Here are my notes from Episode 016: 5 Essentials to Begin the School Year Right
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Okay, I’ve got to be honest with you – I’m just not ready! I’m not ready to get back to school…and I’m not even in school!
But, my girls are. They started back this week. And, is it just me, or does it feel like this summer just flew by! Of course, we travel a lot in the summer going to camps where I speak. So, summers kind of always fly-by for our family. But, this summer felt ridiculously short to me!
Parents all over America are either crying or rejoicing that the big yellow bus is about to stop out front once again. I gotta tell you – I’m not there yet. I love having my girls at home. I love our summer fun. And, I’m just not ready for homework!
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out – – ready or not, we are back at it! And, since I, and all parents, must face reality, I’ve devoted this week’s episode to helping you begin the new school year right.
Getting back into routine the right way is really important. And, starting strong is just as important to helping your kids and really the entire family, chart a path for success in the school new year.
So, let’s jump right in.
1. Get Going In The Right Direction
A new school year ushers in a mix of emotions for students. Many students spend the summer staying up late and sleeping in, so the adjustment may take a bit. I find that the older kids are, often the less parents believe they are needed during the adjustment. This is a lie. Your kids need discipline, structure, and simply, help getting going in the right direction at the beginning of the new school year.
Eating breakfast gets their brains moving before they even leave the house each morning. So, make sure they start the day off right getting fueled.
If you don’t know your kid’s teachers, make sure to get to know them early on in the new school year. If you can’t get to school with your kids to make a personal face-to-face introduction, make sure to send a short “hello” email to each of their teachers.
As a husband of a college professor, I understand that those educating our kids live and die by: the syllabus! Make sure your kids get a copy of the syllabus on the first week of school for each class. Read through the syllabus with your kids. This will help eliminate a potential future “I didn’t know I had to do that!” moment later on in the semester.
If you can, get involved at their school, even if minimally. Volunteer in the classroom or as a team parent for a sport they are playing. Work in the lunchroom or library. Help out on fieldtrips. Most schools are almost always looking for help from parents. If your kids don’t relay such information to you, call the school office and ask how you can help.
Here’s a really good one to get going in the right direction: establish good study habits early on. A key to this one: set parameters and clearly articulate them to your kids about all devices being off limits until all homework is done. You know your kids better than anyone. You know the best approach for helping them succeed in the classroom. Stay involved in their educational journey. Ask questions. Review homework assignments. Help them prepare for exams. Again, stay connected with their teachers and keep tabs on their study habits.
Of course, their friends, their social media lives, who they date, and the parties they attend are all important areas that you have to work hard at to stay in-the-know and stay involved. Parenting is the toughest and busiest job you should ever have!
Don’t buy the lie that the older they get, they less they need you. Your kids need you involved in their everyday lives. So, work to stay involved. And remember, you are the parent not the pal.
2. Make Dinner Time A Priority
Dinnertime can be one of your best connection times as a family. Look, you gotta eat. And, setting aside time to be together, distraction free, while doing something you have to do – eat – is a great opportunity to be together and to talk as a family. Yet for most families, dinner time has become the forgotten time.
Studies show that the average family has dinner together less than 2 nights a week.
Amy and I have to fight to keep dinnertime a consistent family time. Our daughters each play three sports and are involved in student government, choir, and youth group. And, of course, homework. There are nights when we can’t all be home for dinner. But, through the years we’ve gotten creative at protecting this time. Of course, it doesn’t work every night. But, we have found, that if we work at making it work, more nights than not, we are together somewhere, if only briefly, to have dinner as a family.
Here’s where you start: take a close look at your family’s calendar. This is something that you will have to do each week.
Take a look at the week ahead for everyone – meetings, study groups, rehearsals, games, work…then chart a plan specific for that week.
Some nights, dinner may happen at a restaurant or maybe on the fly between events. For instance, tonight, my girls have soccer practice until 9 pm. So, we are going to eat late tonight. I asked Bailey this morning, “Do you just want to grab something before practice?” And, I loved her response, She said, “No daddy. I want us to have dinner together tonight.” Isn’t that great!
I’m telling you this story for any reason other than I get it – – you’re busy! Families are busy. But, when you set a precedent, an expectation, I am of the belief that over time your kids get locked-in to that expectation. And…they expect it – they might even look forward to it.
I know for my girls, and really for all Gen Zs, they operate much better with boundaries, with routine….and, when everything starts getting crazy with a new all that comes with a new school year – – and you know it will get crazy….routine will be important!
So, work to establish a realistic plan to have dinner together as a family on a consistent basis.
If you are going to work at making dinner time a priority for your family, then you are also going to need to establish a few non-negotiables. Let me quickly explain…
Recently, Amy, the girls, and I were eating at a restaurant. At the table next to ours, every person in a group of five was on their phone. No one was talking. Instead, they were all eating with one hand while holding their phones with the other.
I often hear parents complain about what I call “distracted dining.” It’s going to be really difficult for you to make the most of time around the table with your family – to really connect – to talk, to listen and to grow as a family – if there are distractions competing for everyone’s attention.
Remember, you are the parent. You decide what dinnertime looks like for your family. Now, of course, there will be times when you have to deviate from the plan. But, creating a plan and enforcing the plan will make dinnertime more than just about food.
Here are five of my family’s non-negotiables:
Eat at the table, not in the living room.
No cell phones.
Pray before you eat.
Talk about your day before leaving the table.
I know it’s sometimes difficult to know how to get good conversations going, especially if you have not made dinnertime conversation a family rhythm in the past. So, before I move to the next back-to-school essential, here are some prompts for getting more meaningful conversations happening in your home!
1. What happened today?
My daughters love recounting their days, telling us everything that happened. We started asking about their days when they were in elementary school. Our oldest is now a senior, and our youngest a sophomore in high school and they both still tell us about what happened at school. If your child is a preteen, now is the perfect time to begin asking, “What happened today?” If he/she is a teen, give it a try anyway. My girls love seeing that Amy and I are interested in hearing about their experiences.
2. What is one thing you did today to make someone else’s day better?
It’s easy for parents to focus on the major issues, such as “Don’t have sex,” “Say no to drugs,” “Don’t look at porn,” “Come straight home after the movie,” and “Where will you be tonight and who else will be there?” Yet we often miss minor matters and details that are equally important, such as teaching our kids kindness and compassion for others, how to have a servant’s heart, and good etiquette.
As parents, we need to major on the minors with our kids, reminding them that every day they have opportunities to make someone’s day better. Brynnan recently texted to tell me she gave a doughnut to a girl at school. The girl had had some struggles at home and had posted alarming comments on social media. I know that being given a doughnut was a kindness the girl appreciated. And, Brynnan loved telling us about what happened.
3. Who did you sit with at lunch today?
Just as it’s important to know who your kid’s social media connections are, it’s critical to know about their daily connections in the real world. A mom told me she began asking her daughter about the people who sat at her lunch table when her daughter was in elementary school. Now that her daughter is in middle school, this mom says, “I learn so much about her friends by asking, ‘Who did you sit by today?’” If your child reports that he sat alone, follow up, as this may reveal a deeper issue at school that you need to address.
4. What’s on your mind?
Make it clear that your son/daughter can talk to you about anything and that you’ll listen. It’s important that our kids feel they can talk openly and share whatever may be on their minds. If communication has not flowed freely in the past, it might be tough for them to answer the question, “What’s on your mind?”
So, I want to encourage you to there…or course, not every question we ask our kids has to be serious. But, I will tell you – – 26 of counseling people of all ages, particularly students, has shown me that people who are struggling with something don’t want to keep struggling. They almost always want to bring to light their hurts, their secrets, and their regrets…Why? Because on the other side of our pain – – there’s freedom.
And, often, people who are hurting are just waiting for someone to ask, “Hey, what’s on your mind?” “Is there anything going on that we can talk about?”
5. Can I tell you about something that happened to me today?
Often, getting kids to talk begins with taking the focus off them. Many nights Amy and I initiate the conversation by talking about what happened to us that day. This sends the message to our kids that life is about more than them.
As our kids learn the art of talking, they also need to learn the art of listening. There are times when the moment is right to relay a message to my kids about something I want them to know. For instance, I received an email from a distraught parent who has a son in serious trouble. The boy had encouraged his girlfriend to send him nude pics of her, and his girlfriend sent several. This young man then forwarded the images to several of his friends, and the pics went viral. Once the boy hit send, by Louisiana law he had distributed child pornography.
I was able to remind my daughters of the dangers of sexting. Our conversation that night was an extremely robust one about purity, sex, and pornography. My daughters engaged in this conversation partly because I presented what I wanted them to know in a conversational way rather than as a formal teaching moment.
Look, obviously I love this dinner time idea – – so much so I devoted an entire chapter to this very topic in my new book, Raising Successful Teens. This is my 7th, published by Penguin Random House, and it hits stores Tuesday, September 3rd. You can order the book at Amazon or at my website. If you are reading this post sometime later after the release week of this episode, then the book is already out there. I’m super excited about it and I believe it’s going to be a great resource for families.
I hope you’ll get a copy. And, I hope you will spread the word. Publishing has changed drastically since the release of my first book 10 years ago.
Now, I really rely on you guys to help share the love and tell the world about my books. So, thank you for telling those within your circle of influence about it. Please post on your socials. And, what will be HUGE for me is if, on the day of its release, Tuesday, September 3rd, you write an Amazon review for me. If you do, thank you so much for taking the time to do that – it TRULY does help us get the word about this book for families – Raising Successful Teens.
Alright, I spent a lot of time on making dinner time a priority. Because most families aren’t! If you haven’t taken advantage of dinnertime being a great connection time with your family, I hope you will now at the beginning of this new school year.
3. Schedule a Weekly Family Devotional Time
Two things I hope to never forget from my childhood are that my family almost always had dinner together – we just talked about that one- and that my dad often would read the Bible and my mom would pray before we left the table. I so vividly remember these moments growing up.
Let me ask you – do you spend time together as a family reading the bible, praying, and talking about your spiritual life? If you don’t, the beginning of a new school year is THE perfect time to begin.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” – 2 Timothy 3:16–17.
Many teens I meet see the Bible as archaic, irrelevant, or hard to understand. I believe this is a direct result of the fact that they spend little, if any, time reading God’s Word.
Over the past several years as I have spoken at different events across our nation, I have been heartbroken to see fewer and fewer people holding a Bible. Although some now have their Bibles on their mobile devices, I have seen a tremendous decline in the number of people who bring any kind of Bible to Christian events.
Increasingly, I see a lack of knowledge of God’s Word and a lack of desire on the part of Christians to grow in their knowledge of it.
How would each of your family members answer these two questions:
Is the Bible important to our family?
How do we as a family incorporate the Bible into our lives?
Why not ask the members of your family these questions tonight at dinner – see what I did? Dinner time and family devotional time can really happen at the same time. Ask them these two questions. Let their answers dictate what you do next.
I spoke recently at a parenting conference, where I met Rick, a husband and father to three preteen boys. He told me about the fun his sons have with devotional night. He said, “Some weeks I will read from the devotional book we are using, and other weeks one of my sons or my wife will read. We read from the New International Version, The Message,orsometimes the New King James Version. I work to keep it different so that it keeps my boys engaged.”
I can’t stress enough to you the powerful impact getting into God’s Word as a family can have on your family.
I’m gonna nudge you a little here – – I want you to see the importance of making this time a consistent part of your family schedule each week. And, that every member of the family understands that participation is nonnegotiable. It’s easy to say you don’t have time to read the Bible together. It’s not as easy to set, and stick, to this time.
It’s soooooo worth it! I’m telling you, it’s so worth the commitment.
If you haven’t been able to stick to a plan in the past, look, that’s okay. What is important is that you keep trying. And, here at the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to get going.
And, I’ll also warn you – just know that the more you work to make it happen, the more Satan will work to throw obstacles in your path. The goal for your family is to get to the place where family devotional time is a priority for everyone.
So, don’t wait on this! Don’t tell yourself, “I’ll think about this later!” Because, “later” will probably never happen. Why not tonight tell your family during dinnertime that you are planning to get a weekly family devotional time on everyone’s calendar. This might be one of the few times that you encourage everyone to bring their phones to the table. Open your calendars, and get a plan for the next week or two – pick a time, maybe even after dinner while you all are at the table together, or Sunday nights before everyone’s week takes off, and get it on the family calendar and get going! Once you do, get ready. I can guarantee you that your family is going to grow closer – I guarantee it!
Let me say this too before I move on. I don’t want to go to deep into this – I’ll get another episode later this fall where I address this in greater detail. But, I am often asked, how do I lead a family devotional time?
Well, there’s really no one way to do it. For some families, they just pick a verse or verses in the Bible, read them, and then talk a little about them. Some are more topical – you know, choose a topic and go. One very culturally relevant topic this week could be for your family to talk about the mass shootings in our nation last week in Texas and Ohio. You could pose the question, “How did this news impact you?” Or, “How do you believe God feels about these tragedies?” You could have a family discussion about this very difficult and tragic moment and then allow each family member to pray – maybe have one family member pray for the families impacted in Ohio, another family member can pray for those impacted in Texas…one family could pray for our nation’s leaders, and others could pray for God’s hand of protection over your home, your community, and the school where your children attend.
I wrote a book for teen boys called Watch This and one for teen girls called This Is Me, both of which tackle pressing teen issues from a biblical perspective. At the end of each chapter, I included questions that work well as conversation starters.
Perhaps your whole family will select a book, read it together, and then discuss it. Each week family members could read one chapter on their own and then convene as a family to discuss the impact the chapter had on each family member. Video-driven devotionals and small-group studies are other options for launching good discussions.
Again, there’s no one plan – – just jump in and remember this:
“I gain understanding from your precepts.… Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” – Psalm 119:104.
When you read Scripture, you gain understanding. As the members of your family commit to spending time in the Word, they’ll develop a greater understanding of who God is and He will more clearly reveal His plan and purpose for each of their lives.
4. Pray Every Morning with Your Kids
Prayer is also the greatest weapon you have to protect your family from an enemy who hates you, hates your family, hates your marriage, and hates your kids!
Of course, Amy and I have always prayed for Bailey and Brynnan. But, once they started pre-school, we started praying with Bailey and Brynnan on the way to school. And, we’ve never stopped. Well, actually the prayer now happens in the kitchen each morning, because I no longer drive the girls to school.
So, we pray before they leave the house. And, what’s super cool…Brynnan recently told me that she and Bailey pray again – the two of them – in the car before they get to school each morning.
I can’t think of a more important essential that your family needs you to put into practice at the beginning of a new school year than to pray every morning with your kids.
5. Protect Family Time
Back-to-school means back to early mornings, getting school lunches ready, catching the bus or dropping kids off on time, parent-teacher meetings, practices, rehearsals, games, musicals, concerts, homework, school projects, lessons, errands, more homework…the list goes on and on doesn’t it!
It goes without saying that when our kids go back to school, really, the entire family goes back to school, don’t we! I love the life Amy and I live with our girls. It brings great joy to my life to be involved in all the things they are involved in with school, church, sports, and friends. But, I also know how quickly all of these things can become all-consuming. As a parent, I know I have to work hard to protect our family time…even if it’s a short amount of time each week.
Essential #5 really begins with you and me as parents, we have to do our to consistently take time to get away from work, school, and maybe even home and just spend time with our kids. Protecting family time is really about saying to everything and everyone else:
“YOU ARE LESS IMPORTANT THAN MY FAMILY!”
And, it’s about saying to my family:
“THERE IS NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT TO ME THAT SPENDING TIME WITH YOU.”
How timely it was for me just a few days ago when I was actually working through my thoughts for this week’s episode of Family Strong, Brynnan, my youngest daughter, said to me, “Daddy, let’s play a quick game of Uno. This was her last afternoon of summer break, so really our last afternoon together before the new school year began the next day !” She knows how to tug on daddy’s heart. Actually, both of my girls are really good at this.
But, I laughed when I thought – here I am working on talking to you about carving out time this school year to protect your family time, and my daughter is reminding me to do the same!
Essential #5 could actually be called: Make Memories with your family this school year.
Protecting family time, making memories for your kids can be as simple as working towards something routine & consistent. We have this in our family.
Every Sunday night is our family night. Our goal each Sunday night is to hit it around 8 pm. Usually by then we’ve tackled homework, gotten lunches packed for the next day, and we watch a movie, or our favorite Netflix series. Sometimes we play a board game. We mix it up. And, it doesn’t always happen. But, it’s our goal to protect our family time on Sunday nights.
I encourage you to do the same. Pick a night once a week, or biweekly, and get it on everyone’s calendar. See a movie. Play basketball. Go hiking, swim, shop, ski, play golf, or throw darts – whatever your family decides.
With my speaking schedule, I’ve missed many moments away from my girls. As a parent, you know there are times when work calls, and we have to answer. But, I also know that I’ve only got about eighteen years with my daughters before they leave for college. My oldest began this last year at home this week!
As this school year begins, think about these 5 essentials. Print these notes and, if you are married, talk through these 5 essentials with your spouse. You may want to add a few more to the list.
Start now working hard to be the parent you want to be this school year. And, don’t forget to include God in this equation. Your time spent with Him is irreplaceable. And, the more you are with Him, the more you’ll let Him shape you into the parent He has already made you to be.
I hope it’s a great school year for your family. Remember, and I’ll need to this too, when your knee deep in that big Science project this fall, pause, take a deep breath, and smile as you remember…I get to be a parent. I love my kids. And, these are the memory making moments that matter!
I want to also remind you that if you haven’t received my gift for you: The Family Strong Blueprint, you can get your copy today by texting the word “family” to the number 345345.
The Family Strong Blueprint is your personal guide to helping you build a strong family. It’s a digital toolbox packed with tips and tools to help up you construct a plan to become an even stronger family. And, the best part of all – it’s free!
Again, simply text the word “family” to the number 345345 and get The Family Strong Blueprint.
Jeffrey Dean is a family influencer, author, and counselor whose mission is to help build strong families. For information about having Jeffrey speak in your community, contact our office.
Subscribe and listen to the Family Strong With Jeffrey Dean podcast at Apple Podcasts or at jeffreydean.com/podcast.
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