Back to School Anxiety: How Parents Can Help

It’s that time of year again – time to play a rousing game of who-hid-the-lunch-boxes and that perennial favorite, the school-supply-scavenger hunt. For most families it’s also time for some back-to-school anxiety. Whether your child experiences normal jitters or spends the next six weeks battling a stomach ache, there are ways parents can help.

The first thing a loving parent can do is to confront their own anxiety. If you are worried about your child’s teacher, having flashbacks of your own childhood or aggravated at the back-to-school process, discuss those things with a spouse, trusted friend or counselor but do so out of ear-shot of the next generation. A calm, rational parent is your child’s best defense against unreasonable fears.

A second way you can help is to give your children the resources they need to combat anxiety. That means nutritious food, sufficient and regular sleep, time to play and a routine which is free of additional stressors like an overly busy schedule or parental squabbling. Observe the circumstances which tend to overwhelm your child, and make a special effort this time of year to reduce or eliminate those things.

If you notice that your child is nervous, help them by naming it: “I think you might be a little worried about going back to school. Is anything particular bothering you?” When your child has fears about a specific situation, give them safe opportunities to confront that fear, such as meeting a new teacher before class starts or talking through the procedure for riding the school bus. Normalize your child’s anxiety: “I used to feel anxious about starting school, too, but I always ended up making new friends and having a lot of fun.” Your nonjudgmental acceptance of your child’s concerns can transform a big monster into a small, yapping dog.

Many children experience their worst anxiety in the morning before school. Make a special effort to create a calm and happy atmosphere at home. Play music. Take care of onerous chores at night, like completing homework and packing up. Make sure your morning routine allows enough time to get everything done without undue aggravation. A comforting ritual like a prayer, a hug or a family cheer is a great way for your child to leave the house. If you are driving them to school, tell stories or play audio books in the car on the way.

If your child experiences more than usual anxiety at the beginning of the school year, it can be helpful to talConfident little boy writing somethik with his or her teacher and use more targeted techniques at home. Create a vocabulary for anxiety, like “bees in your belly” or “the worry monster.” Teach your child that our bodies react physically to danger, but we can decide whether there is any real danger. Most of the time there isn’t, and then we can take steps to relax our bodies, like deep breathing, squeezing a stress ball or holding God’s hand. Model and practice these skills. If the teacher allows it, your child might want to bring a squishy toy or stuffed animal to school.

Perhaps after reading this article you are feeling a little anxious, yourself! It’s normal to feel uneasy about confronting the unknown, but God tells us to cast those cares into His lap and rely on His help, just as your child relies on your help. The beginning of the school year can be an exciting time of growth when you face it as a loving family with faith and trust in a Heavenly Father who cares for each one of us.
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Read more about these and other ways to help your child in The Anxiety Cure by Archibald Hart or The Anxiety Cure for Kids by Elizabeth Spencer and Caroline and Robert Dupont.

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Gods at War by Kyle Idleman

Titan Mascot with Trident and Crown Graphic Vector IllustrationAlthough I read a lot of self-help books, I’d rather read an adventure any day. Give me lost travelers, hidden treasure and epic battles. Figuratively speaking, that’s exactly what Kyle Idleman does in Gods at War. He introduces the reader to many of the villains secretly fighting for our moral allegiance. Using a casual style replete with personal and Biblical examples, this is an easy read which is also psychologically and theologically sound. It held my attention like a great adventure and challenged me to fight God’s battles in my own heart. [Clarification: this is a nonfiction book and is not written as an adventure story ala Peretti.  It’s a straightforward, in-your-face challenge to take a look at the idols in your life.]

Christians automatically recognize some priorities as troublesome, like money and success. But Idleman includes others which may seem wholly good, such as family. In talking about “disordered loves,” Idleman recounts the story of a woman who realized her kids had become too powerful in her life: “Her children, and what was going on with them, determined whether she had a good day. If they behaved themselves and didn’t throw any tantrums, she could feel good about life. Otherwise, she could not… She realized they were controlling who she was as a person…This is exactly what a false god does” (p. 216). I must tell you that this resonated with me, and it wasn’t the only paragraph which did.

I am giving this book my highest recommendation. Buy one copy for yourself and another to give away. If I could only recommend one book on idolatry, I would choose this one – even over Tim Keller’s excellent Counterfeit Gods. Kyle Idleman’s first book is entitled Not a Fan. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to. If Gods at War is any indication, I am a  fan!


Calling Versus Passion

Ian Charleson (foreground) and Ben Cross (left...Eric Liddell ruined the well-being of a whole generation of Christians.

If you know who Eric Liddell was, then I probably have your irate attention.  In case you don’t (and you haven’t already used Wikipedia to find out), he was also known as “the flying Scotsman,” the gold medal winner of the 400 meter race at the 1924 Summer Olympics.  He died while a missionary to China during the Second World War.  There is much more to his story, and I would encourage you to read one of the several biographies available and to watch the wonderful 1981 movie entitled Chariots of Fire.  Actually, it’s the script-writers of that movie who stole our peace, not Eric himself.  In the movie, Eric is urged by his sister to give up his running career in order to leave for the mission field.  He tells her, “I believe God made me for a purpose [China], but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

Somehow, the first half of that line has gotten lost, and only the second half, the part about feeling God’s pleasure, has become the motto of Western Christians trying to find their calling in life.  We now associate feelings of pleasure with God’s presence and ‘call.’  We want an assignment which will give us that sense of pleasure, achievement, blessing and satisfaction which Eric-the-actor was apparently talking about, and we have somehow assumed that it is out there for everyone if we can only find it.

The Bible uses the word ‘calling’ a bit differently.  Primarily, it uses the word to mean our salvation (Rom. 11:26, 29; Eph. 4:1; Heb. 3:1; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Peter 1:10).  Second, it uses ‘calling’ to indicate the good works which flow out of our salvation (Mark 6:7; 2 Thess. 1:11).  Finally, the same word is used twice to indicate our unchosen situation in life (1 Cor. 7:20, Heb. 5:4).  Our ‘call’ is that to which we have been called by a sovereign God – nothing more and nothing less.  There is no promise that we will like those things.  If you are married, then you have been called to love your spouse well.  If you are a parent, then you have been called to raise your children in the instruction of the Lord.  No matter your job, you have been called to do it as though you were working directly for God.  You have been called to evangelism, to serve the church, to abide in God’s word, to pursue holiness, to be a good steward of the gifts and resources God has given you.  These things ARE your calling, and they give God pleasure.  Occasionally, they may coincide with something that gives you pleasure, but often, they will be difficult and burdensome.

We have redefined ‘calling’ to mean a mission for which we have a great desire.  I think the modern word for that is ‘passion.’  Too many Christians have absorbed the idea that God will give them a mission and a passion which coincide, and until they find it, they have not found His calling for their lives; they have missed it.  That’s miserable American idolatry. 

It’s American because this country may be the first in history to give its citizens an absolute expectation of free choice in their vocation, their leisure and their relationships. Jesus was a carpenter because his father was a carpenter.  Few women had any vocation outside the home.  Jesus’ parents most likely had an arranged marriage.  The number of children they had was out of their hands.  Any leisure consisted of family gatherings and worship services.  And that was for free men, to say nothing of the many slaves who came to Christ.  In that era, it was only the Roman nobility, with their games and orgies, who had real choices about how they spent their time.  And within this rigid framework, the Apostles told the faithful that they were called to follow God’s leading, to honor and serve Him in all things.

It’s idolatry because we are looking to find our fulfillment in a thing rather than a Person.  God is pleased when we look more like Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, not when we look more like the fictional version of Eric Liddell who found an exceptional ability that he loved.  I am not saying it’s wrong to pursue something we love.  I am a counselor, and I help people discover the things that they love. We do have choices today, and if our passion happens to coincide with an exceptional ability or with a job which provides for our family, then that is an incredible blessing for which we should be eternally grateful.  However, it is neither an entitlement nor even a common occurrence.  In fact, even those things we name ‘passion’ have a way of succumbing to the Fall.

Finally, it’s miserable because so many people believe they have missed God’s direction for their lives.  Either they have failed or God has failed because they don’t have a miraculous experience of God’s pleasure in their activities.  If you do a Bible word-search on pleasure, you will find that God takes pleasure in His gospel and our obedience, and that the pleasure of man is often associated with sin (e.g., Prov. 21:17 or 2 Peter 2:13).  Please don’t use the measure of pleasure – how can you know if it’s God’s or your own? – to decide whether you are on the right path.  Do what is right and then pursue something that you love, but please don’t name that your ‘calling.’  It is only your passion. 

Instead of trying to find a passion we can make into our calling, perhaps we should spend more mental energy and prayer time making our calling into our passion.


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Nobody’s Savior

Superheroine in CityI’ve been sitting in a counseling room listening to people’s deepest struggles for almost five years now.  In that time a lot of voices have accumulated in my head, and some of them are talking trash.  Like the one which constantly tells me that I have do something, say something, make something happen to FIX IT – that if I don’t, I will have failed myself and the people who are counting on me.  The truth is, I could spend every daylight hour (not to mention those wee, morning hours) researching, brainstorming and praying for people and still hear the urgent voice of worry.  But there is a simple, two-part truth which allows me to sleep at night, to grieve appropriately and to avoid foolish pride.  Here’s what I tell myself: “They have a Savior, and it’s not me.”

First of all, I’m nobody’s savior despite the guilty self-talk I hear in my head.  The Lord may choose to use me in someone’s life, and that would be wonderful, but I can’t save them.  If I think I can, then it’s my soul which is in greatest peril.  Even if I took a bullet for someone else, I would not have saved them.  I would only have prolonged their earthly journey, and I doubt I’d even try to take that bullet.  I don’t have the wisdom of a savior.  I don’t have the courage of a savior.  I don’t have the power of a savior.  To think that my responsibilities include saving anyone, even my own children, is to steal the honor which belongs to Another.

Second, the world already has a Savior.  All these suffering, broken, limited people have a remedy.  Some of them know it, and some of them don’t, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that “the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”  (1 John 4:14)  I can talk about the remedy, but I can’t manipulate God’s will for anyone, and I can’t thwart it.  I can only yield to it, accept it, trust it.

What about you?  Is there a voice in your head which urges you to fix everyone in your life?  Or maybe just one person?  Do you ever worry or preach or run screaming from the room carry unwarranted guilt?  If so, then you can have my motto to use for a while yourself, no extra charge.

“They have a Savior, and it’s not me.”  That kind of self-talk can quiet a lot of trash talk.


I’ve re-posted this blog from more than a year ago because I needed to hear it again.

Regret

Blood and KnifeGodly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Cor. 7:10 (NIV)

Bitterness is a knife we use to stab ourselves over and over again, so writes Ken Sande in his blog this week.  I know that feeling… watching yourself bleed out, plunging the blade in one more time.  Alongside unforgiveness, I have another weapon I use just as effectively for the same purpose: regret.  “If only.”  “Should have.”  “Stupid.”

I recently made a remark to a friend which, at the time, seemed a harmless – even a helpful – thing to say.  However, it ended up hurting a third party in a way that I completely failed to foresee.  I called that person and apologized, but for several days I was haunted by regret.  I replayed the scenario over and over in my head.  I worried about other people who might find out what I had done.  I thought about different ways I wished I had handled it all.  I stabbed myself until the blood ran.

Regret is a near-cousin to bitterness but its object is less definite.  When we are angry with a particular person, there is someone to blame.  With regret, blame is a shape-shifter that slides around the corners of our consciousness.  At one moment we are angry at ourselves.  At another, we are angry “at the situation.”  Sometimes, if we can admit it, we are angry with God.  But always, we are really, really sorry.

And regret brings along its twin sister, shame.  Regret laments the exposure of our ineptitude or sin.  It covers us with a slimy, red film which returns after every washing.  It names us worthless, senseless and bad.  It stands us in the corner with the admonition to “think about what we have done.”

Regret cries out for a cosmic re-do; it’s our attempt to reorder the universe, to punish ourselves, to atone for our failure or justify our actions.  Regret pleads for the control which has been denied to us.  It calls for an outcome more suited to our own happiness, an end more in line with our own plans, an occurrence more complimentary to our character.  Regret demands personal sovereignty and denies the goodness of God.

When bad things happen in the world around us, we like to remember that God promises to work all things together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).  Why does that promise seem less real when I am the instrument of chaos?  We love to be the agents of God’s sweet goodness in the world.  Are we willing to be the instruments of His hard goodness?  Once we have done what He requires in terms of repentance, restitution or apology, are we willing to trust Him with the past, to leave it in His hands, to offer our failures as well as our successes for His purposes?  It is a greater sacrifice to give Him our regrets than to give Him our achievements.  Perhaps it is also a greater honor, a greater worship.  It is certainly evidence of a richer faith.  Give me that faith, Lord.

God of the Ages, time is no obstacle to You.  Walk ahead of us and guard our way.  Walk with us and help us love well.  Walk behind us and clean up our messes.  And let us leave them in Your good hands as an offering of faith.  All to your glory.


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Don’t Waste Your Anger

Whether it’s Karl Rove ranting on FOX News, Howard Stern raving on the radio or Angry Birds on your kids’ iPhone, wrath is popular these days.  If you follow this blog, then you know I believe that all our emotions have a godly purpose, even anger.  It’s a lot easier to welcome a feel-good emotion like confidence than it is to embrace the meaning in jealousy or rage.  However, we were made in the image of a perfect God who feels all those emotions, albeit in their purest forms.  Jesus got angry.  In fact, we have several examples of that and no examples of Jesus laughing.  Yet, we tend to feel closer to God when we are joyful than when we are angry.  Maybe we should re-evaluate.

anger collage
To be fair, all our emotions are equally fallen (just like our thoughts and our actions).  It is possible for love to warp into selfishness and for happiness to become a god (small ‘g’).  And anger, of course, has a particularly unattractive dark side – but that is for another post.  My purpose here is to highlight the potential goodness in anger and to encourage you to emulate God when you feel it.

So what “good purpose” can anger serve?  We need only look at the expressions of anger which Jesus displayed in the New Testament to see that anger motivates people to intervene when wrongs have been committed.  Without righteous anger, no one would chase the purse snatcher across a parking lot.  No one would tackle the school shooter before he pulled the trigger again.  No one would collect the signatures necessary to protect animals and children from their abusers through the political process.  Anger motivates us to change things.

Anger motivates us to change things in the world, to reveal inequities and injustices and to work in society to end them through activism, heroism, volunteerism, legislation, publicity, fund-raising, donating our time, talents, words and hands to the cause of righteousness.  Anger motivates us to change things in other people, to speak the truth in love, to take a bullet in their place, to hold someone back from harm or to push them forward into a better life.  Anger motivates us to change ourselves, to be more careful, to make resolutions, to put accountability in place, to overcome fear or laziness, to finally do that thing we should have done long ago.

The biggest problem with anger is when there is absolutely nothing we can do to change anything.  However, that is rarely the case.  The second biggest problem is when we choose the wrong target for our anger.  Because anger stirs our physical juices, it’s hard to put down, and we generally want to lash out at someone or something.  Before you do, take a little time to figure out why you are angry and whether God is in it anywhere.  Is there something you can or should do to change the situation, the people involved or yourself?  How do you think you might go about it in ways which honor the Lord?  Put your emotions to good use – don’t waste your anger!


Related articles:

The Gift of Anger, a book review from Christianity Today (2004)
How should I deal with my anger? by Adrian Rogers
Manage Your Anger Like Jesus Did by Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com

You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful

Little scared or crying or playing bo-peep girl hiding faceSong of Solomon, Part 2

One Direction is the biggest boy band in the world right now.  In case you’ve had your head in a box for the past year, let me quote from one of their signature songs:

You’re being shy,
And turn away when I look into your eyes,
Everyone else in the room can see it,

Everyone else but you…
You don’t know, oh, oh, you don’t know you’re beautiful.

Most men can’t understand why lyrics like this make 13-year-old girls all over the planet drool and scream and drop big bucks for One-D tickets.  But I think most women get it.  Even if we’re much too jaded mature to fall for it, and even though we aren’t attracted to pubescent pop stars, we get it.

And, I think God gets it, too.  In fact, I think He was singing about it long before One Direction hit the charts.  God understands us because He made us, and He knows what we long for.  If you read the guest-post a few weeks ago, His Desire is for Me, you saw that Song of Solomon has a lot to say about God’s love for His people.  As I pondered it, I realized it also has a lot to say about our need for His love, too.

Separately reading the words of the bride and groom is a wonderful, worshipful exercise.  The bride represents the church throughout history, but she is also amazingly like each one of us, flawed and needy.  She loses track of her lover, she fights with her family, and she reveals insecurities about – guess, what? – her beauty.  Meanwhile, the groom, who represents Christ, does nothing but reiterate his adoration for her.  He tells her over and over, in many different ways, that she is lovely.

We don’t know that we are beautiful.  We don’t know that God sees us seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6), shining with the glory He purchased for us (2 Cor. 3:18) and perfect – as we one day will be in reality (Heb. 10:14).  The cross shouts that message down time and eternity.  We are loved.  We are valuable.  We are beautiful.

What does this mean for us today?  At least two things.  First, our marriages should reflect the covenant marriage God has with His people.  If part of His mission is to tell us we are beautiful, and if our job is to offer that beauty to Him, then our marriages should look that way, too.  Husbands, what have you done today to convince your wife that she is beautiful in your eyes?  It’s your job to find her beauty and tell her about it.  God never gets weary of repeating that message to His bride.  Wives, what have you done today to offer your beauty to your husband in creative ways?  (I mean your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional gifts and graces.)  Is your beauty dedicated to him or have you withheld it?  Have you offered it inappropriately to others?

Song of Solomon also means that we need to listen for God’s voice and believe His words.  We need to hear that His desire is for us every day.  His gospel is for us every day.  We can consciously reject the voice inside which denies this graceful truth and clings to filthy rags of self-deprecation or earthly pride.  The girl who doesn’t know she is beautiful will either hide herself in the shadows or give herself away in the public square.  The woman who accepts her own beauty as God-given wears it comfortably and offers it appropriately, making others feel beautiful along the way.


English: Heart shaped shadow cast by a ring on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Personal exercises (you will need a Bible translation which separates the three voices in Song of Solomon):

  • Read only the groom’s portion of the Song of Solomon and see if you can accept it as the love of Christ for you.
  • Rewrite the groom’s portion in more modern and personal language, the way you would like to hear it from God.
  • Read the bride’s portion and consider whether her fears mirror your own in any way.  Are her requests like your prayers?  Is her praise like your worship?
  • Rewrite the bride’s portion in more modern and personal language, the way you would like to say it to God.

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