Helping Kids Deal With Back-to-School Stress

image retrieved from kirkcrady.wordpress.com

I happened to come across the now-viral video clip of a little boy being asked if he would miss his mom on the first day of school. A question to which he promptly exhibits visibly with quick tears that ‘yes,’ indeed—he will. The shot shows him running into the safe arms of his mother, with an embarrassed reportor left to apologize.

My own children, different in every way, have varied responses to stress. Lately, I have seen tears and anxiety within one more so than the others. Tears coming quickly in a range of situations. The other night, I happened to mention that I had some spots due to infected bug bites. I said goodnights and went downstairs for the evening, only to hear feet behind me not soon after. What did I mean by spots? Was I going to be okay? With a little assurance and some hugs, the anxiety abated for the time. Enough for her to go back to bed, anyway.

But our little encounter left me to briefly wonder where the stress was coming from and why.

Of course, we are coming up to that time of the year again, a time that parents anticipate and some kids wait for, while others drag their feet. The start of school—just one of the many transitions times in life that we will encounter. While we often think about parental stress associated with the beginnings of new activities, I wonder how often we remember that kids get stress too.

The American Psychological Association, along with Mary Alvord, PhD., offer six tips for parents helping kids cope with back-to-school: practice routines (sleep, lunch, bedtimes) well before the first big day, get to the know the kids on the bus route and in your child’s class, talk about your child’s fears and anxieties openly with them (withholding judgments), show lots and lots of empathy and then find the supports in your child’s school and community that will make the adjustment that much easier.

As a kindergarten teacher (and soon to be Grade 1 teacher as well), I recognize that students will come to me with their hearts and minds full of wonder, questions, fears and excitement. But these students are not the only ones feeling these emotions. As teachers, we do well to sense within our students both the anxiety and the excitement that new school routines and schedules bring to these children’s lives.

Willow Dea, Change Management Consultant, offers the following suggestions for teachers—ways which we can help our students adjust to life back in the classroom, and these include watching for over-stimulation in the classroom which can overwhelm some children, learning your students “learning styles”, along with making sure your students feel emotionally safe. She includes ten tips for parents and teachers which I have summarized as follows:

1. Set clear boundaries and guidelines and offer fair rules for support. Be consistent.
2. Offer children unstructured playtime so that they can use their imaginations.
3. Exercise, rest, nutrition, healthy meals, downtime, and laughter are all precursors for good health.
4. Take time away from technology. Encourage quiet and calm for part of your day.
5. Be the example for your students of managed stress. Parker Palmer states: “We teach who we are.”
6. Show students you care in the ways you know how.
7. Breathe.  Structure your day to allow for silence once in a while.
8. Listen to calming music. Turn the lights off. Let kids put their heads down on their desks and tune-out for a minute or two.
9. Talk with kids about what stresses them. Help them deal with it.
10. And don’t forget to make humor a big part of your day. 😉

All these, super suggestions for teachers (and parents) in knowing how to deal with children’s stress within the home and classroom. Never forgetting that the ways in which we take time to show compassion for other people and their unique situations (from children to adults) will go a long way in helping others be the best that they can be in that moment in time.

Might we also remember that small acts of kindness, along with the presence of caring, kind people, can serve to make an important impact in a person’s day. Let us live our lives so that when others think of kindness and caring, they think of us (quote taken from H. Jackson brown, Jr.).

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To-Do Lists

image retrieved from pinterest.com

I am sitting there at the table trying to rush things along- my usual way. In my head, I have a list running loops through my brain- the gears are turning fast. Birthday celebration, get home, tidy up house, finish laundry, get kids to bed, vacuum, work on my thesis paper. The to-do grows ever longer each passing minute. And like always, I am in a hurry to get things done. I check the time again, slow minutes ticking by unhurried while we eight wile away the minutes in a farmhouse kitchen. I bite my lip and try to catch Husband’s eye. I am getting antsy.

Tick, tick, tock.

Another much wiser and learned than I looks at me from across the room- with a slow smile says, “No rush. Relax and sit back. There is no need to hurry.”

But even as I ponder this concept for but a slip of a moment, I still tell myself, “Of course there is need to move along- look at all there is to be done.” The lines crease my forehead in a tell-tale way- too many years wishing for just five-more-minutes to get one more thing done. I can feel the tension moving through my neck and down into my back.

It takes every ounce of energy in me to relax and wait.

Later on, when the work of the day is over and done, I re-visit this idea of slowing down. I am quieter now- more willing to listen. More receptive.

After my thoughts settle a bit, I start to think back on the day. I recall seeing that little songbird that lighted on the weigela bush at dusk. It’s cheerful tune begging me to listen. I think of four newly crafted paintings left drying on my verhanda, the efforts of three sweet girls. I am prompted to recall a quiet morning spent in attentive concentration to the task at hand. I am reminded of the smell of the water just before the rain. The sound of the breeze rustling the Horse Chestnut branches just outside my window. The daffodils gently lilting, their fragrant heads down-turned.

I think of all there is to hear and see and attend to in our everyday world that presses us not a whit. Rushes us naught.
It is there for our pleasure. If we but take the time.

I think of dear ones now gone into eternity.  I wonder if they could have asked for just one more day, would that ever have been enough to quench the thirst for more time?

Why is it that to-do lists appear completely obsolete when one finds themselves immersed in the natural world thinking about the eternal?  It is all a matter of priority.

It is ironic that when our lives are lived out in the normal, mundane, a time when we could stop and take it all in: we don’t. Again I ask: why is it that only when we find ourselves facing uncertainty we take stock of our time and choose to spend it more wisely? We would do well to view our lives in retrospect once in a while. Reality has this way of gently reminding us every once in a while of what is important and what is not.

To-do lists and mental notes-to-self, as well-meaning and self-serving as they mean to be, are quite useless when one is facing priorities of the heart that really matter. We cannot take our to-do lists to the grave. Time is only at our disposal while we have it.

What we have today is our time. It can be spent lavishly or foolishly wasted. Managed or enjoyed.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ― Mary Oliver

Brokenness is better than a hallelujah

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God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

She was just a mess, broken pieces, shards of glass. And as she sat on a bridge one fine October day, feet dangling over the water’s edge, all she could think of was how much she hated him. How much he drove her crazy. They would never make it, him and her. They were too different. Too opposite. And he didn’t understand her- what made her tick, what fueled her tank.

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Months had passed into years, and she had all but given up hope. Things were just too far gone. There was no hope for this situation- they would never get it right. Some things were not meant to be. And they were one of these things: mismatched, unevenly aligned. Two people going in two different directions.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

She had talked about it for quite some time to the one person she trusted the most with these kinds of details. And that person had supported her through it all, but had also stipulated that they believed God was in this marriage, even if the Girl didn’t yet see it. That person said they were praying. They could see the best in this impossible situation. The Girl wasn’t so sure. In spite of her limited faith, the hope that the One Praying had, seemed to do for both of them.

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Besides, it was not due to wrongs that either she or the Man had done to one another in any moral sense that this Great Divide had been created: it was due more to those little hurts that come by way of more intangible situations. From depriving one another love, from holding back. From the cold that grows inside a heart that is turned off love. And in time, little hurts like these can give way to bigger ones: anger, resentment, fear, insecurity, sadness, isolation, anxiety, panic and loneliness.

The tears of shame for what’s been done
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

So when she found herself telling him that she wished it was over, wished that she had never even begun, it was almost like the floor had finally given way in a dilapidated old house that had served its purpose one too many years. Everything fell apart.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And while I still don’t know quite what happened, I can say that one day the Girl woke up and there was a change in her heart. She couldn’t quite put her finger on the exact moment, the time and day. But she knew somehow, someway- something had changed. She was different- and so was he. There had been something miraculous happen to bridge the Gap between them, something had toppled the massive walls that had been erected to separate, fortresses made from the strongest of materials. Something had changed between them. They were no longer enemies, at odds with one another. They were friends.

Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out

The Girl and the Boy tentatively adjusted to their new life, lived in freedom from the former chains. Chains that had once held them captive and enslaved to their own self-serving interests were now broken. They were gone. And the Girl and her Boy lived in peace with one another, free to love each other. Free to love themselves. And free to serve one another in love.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And because they had witnessed nothing short of a miracle, it was right to tell the world. That their broken mess of a marriage had been made into something beautiful. Just like a broken hallelujah from the lips of one breathing their last. Just like a melody from one who has lived to see another day. Their lives were a living testament to grace. Their lips could do nothing less than sing of God’s amazing grace.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

When we share with one another the brutal in our lives, along with the beautiful, we are able to clearly see the truth on which our lives are built. Unashamed and unconcealed. Broken and free. We are unchained melodies.

For we are more than just the pretty details we show one another in social media, more than the cute pictures we post on Facebook, the funny stories we share in our news feeds. We are more than just the casual “I’m fine” that we say so flippantly when asked how we are doing. We are people with real lives, real stories. Real pain. And none of our lives are perfect. None of us has that market cornered yet. We live lives of suffering that can be marked on a continuum that measures the varying degrees. And none can judge the shoes another walks in because we cannot ever know the pain we feel inside. Cannot really know the emptiness of wondering, “Is this all there really is?” This has to be one of the greatest points of despair in a person’s journey: wondering what is the purpose of a pointless life that seems to be heading nowhere. This is grief at its lowest, this is emptiness in its fullest.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Can we believe this truth?
Our lives are better than a beautiful melody sung by angels.
Our tears are better than a hallelujah uttered in church on Sunday morning.
Our cries are better than an Amen.
Our rage is better than apathy.
Our anger is better than indifference.
Our acknowledgement of the brokenness of our lives is better than a hallelujah.

Bearing truth to the messy, complicated in our lives is better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

(It’s better than a hallelujah sometimes)

Words to the song “Better Than A Hallelujah” are written by Amy Grant

Truth-telling time: I am hot mess

I get the call that I have forgotten-yet again– what I am suppose to be doing. This is me: post new-mommy brain, pre-dementia. There must be another label for this forgetfulness that I am so prone to that is more forgiving.

Having missed an appointment at the mechanic’s, I find that Husband, having not gotten me on my cell (phone turned down), has called the school TWICE to find out ‘where in tarnation’ I am. I am, of course, in my classroom (good teacher that I am)… tidying up loose ends, not a care in the world. I get paged twice over the school intercom (while I meanwhile attempt to run out of the classroom and into the room next door to mine, so as to answer his phone call…all while carrying on a conversation with a colleague—all as if my life didn’t depend on the next two minutes). Yes, this is me. Legitimately absent-minded.

This quick-thinking (or so I think) appears like it will work to save the day, but I soon come to realize Hubby has now given up on me and is pursuing alternative means. Read: he has left his own place of work and is now driving QUICKLY towards mine. I clue in pretty quick as well when my VP announces that he’s hung up on me- that it is TIME FOR ME TO VACATE THE PREMISES. I gather the girls, forget my lunch upstairs in the staff room fridge in the process- and thrust myself through the doors and towards my awaiting van. Which happens to now be parked in a small lake which has formed since I last exited the vehicle.

I pull out of the parking lot, turn onto the road and then honk at hubby as he goes by in the opposite direction, a man who appears to be looking a tad confused and a bit dazed at what could possibly be happening with his wife. She seems to have lost ALL her marbles.

We do finally connect- at the garage.  It is not, I’m afraid, the blissful reunion of which fairy-tales are made.

And you would assume, I’m sure, that I would use the five minute drive home in the truck, riding shotgun beside my Handsome Hubby…to apologize profusely and admit my wrongs. You over-estimate me yet again. Instead, you find me creating endless scenarios and reasons for which to cover my puny Behind, making excuses for why I had forgotten the appointment and on and on we go…as well as find me coming up with endless ways in which to complain about all the other things that have gone wrong with my day OF WHICH HUBBY HAS BEEN AN ACCOMPLICE IN MY ILL-ADVENTURES. Read again: it is entirely his fault that my day has now had the bottom fall out from beneath it.

But of course.

And so, I carry this sour mood home with me as I find umpteen more ways in which to complain and find fault with him and everything else in the world. There is no limit to my impatience.

All this, until I find myself standing at the sink with a scowl on my face and more words in which to throw scathingly in his direction… when I find gentle arms wrapped around my waist, kind hands holding me. His hands, holding me- this ball of tension, this ring of fire. And I feel within me the blaze simmer to a smouldering heat of warmth. And I let him hold me that way until I finally feel I can turn to him, tears in my eyes. Shame in my soul.

For what do I deserve- this mess that I am?  What do I deserve.  But more of the same of which I have offered- that, and then some. I receive back nothing but grace.

In talking about her inability to see the good in people- as she wished she could more often do, Doris Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, penned these words with regards to those people she served daily, who were found living as addicts and otherwise broken in spirit and soul:

“If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travellers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.”

When I think of the absolutes of good and evil, I can only believe that God has called us to see in each other the good, while He gently reminds us through the grace that we receive of our own shortcomings. I only know of evil when I feel the warmth of good. I am only reminded of grace when I see within myself my own errors and shortcomings. There would never be a need for grace if I wasn’t in possession of a deficit of kindness somewhere along the line. And so today, I saw within myself the need for grace- because I was offered much. And so freely.

In writing about Doris Day, Philip Yancey (2010) had this to say ( and I paraphrase): It was Dorothy Day’s brutal honesty about herself- her unwed pregnancy, her biting tongue, her quick temper- self-owned flaws that society (no doubt) pointed out in her as wrongs. It was then her own failings that allowed her to show grace to others. Yancey went on to say that grace is there for those who see themselves as broken- not primarily for those who believe that all is well.

Grace abounds in brokenness.

It is the flaws that we own within ourselves that enables grace to shine brightest. I soon feel tears come to the surface as he speaks gently, showering gracious, loving- KIND words over me. Seeing yet again that because I have been shown grace, I can then use this occasion to myself show gracious kindness in return, first to him and then to others. Covering all with grace.

For all is grace, if it is anything at all.

And so, I am then able to cover all that is around me with that grace I now sense, knowing deep within my own soul that there is an abiding sense of Love’s Presence. All is forgotten and I am free to carry on.

Grace-infused.

Only love

There is only love.”- Gretchen Rubin

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I am crouched in a crowded hallway with children bumping into one another, bumping into me from every side. It is almost 3:00 p.m., and we are all anxious for the day’s closure and a change of routine. My hands hold a backpack that belongs to a little guy. He snaps orders at me like a little drill sergeant while I try to process exactly how to respond. And I plan on responding- I just need a moment to think; I want to make use of this opportunity to teach as well as admonish. He continues with the tirade. “Stand up”, “help me”, “hold this”- words come pouring from his mouth in an accusatory cascading torrent.

As if I owe it to him. As if I was there solely for this purpose.

I take his little hands in mine and look him in the eye… and I try to remember (I tell it to myself): ‘there is only love’.

My own four children are fighting later- someone pushes, steps on, name-calls. There is always something happening at any given moment, or so it seems. And one mean remark sends me over the edge- flying. And it makes a woman weary- all this spite. All this cruelty. It pulls at her patience like a varmint looking for scraps, leaves her taut and twisted. So she snaps. And she wonders, “Is there only love?”

She finds herself after all this, tired to the bone. Exhausted. So that love seems the furthest thing from her mind. For love seems too narrow in scope, at times, to explain everything. Too free. Too lenient. Too open. Too forgiving. Too kind. Love seems to cover for so much. Why must there be only love?

Much later, she listens to stories of abuse coming from the mouths of those who have been deeply wounded. And she wonders if hate would ever mend a wound like love can.

She watches her own father- and other loved ones too, coping with the progression of a debilitating disease and she wonders if bitterness could ever fill the void like gratitude can.

She sees the grace in which friends deal with change and trouble (of every sort) and she wonders if intolerance could ever cope like mercy can.

She watches children who bicker and fight and squabble and scrap and she asks herself if frustration could ever tolerate like patience can.

And she reminds herself that love is stronger than she thinks. Wider in scope than she ever realized. Abler than she first believed. Love is enough.

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Because there is only love for a reason: it’s the answer for everything.

Ephesians 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,”
Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses”.

Something to be proud of

I admire the plump, white sugar cookies from afar and silently think back to the night before when I had made some cookies myself, along with my two daughters. Hoping against hope that this batch might be the ones, I could barely scrape them off the cookie tray after they came from the oven. They were literally a big, hot mess. I am stubborn enough that I scraped the entire dish into a mixing bowl, determined to reinvent them the next night as an ice cream sundae topping. I am nothing if not resourceful. Of course, they are still sitting there somewhere on the shelf- waiting for the next stop.  The garbage can.

But back to those sugar cookies. I couldn’t help but feel a little envious as I admired those delicious looking, perfectly formed culinary taste sensations.  If only I could make something akin to those.

It wasn’t until later on when we were heading out the door for home when I admitted to her- that I could never do what she does. I just can’t make cookies. In the 18 years I’ve been married and had my own home, I don’t know if there ever was a time that my cookies turned out. Funny how something so trifling could make you feel so small.

And that’s all I was thinking about right then. How I wished I could make cookies well- wished I could bake well- as I was just so sick and tired of the flat mess I am use to turning out each and every time I decide to cook.

And in that split second at the door, while I was thinking how much I wished I was better at baking, wished I was more like her. She turned and said something to me that made me think, stopped my envious thought process right in its tracks. She said this: We all have our “something” that we do- and you are doing that something each and every day.  That’s what she said.

We all have our something.  And even though she never added the following words to our conversation, I’d like to tack them on for good measure.  Because the sentiment was certainly there.

Be proud of your something.  Be thankful for it.

And I have since started to think about the ‘somethings’ we admire in other people that we wish we ourselves had. Started to think about how that thinking and wishing and, let’s just say it: that envy- gets our hearts off track. Takes our focus off what we know we are doing well and messes with our minds. Because we all have our something that we do that makes us special. All have our something that makes us unique.  That makes us special, and amazing and perfectly US.

But how often do we look at someone else’s’ something and WANT IT.

Think their something must be better than those God-given qualities we’ve been given.

And the truth is- that something we want- that something someone else has… IS special and wonderful and brilliant and unique- for the very fact that there is an amazing human being doing whatever it is we are admiring as worthwhile and beautiful and interesting and smart.

My friend IS amazing at baking.  I am totally in awe when I taste her food.  I think her gift is just amazing.

But that’s what she thinks about me too.  That’s exactly what all our truest friends think when they think about us.  That the qualities we have that are admirable and worthy are AMAZING. They even might go so far as thinking: “that woman- she’s amazing. She can do____- something I know nothing about.  Wow, to only be her…” But be sure: if you are looking at someone else admiringly, you can be sure that there are moments where someone is looking right back at you doing the very same things. Seeing in you what it is YOU do best and admiring you for it.

Because all have our ‘something’. Let’s be proud of it- and by golly, let’s own it.

I was thinking, after I had this wonderful encounter, how very much we need to be real with one another and level with each other. Maybe it is time we told each other:

“You know what? I am struggling because I look at you and you do ____ so well. I just feel I don’t measure up.”  Because I think the door would then be open for real, honest discussion about why we want what we don’t have and why we have such a hard time appreciating what we do have.

I have wanted a few things lately- qualities that I admire in other women which I should have celebrated as being wonderful and unique to them, rather than envying and wanting something I cannot have.  We are all different for a reason, so why not celebrate what others DO have.  It is so much nicer than feeling jealous.

Okay. So, I am a woman who can’t make cookies, who has a home that looks like a cyclone flew through it, along with a host of other flaws that would fill a book; but I still believe I have ‘something’. Something to be proud of.  Something worth celebrating. So I am proud to share with all of you that my something is: that I am able to authentically express my heart through writing.

It’s my something.  My little gift.

And I even though I don’t have it all, I have something.

And that is ‘something’ to celebrate.

Little is Much

The moon shines to an almost full sphere of milky white luminosity, its opaque form growing clearer each minute we walk this warm autumn evening. I comment that I am sure this should have been a full-moon tonight. It’s been that kind of atypical day. Duty on the playground complete with emotional breakdowns, fights and bullying. In-class issues that I feel ill-equipped to handle. After school meetings. After supper meetings.  Interpersonal conflicts that I have no idea how I got involved in them and an even lesser idea of how to handle them. And I’m just spent. Just spent.

And then this: the last straw, a phone call that does me in completely.

So this is what it feels like. Discouragement. What it is to be- to feel completely disheartened. To feel the weight of it all pressing down on your shoulders. To feel despair wrapping like powerful tentacles as if proffered by some vast sea creature- tightly enclosed around your soul, squeezing the life out of you. Threatening to strip you of all you know for sure. Threatening to steal even your belief in the good. Threatening to take you for all you’re worth.

This is what it feels like to be at the bottom.

She and I talk. I can hear it in her voice- the fear of the unknown. The worry, the anxiety. The stress. We talk about what’s next- the mysterious, unspecified tomorrows. And all the days after that. Of all that is to come. We talk of the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but we keep coming back to the fear. The feelings of concern and anxiety. The apprehension. The what-ifs.

We talk. And I grow more and more frustrated with the situation- and then more and more frustrated with all the other crazy situations I come to find myself involved in. Those predicaments and dilemmas that more or less define my life. Making it appear that the only peaceful moments are those I live in-between the insanity. And I think of how small we humans truly are- how little we must seem in the sea of humanity. We’re just a drop in the bucket, are we not? A tiny, miniscule little droplet. What do we matter in the grand scheme of things? Who really cares?

It’s hard to see our purpose when we’re busy caught up in fear of what lies just around the corner. It’s hard to trust when we’re too busy caught up in worry. Hard to look up when we’ve got our eyes focused on the ground.

I run up the stairs to kiss my sleeping babies who are growing fast and becoming their own unique and beautiful person so very quickly- I gently kiss their foreheads. And I think of the little speck of faith that keeps me trusting- keeps my eyes focused on my very next step.  keeps my feet firmly planted. And I think of all that which might seem so very little in my eyes- how it can be made into something far greater. Can be multiplied. Just like the five loaves and the two fish. Just like the jar of oil. Just like those vats of wine. And I remember:

Small is mighty.  Less is more.  And little is much.

For God is in that little.  And what might seem like a small offering can be multiplied beyond my wildest imaginings.

Even a shred of faith that is as small as a mustard seed.