Some level of anxiety is common for kids of any age when they go back to school. I have one in particular who is in the full throes of it. For him, the first day of school is the first impression to his teachers of who he is. His peers will judge him by what he wears and how his hair is done. The right supplies are essential, as the wrong pens will make a mess of his handwriting, and the wrong planner will cause him to be disorganized and miss assignments and rehearsals. Add in the frantic rush of Mom getting supplies and new shoes purchased, fees paid, clothes washed, and lunches packed, and the pressure to get everyone back in the habit of going to bed at a decent time and doing homework, and it’s easy for the atmosphere in the home to become one of stress and anxiety.
As a parent, you can help your family through this hectic transition. Philippians 4:4-9 gives us a great framework for combatting anxiety.
1. Be gentle
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.”
Often we respond out of our own sense of stress and don’t see the ways our kids may be distressed about going back to school. The ways they display it may be subtle, so we have to be attentive to the non-verbal- their body language, facial expressions, and behaviors. Many kids fear failure socially or academically. Others fear being rejected, bullied, or embarrassed. If we are rejoicing in the Lord out and operating with an attitude of gentleness when dealing with our kids and the details of back-to-school, we can set an emotional temperature that will automatically begin to ease their anxiety and contribute to a sense of calm.
2. Reassure your child of God’s presence with them
“The Lord is near.”
Even if your child hasn’t had a personal experience with God, letting them know you believe God is with them may be a catalyst that causes them to draw near to Him or rely on His presence. At our house, we say Joshua 1:9 before the kids go out on any new venture- "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
3. Pray with them and for them
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Disclaimer here. We’re not commanding our kids not to be anxious or minimizing their feelings. Instead, we’re saying, “we don’t have to be anxious about this because we can tell God about it and ask for His help.” Before you can pray with them and for them, you have to know what their needs and requests are. Kids are used to us telling them what they ought to do, or to voices telling them to "grow up" or "get over it" or "it's not that big of a deal." Quickly this can turn to feelings of shame, and they become anxious about being anxious.
Listen first. Even if what they’re stressing about seems small to you, remember what it was like to be a kid and express empathy for their feelings. Usually, that stress about what to wear, while not seeming like a big deal to you, has something deeper under it, like a fear of rejection. Then take those requests to God, with thanksgiving for what He’s done and is doing. Take special time to pray over them and their school year on the first day, but don’t stop there. Work to make it a habit to turn to God together when you or your child feels anxious.
4. Focus on what is good
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Listen to what stresses them, offer empathy, and then gently try to redirect them toward the good. Help your child focus on who liked them, where they did well, what went right, what is good about school, and how they are growing. You will probably get the standard eye rolls and sighs, especially if you have a preteen, but your voice of encouragement is one they never stop needing.
5. Model a healthy way of dealing with anxiety
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”
Our kids learn more from what we model than from what we say. If you struggle with anxiety, seek help. Learn how to deal with the root issues that cause your anxiety, and model a Biblical way of conquering it.
“And the God of peace be with you.” Happy back-to-school!