It is back to school time here in the U.S. and everyone has advice to give on how to dress, how to go green, how to find the best bargains, how to relieve anxiety and even how to arrange a play date with new friends. What I have not seen is much advice on how to prepare kids spiritually in order to help reduce their anxieties and improve their ability to fit in to their new situation. Many students I suspect slip away from their faith in college and university just because they do not know how to maintain their equilibrium.
Going back to school can be a traumatic time for little kids and even for mature university and seminar students. Unfortunately most of us are too busy getting kids out of the house or rushing off to our own classes to give much thought to their spiritual needs. Kids and adults alike need a sense of stability and familiarity to reduce their stress levels and help them adjust.
Last year I posted a resource list of Back to School Prayers, and a few years ago I wrote the prayer above with students and teachers alike in mind, but here are some other simple suggestions culled from friends that you may find useful.
Suggestions for school kids and their parents.
1. Begin the school day with a simple breath or circling prayer. I love this simple Celtic prayer which I wrote a couple of years ago and which several friends use with their children before they go to school
The sacred three encircle us,
Keep love within and fear without,
Keep peace within and violence out,
Circle us with your presence.
Keep truth within and injustice out,
Keep acceptance in and prejudice out,
Circle us with your grace.
Keep wholeness in and disease without,
Keep care within and selfishness out,
Circle us with your love.
2. Include a short prayer in your child’s lunch box Such as: Thank you God for this child (use name). May your light shine upon him/her. May your love fill him/her. May your spirit grant him/her peace. Or you may just like to say something like: Thinking of you and praying for you as you eat your lunch.
3. When you first see your child after school check how their day has gone. You may like to ask the questions: Where did you feel close to God today? What made you feel God was a long way away? One of my friends told me that this revolutionized her child’s approach to school and their sense of God’s presence in the day.
4. Spend a few minutes before your child goes to bed discussing what he or she is grateful for at school. Focusing on positive emotions like these help children feel more secure and encourage compassion and love towards other children.
5. Say a short prayer together for friends, teachers and situations your child has faced during the day.
Suggestions for Students
Those who are students themselves may like to develop a similar routine. Trying to spend half an hour each morning reading the bible and praying is usually impossible but finding a simple rhythm of prayer and ritual that draws us close to God not only reduces our stress levels but increases our ability to focus, helps us respond compassionately to our friends and teachers and enables us to keep close to God 24/7.
1. Begin the day with a breath prayer and/or short relaxation exercise that makes you feel relaxed and close to God as you enter the day.
2. Use a book of prayers arranged to be said at different times during the day (called offices). My favourite is David Adam’s The Rhythm of Life. These may only take a minute or two of our time but can reorient us to presence of God.
3. Pause at the end of each class to offer a short prayer of gratitude for what you have learnt in the session.
4. Before you go to bed ask yourself the questions: Where did you feel close to God today? What made you feel God was a long way away? This is a very abbreviated form of the Prayer of Examen which I highly recommend if you want to spend more time.
5. Before you go to sleep name 5 things from your lectures and study times that you are grateful for.
Whatever you decide to do – keep it simple, make meaningful and stick to it.
I would love to hear from students and parents as to what you have found helps the most.
Today’s post is adapted from one I wrote a couple of years ago for teachers and students starting the school year. I realize that in the Southern Hemisphere kids are well and truly into the school year, in fact almost starting to wind down with end of year exams. However from my perspective it is never too late in the year to consider how to pray and how to maintain one’s equilibrium so you may still find these tips relevant.