Getting a Great Start to Successful School Year

This week begin a new series on children schooling. Summer is almost over and kids are back at school. Hopefully everyone is enjoying some sense of routine and predictability at home. Whether they are starting preschool or have gone into high school or have left home to live in college dorm, life transitions can be stressful for children and hence to the parents.

A new school year is a time of stress for all families.  For kids, stress accompanies new classes, new teachers, new friends and new academic challenges. There’s even more stress for kids who are changing schools!  But, there is also stress for parents as we get our kids back into school year routines, and as we help our kids deal with their stress. 

As parents, our goal ought to be to intentionally work to keep the stress levels down in our homes.  Lowering the stress levels will not only help your family, but will also do a lot to make sure your kids experience a successful school year.  Here are some tips to help you along in the process:

 

A Peaceful Home Environment – Your kids don’t need a perfect home, but to thrive, they need a peaceful one.  Kids are at battle all day long at school. They battle peer pressure, body image, academic pressures, relational issues with peers, and some struggle with being bullied.  They need to come home to a place where they can retreat, drop their battle gear at the door and be in a shelter where they can just be themselves.  Your home ought to be the one place your kids feel truly safe, where they can be loved and known and cared for.

Safety Net Strong – Within your family, your kids find the important relational connections that will sustain them through the good times, as well as the bad.  Strained or broken family relationships affect other areas of your kids’ lives – like their school performance.  So, take the lead in your family to make sure your relationships become and stay healthy.  Start by evaluating whether or not you are currently “enjoying” or “annoying” your family… then make the changes necessary to strengthen those family ties.

Protect the Balance of Scheduling

Parents will help their kids have a successful school year by protecting a balanced lifestyle, in terms of scheduling.  Look at the big picture.  School, homework, athletics, hobbies, church activities all add up to a significant amount of your son’s or daughter’s time.  Help evaluate the effects that these various activities have on their lives.  Don’t be afraid to initiate a cutback in order to protect their most important involvements.  Help your kids to learn that no one can do everything!  Watch for emerging signs of stress.  If your kids are demonstrating stress, be sure to reevaluate their schedules.

Keep an Eye on Academics

There’s no doubt that your kids’ schoolwork is important!  It’s wise to take an active role in regularly checking on how your children are doing academically.  Don’t just look for the bottom line (grades), but keep an eye on whether or not they are learning disciplined study habits, if they are turning in assignments on time and what areas they might need additional help with.  Having said this, let me also say, as parents we need to maintain balance in this area!  Too many parents hover over their kids like helicopters, making sure every assignment is completed, on time and done correctly.  This actually serves to hinder our kids’ development toward independent adulthood.  Kids need to learn to become responsible in this area of their lives.  Many parents today wrap their own self-worth in how their kids are doing in school.  I’ve known parents who actually do their kids’ homework for them!  “Just say no” to this type of behavior!

More next week.


Helping Kids Stay Safe on Internet

Over the last few weeks we looked at how pornography affects families. In response to a query from a concerned mom about use of social networking sites by teens, I have come out with ten ways for your kids stay safe on the social web.

  1. Set your own home Internet rules: As soon as your children begin to use the Internet on their own, it is a good idea to come up with a list of rules for using the Internet that everyone can agree on. These rules should include whether your children can use social Web sites and how they can use them.  Set curfew and penalties for breaking rules.
  2. Ensure your kids follow age limits: The recommended age for signing up for social web sites is usually 13 and over. Do not allow younger children to use social media. It is important to remember that you cannot rely on the services themselves to keep your underage child from signing up. Limit sign up to one site per child.
  3. Educate yourself about the site. Evaluate the sites that your child plans to use and make sure both you and your child understand the privacy policy and the code of conduct. Find out if the site monitors content that people post. Also, review your child’s page periodically. Parents can begin to use the same site as well and be friend with your own children!
  4. Communicate with your children about their experiences. Encourage your children to tell you if something they encounter on one of these sites makes them feel anxious, uncomfortable or threatened. Stay calm and remind your kids they are not in trouble for bringing something to your attention. Let them know you will work with them to help resolve the situation for a positive outcome.
  5. Avoid identifiable information in profile. Be careful when your children divulge information that could be used to identify them, such as address, telephone numbers, email id, their school mascots etc. Have your children use only their first names or a nickname, but not a nickname that would attract inappropriate attention.
  6. Avoid Strangers. Encourage children to communicate with only people they have met in person. Insist that children never accept friend invitation from strangers or meet anyone in person whom they do not know and have met on the social site.
  7. Be Smart about posting photographs/videos: Explain to your children that photographs can reveal a lot of personal information. Encourage your children not to post photographs of themselves or their friends with clearly identifiable details such as street signs, license plates on their cars, or the name of their school on their sweatshirts.
  8. Warn children to express emotions online. Explain to your children that many of these words can be read by anyone with access to the Internet and that predators often search out emotionally vulnerable kids. Avoid posting poems or journal entries on the web.
  9. Install filtering tools to keep away unwanted materials. Ward off porn, foul language and other obnoxious stuff reaching your children mailbox or posting walls. Ensure safety and privacy levels are set age appropriately. Also review setting on the operating system for allowable content on the computer.
  10. Allow computer usage in a public place. Do not allow computers in children’s bedrooms or private study room. Home computer should be in public view and children are less likely to say or do things when they know others are around.

Newly Married – Laying a Foundation for Lasting Happiness

Today we begin a new series on newlyweds. Whether you got married this summer or have been married for decades, some of the lessons from early marriage are worth revisiting and helpful in strengthening any marriage.

A new husband recently confided that his wife was a different person before they got married. I told him, “Guess what? You are probably not the person she thought you were, either!” Many new brides and grooms are shocked to discover that their spouses are not the person they married. They ask, “Why isn’t my husband/wife the person I thought he/she was?”

That beautiful angel you married turns out to be a real woman. She has flaws that weren’t previously apparent. You discover to your shock that she has the capacity to express a range of emotions not seen before. You hadn’t felt that hot edge of her temper nor the cold, steely glare she now feels free to display.

The man of your dreams that you married now turns out to be a real person too. He may not be as perfect as once thought. He may handle things in ways that you find inefficient, and isn’t interested in your suggestions about how to do them differently — even though, from your viewpoint, your ways are obviously superior. You might be wondering, “What happened to the guy I used to know? Did he change, or did I just see him differently then?”

Marriage changes everyone! We all are constantly changing as individuals. The Wedding is a major milestone in life that we look forward to. Reaching that landmark does not only change the way we see ourselves, but also changes how others view us thereafter. Whether you had known each other for years or met each other for the first time at the wedding ceremony, it is a life-changing incident for all.

Attraction between opposites before marriage can be repulsion thereafter. What was cute once can now be irritating. The talker is drawn to a listener, but now are having communication problems. What seemed like a match made in heaven has suddenly turned out to be a living hell.

Before the wedding, differences seem to be intriguing, interesting, and attractive. After the wedding, the same differences are annoying, frustrating and disheartening. A few months or years after the wedding, however, what seemed so inviting in the semi-fantasy world of pre-marriage now seems considerably less than idyllic.

The rose-colored glasses through which we saw each other before marriage, suddenly comes off once you are married. You simply cannot see each other in the same away ever again. Is this deception? Not quite. It’s more like ‘selective expression.’ He behaved in a way that he figured would increase your likelihood of saying, “yes.” He put his best foot and shiniest shoe forward.

All couples have a set of expectations of their mates and from the marriage. We tend to think that our partners never have any or assume that they perfectly match with each other. Building strong marriages requires more than mere feeling, but it takes real hardcore commitment. Marital adjustment is crucial in creating a new togetherness in marriage.


Family Ministry – Need of the Hour

The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people. (Abraham Lincoln)

Families are in need everywhere. Broken relationships, hurting individuals and families, painful pasts, irreconcilable difference, breakdown in communication, absence of intimacy, and marital conflicts and violence are destroying families all around us. Families are in crisis!

There has been a sharp surge of family breakdown in our community in recent years. Divorce is growing at an alarming rate in our community and marital disharmony is common across cities and faith backgrounds. The lack of moral and spiritual values, changing gender roles, absence of adequate support systems in the adopted land, cultural differences, and poorer relational skills may be some of the causes of the fundamental breakdown of families in the Indian community.

Family is the smallest church. (Jonathan Edwards)

Families are stretched beyond their limits. Even a few years ago, we could not foresee what was in store for families. Demands of modern lifestyles, urban living, travel, stresses of the corporate world, clashing worldviews, and economic downturns, have only made things worse for marriages and families.

The Asian Indian community in North America has done exceedingly well academically, professionally, and hence financially, but relationally we are bankrupt. Some of it is our own making and some of it is due to our cultural baggage. Some people get thrown into unpleasant circumstances, while most others are unaware of what is undermining their relationships.

No doubt problems are complex in nature and how we handle them is even more perplexing. We choose to ignore, neglect, overlook or out rightly deny that problems exist; but we intuitively know that things could be much better on the home front. We are driven by shame – ‘what others will think of me if they find out.’ We continue to endure or hope things will get better automatically over time. Wearing masks are not helpful; band-aid approaches or ‘this is what we used to do in India’ remedies are inadequate.

In spite of the tightly knit family structure and, long cherished, strong family culture among Indians, today’s families have come under attack. The casualties are obvious and there is no solution in sight! Neither Christians nor churches are exempt from these trends among families. Often it is worse amongst Christians than the rest of the world!

Family is the most fundamental unit of any community, church and nation. When family ties grow weak, the whole society grows weaker. The weaker the home, the weaker will be the environment where future generations grow up. It is no wonder why children go on to build weaker marriages as well. Sadly, dysfunctionality is passed on from generation to generation.

A community or a church is only as strong as the weakest family. It is like a chain. When pulled apart a chain will snap along the weakest link. Similarly, when modern pressures of life mount in any community, cracks begin to surface along the weak unit of family and the weakest of them will break up. Many families are breaking up every day in our community, not to mention the cracks that appear in many families and future generations.

A family is like a thread in the fabric of society. When one thread snaps in the fabric, there is a small hole in the fabric. When many threads snap in a fabric, we call it a tear and when a piece of fabric contains many tears, it becomes useless. Similarly, when many families begin to hurt and fall apart, a society creates a tear, and if the trend continues a society will eventually disintegrate. Our future is at stake.

So what should we do? How can we build strong and stable families, societies and a better world? We need to start with ourselves. Each one of us needs to strengthen our own family bond – renewing our commitment to our own families. Do whatever it takes to build your own families.

The next best thing you could do is to help a needy family. It could be an old friend, extended family, classmate, neighbor, or colleague. You do not need any professional education or licensing to encourage, pray for or provide basic guidance. Share what you have learned from your own marriage, point to some resources and others who could offer further help. By helping other families you help yourself. By helping others you learn about mistakes others are making and will try to avoid them in your own marriage; you will research resources in marital topics and read beneficial material; you and your spouse might discuss the issue at hand, all of which could help your own marriage greatly.

Teach your own children about family values and help them develop relational skills. If you are a Sunday school teacher, youth leader, lay leader or pastor, make it a point to prioritize family before ministry. Doing ministry at the cost of your family can be disastrous. Include family themes in your lesson plans, bible studies, and sermons. Do not get weighed down by pastoral care needs and try to escalate counseling cases to expert counselors. Organize family seminars and retreats for the church.

Among all the institutions around us (church, school, charity organizations, business, government, etc.), I believe the Church of Jesus Christ is most strategically placed to impact the institution of family more than any other. A family is the smallest church and stronger families make a strong church, which in turn determine our witness and impact on the world. It is time for both of these institutions to come together to strengthen each other and leave a lasting legacy of Kingdom values in the world.

(This article first appeared on Meeting Point Magazine in Jan 09. Earlier version of this article was posted on www.UrbanIndia.org as well).