4 TIPS TO START OFF THE SCHOOL YEAR
Posted by Sarah Anderson
Last year, when my oldest started Kindergarten, I learned I had a sort of spilt-personality. It turns out there’s a school year version of myself and a non-school year version. And since parenting and school was a new thing for me, let’s say, the school year version of me wasn’t the best version of myself.
At the time, I was just trying to keep this school ship running and didn’t realize how unpleasant I was. I was getting lunches made, getting people out of bed, getting backpacks ready to go, and getting class snacks sent in—which, incidentally, I did not manage to stay on top of and completely forgot to send snacks on the first morning of my assigned week.
Basically, when it came time for school to start, with very little expectation or understanding, I turned into someone I’m pretty sure the people around me didn’t like that much—someone I didn’t even like all that much.
And then this summer came, and it was bliss. We could sleep in longer, go on vacation, watch movies past bedtime, head to the pool so many nights after dinner that we started to sweat chlorine, get ice cream for no reason, become regulars at the library devouring the books we filled our tote bag with. In other words, we could breathe a little easier because our structure was looser and so were the demands on our time.
And now, here we are, on the brink of school starting again. And I’m not crazy about it. I hate waking up early, making lunches and having to act like I’m in a good mood when I wake up my kids. I hate having to get on them about homework and early bedtimes. I hate the life maintenance that seems to over take our lives back in the routine. But since it’s inevitable, I’m trying to use these next couple of weeks to try and figure out what I can do to make re-entry into the real world better.
Last year, I learned the hard way that this season of school doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. So this year, it’s up to me to go into it with eyes wide open and determine how to make my school year self not be such a stressed-out jerk to everyone who encounters me. Maybe you too could use the tips I’m compiling for myself.
1. FIGURE OUT YOUR MOST STRESSED OUT TIME OF THE DAY, AND SIMPLIFY
Maybe that’s the mornings—so, make lunches, pack snacks, and assemble homework the night before.
Maybe it’s bedtime—so get the “have to’s” done earlier. Homework, as soon as they get home. Reading, before dinner.
2. FIND A WAY TO CONNECT
At the start of the year, it’s draining on kids to get accustomed to a new teacher, a new routine, who to sit with at lunch, and who to ride the bus home with. They need some normalcy and a sense that life has some consistency. So make an effort to create some intentional time to connect with your kids—one-on-one. Be curious and ask questions like: “What’s the best part of the new year so far? What’s been the most frustrating thing? Is there something you wish was different? What would make tomorrow even better than today?” Be especially intentional to spend unique time with each child. This is the space to make sure the message of, “I love you, I’m paying attention to you, and I want the best start of the year as possible for you” is being communicated.
3. PLAN YOUR BREAKS
In those early weeks of school, the stretch of the school year ahead feels endless. But strategically placed throughout the school calendar are the little reprieves. These few days off here and there are like our Promised Land. Treat those days with intention. You don’t have to go skiing over Winter Break, or take a Disney Cruise over Spring Break to make a break count. Make plans to simply enjoy your kids on those days of less structure.
4. GO HEAVY ON GRACE
Change is hard on everyone. For both parents and kids. But we can choose to show a lot of compassion to our kids and ourselves as we work at creating a new normal. No one is doing it perfectly. No one’s morning is seamless. No one is void of emotion or anxiety heading into the start of a new year. So go easy on yourself and the people around you.
Last year, as the school year started for us for the first time, I became profoundly aware of time. Of how fast it all goes. And for that, I was grateful. For as hard as the start of school can be, for as much change it may require of us, for as much as it keeps us on our toes, it is a built-in reminder that our time with our kids is limited. So make it count. Even amid the homework, and school lunches and early rising. Make it count.
About the Author:
Sarah Anderson is a writer and communicator who has been involved in ministry since 2003. She is a lead writer and content creator for Orange's XP3 High School curriculum. Sarah lives in Roswell, Georgia, and is a big fan of her husband, Rodney, her two boys, Asher and Pace, and, in her weaker moments, McDonald's French fries. Read more from Sarah on her blog, www.sarahbanderson.com.
THREE MEALTIME QUESTIONS THAT CHANGE EVERYTHING (INCLUDING THE QUALITY OF YOUR FOOD)
Posted by Holly Crawshaw
Just kidding about that last part, but they could change a lot of things about how you talk about faith.
If your house is anything like mine, the bath time and bedtime routine can often turn into a soul-sucking vortex of blood, sweat, and tears. All evening long, I feel like I’m herding cats. But not even nice cats. I’m talking about the mean kind of cats who hiss and scratch and ignore you when you speak.
Oh? No? Your kids quietly and efficiently bathe, spend 20 minutes in meaningful prayer, and tuck themselves in? In that case, MINE TOO! I WAS TOTALLY KIDDING ABOUT WHAT I SAID EARLIER.
But seriously, as soon as dinner is over, and it’s time to head toward bedtime, I take a deep breath and steel myself for the impending negotiations, requests, and resistance. By the time I finally get my two girls clean and in the respective beds, the last thing either of us have the energy for is deep or spiritual conversations.
So about a year ago, my family started doing something different. We decided to leverage the only time we’re really together and looking at each other’s faces. we decided to leverage dinnertime.
No matter where we are (and let’s be honest, it’s Chick-Fil-A or the Mexican restaurant down the road maaaaannnny nights), we begin our meal with three questions. That’s right. We don’t bless our food before we eat it. You’ll see why. Standby.
Instead of a blessing, we all take turns answering these three questions:
1. What was your funny bunny today? (I’m not really sure where “funny bunny” came from, but normal families will probably just ask: “What was something funny that happened today?”)
2. What was your high today?
3. What was your low today?
By starting with a lighthearted question, both girls are automatically engaged in the conversation. They want to participate. They want to laugh at everyone’s “funny bunny,” and they especially want everyone to laugh at their own.
We use our “highs” as something we can thank God for, and we use our “lows” as something we can ask for help, healing, or forgiveness. Then, we close the meal out with prayer, making sure to mention all the specific things that happened during the day.
For us, shifting these questions to mealtime has been a family-wide favorite tradition. It gives us connecting points. It keeps everyone aware of the others’ needs, hurts, and successes. It teaches our girls to ask questions and to listen. It teaches our girls to pray specifically and intentionally. Hey, it’s taught me the same thing.
Now, we still pray right before bed, and we even have a short devotional we read out of. Half the time, the girls are giggling and poking each other beneath the covers, but God’s Word is powerful, and it’s planting seeds that will grow and bloom as we continue to teach them to prioritize family and faith.
(Confession: Sometimes I am also giggling and poking them beneath the covers. But it’s because I’m ridiculously relieved that we’ve cut down on the length of the bedtime routine!)
About the Author:
Holly Crawshaw is a wife, mother, and writer who eats sour candy and laughs at her own jokes. She served on staff with North Point Ministries for six years, the latter of which was spent as Preschool Director. She and her husband, Ben, are raising their two daughters, Lilah and Esmae, in their hometown of Cumming, GA.
THE EASY WAY TO DOUBLE THE FUN YOU HAVE WITH YOUR KIDS
Posted by Jon Acuff
I don’t like to run, but I do like my pants fitting.
In order to enjoy that second thing I have to do more of that first thing.
A few times a week I go running, but sometimes my schedule gets really busy. Balancing my career, my family and my faith, sometimes feels like a juggling act.
I have two daughters, age 9 and 11, and a beautiful wife I’ve been married to for close to 14 years. I also have a new book that comes out this spring, you should order it right here, and a speaking schedule that takes me across the country.
I don’t have big swaths of free time in my calendar and need to be really smart about the ways I spend my hours. One trick I’ve had a lot of success with this year is simply inviting my kids into the things I am doing, like running.
My daughters are old enough to ride their bikes with me while I run. Instead of jogging by myself or listening to a podcast, for the last two months I’ve been running with one of my daughters. They take turns going with me so that it becomes a 30-minute midweek date with Daddy.
It’s amazing how much they’ll talk to me during the run. Something about the fresh air, the exercise, and the fun of riding a bike opens up a lot of conversation.
As parents, it’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to balance it all. What if this week you looked at your calendar and simply said, “What do I need to do that I could invite my kids into?” I needed to run, so I invited my kids. I turned “me time” into “we time” and was blown away by what a simple tweak could do.
Do your kids want to go sit and wait while you get an oil change this week? Maybe not, but they might if it meant you brought a board game they’ve been wanting to play.
Double the fun you get to have with your kids by inviting them to be part of your day.
About the Author:
When he’s not charging his phone, New York Times Bestselling author Jon Acuff, teaches a goal-setting course called “The 30 Days of Hustle.” To find out more, visit www.30DaysofHustle.com.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT TRAGEDY
Posted by Carey Nieuwho
The news is heartbreaking enough to take in as a parent. Terrorist attacks. Mass killings. Planes blowing up. Beheadings. I know…please just stop right there.
Add to that the political chaos that seems to dominate the headlines, climate change, job losses and more. It’s just too much to take some days, even for us adults.
So as a parent, how do you even begin to engage these topics with your kids?
Well, for starters, you can try to shield them, and that will work for a while. But shielding a child from life won’t actually prepare a child for life. Eventually (far sooner than you’d like, probably), they’ll begin to awaken to the reality of the world around them. You can’t shield them forever. Eventually, they’ll leave home. And long before that, they’ll get a phone, an iPod or an iPad. It’s the world at their fingertips.
Then what do you do? How do you answer their questions?
Here are a few best practices I’ve seen and some guidelines that have helped me.
1. AVOID SIMPLISTIC OR UNREALISTIC ANSWERS.
I know, I know . . . of course you realize simplistic or unrealistic answers are unhelpful. But if that’s true, why do you and I give them so often?
It’s easy to say things like “everything’s going to be okay,” or “don’t worry, God won’t let that happen to us,” or “never mind, that’s not important.”
Wishful thinking isn’t helpful thinking. Kids believe what you say, at least until they learn not to.
I’ve talked to too many adults who still struggle spiritually because when they were little and they lost their mom, someone told them that “God must have needed your mom more than you did.” Talk about how to wreck a kid’s headspace. . . and heartspace.
That’s a simple answer, but it’s not a true answer.
If you don’t know what to say . . . just say you don’t know what to say.
Related: The Face of Grief
2. EMPATHIZE WITH THE STORY AND YOUR KID.
The news actually is heartbreaking. It’s actually okay to come alongside your child’s emotion and say something like,“That actually is heartbreaking. I’m very sad about that.” Or “Yes, that’s scary. Sometimes grown ups get scared too.”
If you’re engaging a teenager, you can be appropriately honest. Telling your child you don’t like the political situation either is actually okay.
Validating an emotion is the first step toward dealing with an emotion. Even if you can’t change the emotion, which you can’t. Or shouldn’t. Terror and death should never become normal.
3. TALK ABOUT A HOPE THAT GOES FAR BEYOND YOUR CIRCUMSTANCE.
Being truthful and expressing empathy is no a reason to leave your kid without hope, though.
Just because you see life for what it really is doesn’t mean you can’t also see God for who He really is.
The truth is, we have a God who is bigger than cruelty, who is bigger than terror, who is more powerful than any politician, and who is writing a bigger story. And—here’s the amazing part--we know how to story turns out. We’ve read to the end: good wins and God wins.
The thrust of scripture (which is frighteningly realistic about human nature and human history) points us again and again to this truth—we have a great big God we can trust no matter what. As in no matter what.
So why do we stop trusting? Why do we get too scared, disoriented or numb to give our kids hope that’s anchored in truth?
Too often what you and I look for in the news and in our personal lives is evidence . . .
that our circumstances are going to improve.
that we’ll be safe.
that none of this will happen to us or the people we love.
that we’ll find a job, or won’t get sick, or have even a little more money.
But the God of scripture isn’t a vending machine. Prayer isn’t a button to be pushed. It’s a relationship to be pursued.
Even more than that, our hope isn’t in our circumstances. It’s in God.
Our hope isn’t in our circumstances. It’s in God.
And God is bigger than our circumstances and he’s better than our circumstances.
If somehow we can convey the essence of truths like this to ourselves in times like these and ultimately to our kids, we’ll have reasons to believe when everyone else has stopped believing and reason to hope when everyone else has stopped hoping.
And when you watch the news (and shudder), you’ll be able to point to a hope that no human can ever destroy or threaten.
That’s something worth talking about. And that’s something worth sharing with the next generation.
About the Author:
Carey Nieuwhof is the lead pastor of Connexus Church and author of several books, including Parenting Beyond Your Capacity (with Reggie Joiner) and his latest book, "Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow." Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership and parenting. He writes one of the most widely read church leadership blogs at www.CareyNieuwhof.com and hosts the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews top leaders each week.
DON’T MISS IT – KNOW YOUR KIDS
Posted by Reggie Joine
The better you know your kids, the better you will be able to lead them.
But here’s a problem. Your kids keep changing, which means their issues keep changing.
Your kids are navigating an important journey from childhood to adulthood.
You are not raising children.
You are raising adults.
As a parent, you have to resist the temptation to fix your child’s problems and learn instead to respond in a way that helps them grow. It starts with understanding how to stay alert to what is actually happening at every phase and learning how to read the signs.
Since every phase of a kid’s life has unique challenges, you should become aware of the kind of questions that are asked at each phase.
Preschoolers tend to ask “AM I” questions.
Am I safe?
Am I okay?
Am I able?
Elementary-age kids tend to ask “DO I” questions.
Do I have your attention?
Do I have what it takes?
Do I have any friends?
As they move toward middle school, there is a shift in the nature of a child’s questions. They become more philosophical and relational.
Middle school students tend to ask questions like…
Who do I like?
Who am I?
Where do I belong?
During high school, the questions continue to shift from concrete to abstract, from black and white to various shades of gray.
Why should I believe?
How can I matter?
What will I do?
At the center of each question is the pronoun “I.” That’s because each of these questions reflects a part of a child’s developing identity. How you respond to these questions can shape who your son or daughter becomes. So don’t miss it.
This is an excerpt from Don’t Miss it by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy.
About the Author:
Reggie is founder and CEO of Orange. He has co-written two parenting books, "Playing for Keeps" and "Parenting Beyond Your Capacity" as well as other leadership books including "Lead Small" and "Think Orange". Reggie lives in Georgia with his wife, Debbie, and has four grown children, Reggie Paul, Hannah, Sarah, and Rebekah.