It’s that time of year again, when kids head back to school brimming with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, fear, and hope. Will I like my new teacher? Will I make friends? Will I fit in?
Last year at this time, I had to call a dozen families in my ward for a special request. As it happened, I called the night before school started, and every one of those families had to turn me down, because this was the night when they gave their kids back-to-school blessings.
And it warmed my heart. I pictured families all over the world, simultaneously gathering for this special, sacred moment. When a priesthood-holding father was not available, I knew good friends and home teachers were stepping in to help out.
We did the same as our children headed back to school. Most of you probably do the following list of 15 as well, to send your kids off with the best chance for success:
- Equip them with the supplies they need—notebooks, calculators, etc.
- Make any needed doctor and dentist appointments.
- Sign up for fall activities and sports.
- Post a calendar so the family is organized.
- Designate a spot for backpacks and homework assignments.
- Buy new clothes and shoes if necessary.
- Get haircuts.
- Give each child an alarm clock.
- Talk with others in their class, and make friends ahead of time when possible.
- Establish a good, clear workspace for homework, with everything they’ll need on hand—scissors, erasers, tape, stapler, etc.
- Get them into a routine to arise early so they can have an unhurried morning that includes scripture study and prayer.
- Express confidence in their abilities.
- Lay out clothes for that first day.
- Make sure each child gets a Priesthood Blessing.
- Send them off with a healthy breakfast, and pack a healthy lunch.
It’s a familiar list, isn’t it? But sometimes, in the scramble to ensure our children’s scholastic success, we put all our eggs in one basket. The wrong basket.
Yes, excellence in schoolwork is wonderful. But is it paramount? Does it trump everything else? It’s hard to maintain the proper balance when SAT tests are looming and when the whole world is competing to get ahead, defining success strictly by one’s report card and their ultimate earning capacity.
I know you have goals. You want your kids to feel confident. You want them to be smart and learn the actual material. You want them to get into BYU. You want them to choose a major that can lead to employment. Good employment.
And these aren’t wrong aspirations; we all want our children to do well in life. But too many of us make secular studies the be-all and end-all, the entire focus of our children’s lives. It becomes all we talk about. We forget what really helps them have personal success.
May I suggest another list of 15, not to replace the first one, but to enrich it?
- Make a service commitment, and every day write down a good deed you did.
- Pray about classmates, and which ones could be searching for the truth. Invite them to church, or to a ward activity.
- Talk about modesty not only in clothing, but in language choice and attitudes.
- Have a Family Home Evening on leadership and what it takes to be a leader, to maintain standards, and resist following the crowd.
- Role play what to do if a classmate wants you to help them cheat, or disobey other commandments.
- Talk about Special Needs kids who are different and often excluded—what specific plan can you make to reach out to them? Teach them always to choose kindness.
- Decide that sports and parties will not occupy the Sabbath Day.
- Share testimonies.
- Commit to living the Word of Wisdom.
- Set long-term spiritual goals, and talk about what it takes to reach each one: Graduating from Seminary, mission service, temple marriage.
- Talk about the power of prayer, and how it can help with schoolwork.
- Discuss your child’s circle of friends. Is it an uplifting one? Does it need replacing or adjusting? How do you select good friends? What do you like about the ones you have?
- If appropriate, reiterate dating standards, and read “For the Strength of Youth” together.
- Decide how much texting/emailing/videogame playing there will be, and set guidelines for movie and music choices.
- Help your child find the joy—not just the peculiarity—in being an LDS kid. Share the advantages, the incredible blessing of the gift of the Holy Ghost to prompt them, the wider view they have as they understand why we’re here, the opportunities they will have to share the gospel.
To be honest, if I had to choose between the two lists, I’d pick the second one every time. Our children are too precious to send off with lopsided priorities. And while that first list of supplies and organization is good, the second list is essential.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.