football, band, and chimes—all at the same time. It sounds so well-rounded, doesn’t it? It turned out to be a recipe for anxiety for our son and led to significant physical and emotional issues for the first part of the school year. Kids need down time. (So do adults!) Choose with your child one or two activities to participate in during the school year, and limit everything else.

Along with rest from activities, children need physical rest. It is recommended that children ages 6 to 13 get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Consistent lack of sleep can negatively impact learning, weaken the immune system, and result in behavioral issues. Encourage good sleep by limiting electronics before bed, keeping lighting low and the temperature cool in your child’s bedroom, and having a healthy snack before bedtime. Routines such as a warm bath or cuddling also help.

Remember what’s important
Finally, as the school year approaches, remember this important truth. Our children belong to God, and he has given us the responsibility of teaching them about his love. Maybe you set aside time for family Bible study. Maybe you sing Christian songs on your way to soccer. We have a devotion and share what we’re thankful for before bed. What your children learn about Jesus and what he’s done for them will be the most important lesson they learn all school year.

Sarah Reik and her husband have four children ages 6 to 11 heading back to school this fall.

A successful school year starts in summer?

I personally believe setting the stage for a successful school year starts in summer.

My wife and I try to get our children on a typical, healthy routine a few weeks prior to the school year. That includes trying to get them to settle in to sleep at a reasonable time and helping them adapt to any other changes in routine (including less screen time) so they have a chance to have healthy habits entering the school year and so we do not have the added stress of those changes when school begins. Of course, we do not always accomplish this goal due to the busyness of life and the need for flexibility.

I also believe it is important to speak positively about school and encourage your children to see school as a healthy and important venture and to model that positivity to them about responsibilities in your life. Telling them that your work is important, that God gave us talents and abilities to apply in this life, and that we aim to approach work and school with a thankful attitude can go a long way.

One part I have struggled with is watching my children go through the transition to school with fear and worry. I find myself saying, “How will they do with their friends?” “Will they like their teacher?” “What about their academics?” When I catch myself falling into that line of thinking, I remind myself that it is important to trust God (He helped you through it all, didn’t he?) and to trust your children and the people God has placed around them.

When school finally begins, my wife and I typically try to keep the above routines on track in addition to establishing routines for homework and study time. I also think it is important to try to keep things simple for a few weeks. Managing the back-to-school transition is an exciting time with all kinds of adjustments. It can also be a time when soccer, cross-country, and other commitments come together, and all of that can be overwhelming depending on how your child manages stress. In our house, we try our best to keep things simple in the fall so we are not overcommitted (notice the word “try”) and to allow the children adequate time in the evening and weekends to do things that help them relax, to connect with each other and us, to get homework done, to eat, and to play.

Finally, we pray for patience and trust that over time, the routines will settle in, the children will adjust, and we will be thinking about our plans for the following summer. Moreover, we remember that this time is temporary and we may as well enjoy this time of grace.

Casey Holtz and his wife, Amanda, have three young children ages 2 to 8.

Working through our kids’ natural gifts

My three teenagers experience a fair amount of worldly success in academics, sports, and music. This is not a bragging moment; it is simply an acknowledgement that God has given my kids a range of abilities, which are gifts they can’t take credit for in the same way they can’t take credit for their natural hair color. (Curious about this? Check out Letter 14 in Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.)

So, for those who are used to consistent success, what happens when they encounter something they’re not naturally good at?

Well, first, we simply accept those weaknesses. Society, in the name of well-rounded kiddos, places an awful lot of pressure on them to do everything. In reality, it’s refreshing to say, “We’re not even going to worry about that.” Not pressuring them to strive for things that aren’t in their wheelhouse gives them a chance to celebrate others’ success and gifts.

Then, after our kids accept their weaknesses, we encourage them not to completely accept their weaknesses (and not just because we’re trying to mess with them!). The parenting cliché “You don’t have to be the best, but you need to do your best” is a good one to use here.

Kids can’t just blow off math or English because it’s not their gift. Certain skills do need to be learned. Plus, with so many things, kids are accountable to a team or a group, so they need to work on their portion of the robotics project or practice free throws or rehearse their music. People are counting on them to contribute. This is where character is built. As kids struggle, they learn perseverance, determination, empathy, and humility. They learn that there is often a greater sense of satisfaction that comes along with hard work than from accomplishments that came easy.

Mainly, it boils down to giving thanks. We give thanks for the natural gifts God has given our kids. Then we give thanks for the lessons they learn as they work through their struggles.

Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, have two daughters and a son.

Supporting children as they struggle

My husband and I have raised three boys who are incredibly different from one another and have very different gifts, despite their shared DNA. It has made parenting them interesting . . . and challenging. What came so easily to one was a struggle for another. One lived for the grade school science fair and eagerly cultivated bacteria in petri dishes for weeks. The other started his project the night before it was due.

Sound familiar? As parents, how do we support our kids when they don’t excel in a certain area?

  • First of all, remind your kids (and yourself!) not to believe everything they see on social media. A scroll through your Facebook feed will convince you that everyone else’s kids are destined to be doctors, pro athletes, rocket scientists, etc. Don’t buy into the lie! Discuss with your kids how social media can be about sharing “mountaintop” experiences—the perfect facade people present to the world. In reality, all kids fail, feel excluded, and struggle with self-doubt. They just might not show it.
  • Help your kids realize that struggles in this sinful world are inevitable. Satan has made sure of that. The important thing is what we do with those struggles. We don’t let them define us; we let them teach us. Sometimes our kids’ struggles will lead them down a path they never would have chosen for themselves. Help them identify the valuable life lessons that can be learned from struggles.
  • Remind your kids that struggles are in God’s perfect plan for their lives. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Remember that God knows what our kids need better than we do. In our time-bound, earthly thinking, we cannot comprehend how all the disparate pieces of our kids’ lives—their successes and struggles—are part of God’s divine plan for them and fulfill his purposes.
  • Gently help your kids deal with failure. Kids no longer know how to fail! This sounds odd, but think about our society. It rewards kids with medals and trophies just for participating. Our attempts not to let any child’s feelings get hurt are doing kids a disservice. When they get older, they will not always be #1 or #2 but might be #27 or #1,127. Kids need to learn how to deal with failure and how to work through the depression and anxiety they might feel when they realize they aren’t #1 at everything they do. At the same time, remind your kids that the “place” or “rank” the world has assigned to them in no way changes the way you, or their heavenly Father, love and cherish them.
  • Help your kids identify and cultivate their God-given gifts and areas where they excel. Think about what motivates them. What makes them come alive? What can they do for hours without looking at the clock? Sometimes it’s easier for us, as parents and observers, to see where our kids’ gifts lie. It is our job to help them discover and use those gifts for God’s glory. Remind them that God gives everyone different gifts (Romans 12:6-8) and that they shouldn’t compare their gifts to the gifts of others. Assure them that God’s love does not depend on their success and neither does your love for them.

Ultimately, let’s pray for God’s guidance in teaching our kids that their most important status is that of redeemed child of God, purchased with Jesus’ blood on the cross.

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.

Start by listening

“I’m no good at anything!”

“Sam is the best. Why can’t I be like him.”

“Everyone else can do it but me!”

Do these words activate your parent panic alarm? These phrases and others like them are a common and normal part of the growing process. However, as a parent I feel the need to spring into action and do something. My child feels like he/she is not good at anything. No way! This can’t happen! My natural instinct is to argue, “You are good at many things.” Enter kid response: “No, I’m not.” Followed by my educated, all-knowing parental response, “Yes, you are.”

Perhaps in my panic of seeing my child hurting in some way, this “No, you aren’t/yes you are” approach could turn into more of an argument than anything else. I have found it a little (maybe a lot) more challenging for me to take a more unnatural approach during times like this. In fact, I have had to tell myself to STOP—and just listen. An expression of feelings associated with not excelling in a certain area can first be acknowledged—then argued with (kidding about the arguing). Here’s my secret template.

“Sounds like you felt a little (insert feeling word here) when (insert event here) happened.”

It feels a bit unnatural to me, but I have found that if I do not give our kids an understanding of how they feel, nothing else I say seems to be heard. It makes me think of the accounts in Scripture when Jesus sat with the woman at the well or walked along the road to Emmaus with the disciples. He seemed to join them and express his understanding before teaching them a new way.

So what’s next? I’ve joined my child and expressed an understanding of how he feels about not excelling in a certain area. Now it’s time to debate, right? Set this child straight and tell him what he is good at and he will walk away with new confidence, right?

Maybe sometimes that approach is needed. Maybe it helps at times to minimize a mistake or encourage hard work and practice. Maybe sometimes it is an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and not the end result. Lots of helpful approaches can be used at different times and special situations.

As I keep my radar up for a teachable moment, one thing I tend to be on guard for in my kids is the sense that Mom and Dad will only love me if I am the best. Wrong! I think there may be a sense of that conditional acceptance in all of us at times. This becomes a great opportunity for a reminder of God’s unconditional love. He loves us all with our successes and failures. That’s how we as parents try to use that as our guide. While we were still sinners (failures, broken, not good at anything), Christ died for us. There was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. It is unconditional.

As parents, we can remain watchful for opportunities like this to express understanding when our kids experience disappointments and do not excel in a certain area. Let’s ask for the Lord’s guidance to help us use the best tool of redirection at the right time and always be aware of the moments we are given to remind them of God’s unconditional love.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.