Back to School Nerves
My seven-year-old son’s behavior the last couple of weeks has been utter crap. I know I’m not alone here. In his case, when I ask him to stop doing something, he’ll look straight at me and do it at least one more time -usually twice or more. Often, when I ask him to do something, he’ll say, "no". It’s like he’s majoring in being contrary. It’s SO frustrating -especially since he’s usually such an agreeable little guy.
This evening, things heated up quickly. I asked him to please help me pick up some cards. He looked at me and sort of moved them around. (Like the way kids who can’t shuffle cards shuffle them.) This wasn’t the first act of defiance he’d had in a pretty short time, so I told him to sit in time out. He refused. That’s when it got ugly (on my part). I yelled and told him to go to bed. He refused. So, I carried him up to bed. After lots of yelling and door shutting, he was finally upstairs cooling off. (I assumed.) I proceeded to deal the cards to play another game with my daughter. He was very curious about what was happening downstairs. We’d laugh and then I’d hear him call from upstairs, “What’s funny?” After a few interruptions, I felt like his voice wasn’t coming from inside his room anymore. Nora took it upon herself to check on him.
“He’s sitting on the stairs eating a blow pop!” she said.
“Are you kidding me?” I seethed.
I heard giggles from upstairs and I lost it.
“It’s not funny to disobey!” I yelled. I know I was using my meanest teacher face because he finally looked scared.
I suddenly felt like Sulley in Monsters Inc. when he terrifies Boo. I felt like I was finally in control, but it didn’t feel like I won anything.
I had to ask myself, “What’s happening that my usually-sweet kid is being so defiant and making me a monster?” It doesn’t take a therapist to figure it out. So, I took a deep breath and picked up my tiny boy. I held him for a few minutes as he cried in my arms and I told him a story…
Once, there was a little girl. She was about to start a new school year and she was excited, but there were so many things she didn’t know. She didn’t know if her teacher was going to be nice (even though people said she was). She didn’t know if there would be story time this year. She didn’t know her lunch code yet, so she wasn’t sure how to buy lunch. She didn’t know how many friends she’d have in her class. And she didn’t know if the circle-time carpet would be the same. She didn’t know how many recesses she’d have and she’d never even been on the big kid playground yet. There were so many things she didn’t know. And so many things she couldn’t control. When her mommy asked her to put her dishes in the dishwasher, suddenly, she had something she could control.
So, she looked her mommy in the eyes and said, “No!” And when she was making an annoying sound, and her mommy said, “Stop that please.”
She said, “No!”
And when her mommy asked her to please sit in time out, she said (I asked my son to join in and say it as loud as he wanted.)
“No!” he shouted.
And when her mommy said, “Go to bed!”
She/he said, “NO!”
We laughed a little. But then, I asked him, “Do you feel a little like that little girl?”
Tears filled his eyes and he said, “yes.”
I asked him to forgive me for when I turned into a monster. He said he was sorry too. Then, I threw away the blow pop. He didn’t even argue. I don’t know what’s going on at your house, but if you have kids about to start a new school year, I imagine they’re feeling a lot of these things too. They may even be acting out. Don’t get to the point I did before seeing what’s really happening. That lack of control they’re feeling will come out in all kinds of ways. It may be defiance like my son. It may be isolating like my daughters. They both retreat their rooms and we have to remind them to join us. It may even be a facial tic like what happens to my other son. But they will all have stress and they will use different methods to cope. In my experience, yelling only makes it worse. But, on days like today, I forget that and do it anyway.
Here's an idea:
I’m going to give you a method I learned from my freshman daughter. When her sister was upset because she wasn’t chosen to win an invention contest, she asked her to write down everything she was feeling. She was hurt. And mad. And a little embarrassed. And jealous. Anna looked up Bible verses that addressed those feelings. Then, she had Nora summarize each verse in one word. The little girl that emerged an hour later wasn’t the one who had gone upstairs. She was smiling and confident again. If you have a child who’s struggling with a lot of feelings, maybe try this. I know I will.
Books to read with your kids to help calm their nerves. (And yours.)
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Our God is Bigger Than That by Michelle Medlock Adams and Eva Marie Everson
This I Know; Seeing God in the World He Made by Clay Anderson
It Will Be Okay; Trusting God Through Fear and Change by Lisa TerKeurst
Quinn’s Promise Rock by Christie Thomas and Sydney Hanson
Anxiety Elephants for Tween Girls: A 90 Day Devotional by Caris Snider
Anxiety Elephants for Tween Boys: A 90 Day Devotional by Caris Snider
Here's another great resource -a back to school scripture calendar from my friend Caris Snider.
It's just a season
Keep in mind, transitions are always challenging. But soon, you and your kids will be in a good rhythm. Many of the “what if’s” will be answered and you’ll find things aren’t as scary as they seemed. These behaviors will probably happen less and less and they will build confidence. When you’re about to lose it, stop and give your kid a hug. Hold them. They might wiggle a little, but keep holding them. You’ll feel them falling into the hug. That’s them sort of “melting into your arms”. Allow them to be totally relaxed. Feel their heartbeat slow a little. Pray for them in those moments. Pray that God will calm their fears. And that they’ll know the truth which is so much bigger than what’s scaring them.
I’m praying you and your kids will have a smooth transition into the school year. Stand on truth and have patience. We will get through this.