New shoes, new backpacks, new teachers—same attitude? Most kids are excited about returning to school, even if they don’t want to admit it. Each year has a unique set of accomplishments and challenges. I used to teach school, and I well remember the first day of the year.
- Some of the kindergarten kids were crying . . . mostly because their moms were.
- The first graders came in looking nervous and looking to see who else had lost their front teeth over the summer.
- The second graders came in feeling confident, and looking for the person they sat next to the year before.
- The third graders came in and the boys went to one side of the room while the girls went to the other.
- The fourth graders came in, already smelling like wet puppies. The boys punched one another in the arm or put a friend in a headlock, while the girls rolled their eyes and checked out each other’s outfits.
After fourth grade, the conformity starts to change. Individual personality starts to emerge, except in what they are wearing. It is hard to find your child in the fifth– through eighth-grade years because everyone is wearing the same clothes, and that is mostly true even if the school doesn’t require uniforms.
The high school years are unique. There are different clubs, different “groups,” and different degrees of acceptance. The goal is finding the group of people that call you a friend, because no one fits into every group. And that stays true for the rest of their lives.
Back to school means back to carpooling, schedule managing, social training, academic motivating, and not enough sleeping—not to mention, a massive amount of laundry. It also means a certain degree of worrying. Will he like his teacher? Will the other girls include her? Will he try harder this year? Will she be in trouble again? Every year provides something new to worry about.
So, allow a former school teacher to offer a few thoughts.
First, don’t worry until October. Kids are amazingly skillful at working things out themselves. Try to stay out of their way, and out of the teacher’s way until October. Chances are, whatever you were worried about will be resolved by Halloween.
Second, pray about how “involved” you should be. Our kids want to see you up at school, but after second grade, they probably don’t want to see you that often. Allow them to develop their own circles, even if you had hoped for a different one. (With one exception: if they choose the group wearing skulls and fake tattoos, you might want to be a little more involved!)
Third, (and I wished I had learned this one sooner), offer suggestions carefully. Most parents think they know what is best, but don’t underestimate your child’s ability to actually know what’s best. I think I was right about fifty percent of the time, and I might be trying to make myself feel better with that percentage. The rest of the time, I was just making my kids think I didn’t trust them enough.
Fourth, treasure these crazy, precious years. They do go by quickly. If you question that, look at a first grader and then look at a fifth grader. That is what five years looks like.
And finally, take a moment to realize that while so many things matter right now, Jesus still matters most. Will you find time in the coming weeks to pray for things like teachers, friendships, academics, and remember that spiritual success is the most important success your child can achieve. In fact, spiritual success is the best way to accomplish all the others.
A word from the Apostle Paul for back-to-school:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7).
Don’t worry. God’s got this!