The start of a new school year can bring on many feelings for students ranging from anxiety to excitement. With Covid-19, students are likely experiencing heightened feelings due to how very different school looks, whether they're going back in person or staying at home. In all cases, students can benefit from our support and understanding as they navigate this new normal.
As a counselor for kids and teens, I’ve heard from many students that they are very much over this whole quarantine thing. Aren’t we all? But with the start of a new school year they are now going back into an environment that looks nothing like school as they used to know. With a few weeks of online learning followed by a choice to return to the school buildings, a majority of students won’t have normal passing periods to interact with their peers, or extracurricular activities to serve as a physical or creative outlet. For most students the best part of their day was the social aspects, followed closely by things that excited them like extracurriculars or their favorite classes. So how will they respond when the things that they’ve been most looking forward to since the beginning of quarantine are no longer going to be offered to them? I wish there was a single, simple answer.
As the school year begins, I suspect that we as a community will observe a lot of frustration from our students. They may feel overwhelmed by attempting to do virtual learning, or perhaps underwhelmed by a school day that doesn’t include their favorite activities. There is a broad spectrum of feelings that will rise up in students across our community and it is up to each individual how we choose to respond to them.
First, we must seek to understand what they are going through. When we hear the overflow of frustration it may sound like complaining, “This isn’t FAIR!” or, “I HATE this, I’m so done with school and I’m never going back.” It may even sound a little more on the anxious or panicked side, “I can’t do this… this is impossible and I can’t learn this way.” I don’t know about you but I personally default to fix-it mode when I hear things like this. I try to problem solve and meet this frustration with easy solutions. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the best way to meet our students in a time when solutions to a global pandemic seem to be slow moving and without tangible or immediate results. Rather than trying to help our students fix their frustrations, it is crucial that we seek to meet them right where they are with understanding and compassion.
As adults and parents within the community, our gut instinct is to help students push through and learn what needs to be learned so they can continue to grow into functioning members of society. And while I don’t disagree with this, I think the anxiety we are all feeling a few months into a global pandemic might do more harm that good to our students as they face a new school year. Remember what it was like to be a student? The smallest/silliest things felt like they were going to impact our lives forever, and the big picture items seemed too far away to necessitate any importance or concern. Yet now as adults we can clearly see the big picture and we’ve made it our goal to help the next generation adopt our values and agendas. If I may be so bold as to offer an objective point of view, I think our community needs a shift in what we consider to be the “big picture” for our students during this season of life. I would argue alongside experts more knowledgeable than myself that the focus should not be on making sure our students achieve their full academic potential this year.1 But rather, our focus should be on how our students cope with and process this season of life and the difficulties they are facing. Yes, academics are important. But wouldn’t it be neat if our community produced a generation of students who learned to meet hardship with resiliency instead of fear and anxiety?
There are many different ways we can go about doing this, but a great first step is to adjust our expectations for our students. They, just like us, are going through a LOT but without the life experience to know how to handle it well. Meeting our students where they are at will show them acceptance and safety, allowing them the bandwidth to take their next step forward. On a practical level, this might look like having open discussions about what’s going on in their lives and putting our expectations aside for the time being. How do you think students would respond if the adults in their lives began asking them how they are coping with the new school system without bringing ANY to-do’s or hidden agendas to the table? From my experience this sadly isn’t something that students are used to, but over time they can learn that mom/dad/teacher/coach/tutor/whoever is actually a safe person to talk to about what’s really going on in their lives and the areas in which they are struggling. Our community needs to be asking students how the pandemic is impacting their lives on a personal level, and then giving them space to be open and honest.2 While their responses may not include anything we can change or fix, we can at least demonstrate a willingness to listen and allow them to gain a firm foothold for their next step forward as we all learn to adapt in this crazy time.
Amanda Tipps, M.A., LPC-Intern
Supervised by Nancy Derrick, MSCP, LPC-S
1Weir, K. (2020, July 28). Four ways to help students and teachers in the new academic year. http://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/help-students-teachers
2Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (2020, July). Reunite, Renew and Thrive: SEL Roadmap for Reopening School. https://casel.org/reopening-with-sel/
Published on Aug 12 @ 12:36 PM CDT
As parents, a natural worry is whether or not we are doing what is best for our children. How many times have we agonized over the decisions we are making for our kids? Right now, a huge question facing many families across America, and understandably creating anxiety, is what to do concerning the upcoming school year. Moving forward with helpful tips, tools, and resources can help ease the stress.
As parents, we all worry if we are doing what is best for our children. How many times have we all agonized over whether or not we are making the right decision for our kids? Right now, a huge question facing many families across America and creating so much anxiety within them is what to do concerning the upcoming school year.
Whether your child is in preschool or heading off to college, trying to figure out the "right" decision can seem excruciating. There are questions about safety. Will my child be safe if they go back to school? What about the issue of emotional health concerns? Will my child be OK going back to a school environment that will be completely different from what they have known? How will relationships be impacted? There is also the question of academics. Where will my kid learn the best? Will my child fall behind if I choose one option over the other? How will I manage work if I don't send my child back to school? It's enough to overwhelm any parent!
While there are no quick fixes for these challenges that we face as parents, I would love to offer a few thoughts that may help calm the anxiety around these concerns.
- Pray. While we are facing challenging decisions and obstacles, we can take comfort and find hope in the truth that God will lead us if we seek Him. Proverbs 3:5-7 encourages us to, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." Psalm 32:8 is a very personal reminder that God sees us and that He will lead us, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you." If you are married, or single, take time to seek God's guidance and wisdom with your family. As a parent, this is a wonderful way to model to your kids your commitment to your own personal spiritual growth. Pray as a family. Inviting your kids to join you in praying about the decision is a beautiful way to show them the importance of prayer and a practical way we can live out Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to our children.
- Remember, there is no one size fits all answer. There are so many voices around this sensitive topic and many strong opinions about what is right or wrong. And let's be honest, we all like to feel like we are right; it is a way we can feel in control, especially amid such chaos. There is always a strong pull in our families, communities, and cultures to ease our anxiety and discomfort by seeking shared harmony. It just feels better to have people be like-minded. In light of this, it can be challenging to make decisions for our own family from a place of our values, beliefs, and life circumstances when it looks different from other people's choices. This week, my coworker and a close friend shared about the confusion and questioning she experienced around this issue. After deciding to send her kids back to school, she heard that 50% of families had chosen a remote learning option. After hearing this news, she began to feel anxious and question her family's decision and if she was doing what was best. Ephesians 4:12 in the Message version of the Bible is a great reminder, "But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift." Each family has different circumstances that will inform their decision. Our choices, like the spiritual gifts God gives us, will look different.
- Create a plan. Regardless of your decision on how to school, prepare for the year ahead. Having a transition plan and routine for school helps parents and kids move through the unknown with less anxiety. Whether your kids are learning remotely or in person, you can begin planning for school by adjusting bedtimes, setting out clothes for the school day, and making lunches. For smaller kids, driving by the school and discussing questions they may have helps them to become familiar with their new routine. Talking about fun memories your kids have had at school and connecting them with friends through a video call ahead of time can help your child look forward to the new school year. These small steps of exposing your kids to the year ahead of time will benefit the entire family's transition. Also, planning for personal growth as a family during this season will reap benefits that will also impact their learning experience. Ephesians 5:16 encourages us to make the most of every opportunity. This verse encourages me that even in a pandemic, I can be purposeful about my personal growth and my family's growth.
- Manage your own emotions and validate your kid's emotional experiences. I have a 22-year-old son in his senior year at Texas A&M (Whoop!). Recently, he was showing me videos and reading the school guidelines for returning to class. I noticed myself feeling fearful about the new abnormal he was returning to and how it may impact him even at 22.
The start of a new school year under the best of circumstances brings anxiety for most parents. We may not realize when our emotional systems are revving high. Check-in with yourself. How are you doing? Just identifying our own emotional experience can help us begin to regulate it. Regulating our own stress responses as parents is a great way to help calm our family systems. Just like you, your kids are going through an array of emotions. Listening and talking with them about their experience is another beautiful way to live out God's call in Deuteronomy.
CDC School Decision-Making Tool
Alternative School Option
Staci Reichmanis, MA, LPC
Published on Aug 12 @ 9:14 AM CDT
One thing we can be certain of in life is that there will be uncertainty. And, for most of us, with uncertainty comes fear and anxiety. Since living with anxious thoughts is not only exhausting, but it is also not God's desire for us, it is helpful to understood helpful tips and tools for experiencing peace even when our life, and even our world, feels uncertain.
If you are anything like me recently, you too may have thought or felt that the world is spinning entirely out of control. We have suffered through the pain and challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing wrongs, and sins of racial and ethnic prejudices and add to it the societal instability. It feels utterly overwhelming and hopeless at times.
A few months back, I remember waking up feeling overwhelmed by all the chaos in the world. I vividly remember driving into work, telling myself, "Certainly today will be better," only to find that our circumstances grew worse throughout the day. Again, I told myself, "Well, tomorrow will be better," only to wake up to more pain and uncertainty. What became clear to me was that I was looking to the circumstances around me for my stability.
The truth is we all seek certainty. Our brain craves it. Many studies have shown that we are calmer anticipating pain than uncertainty. How fascinating that uncertainty can feel scarier than actual physical pain. On some level, I think we all know this to be true. Anticipating a negative outcome can so often be harder than the result itself. I recently had a personal example of this struggle while waiting for biopsy reports to come back for my husband. In many ways, the waiting was worse than receiving the diagnosis.
Why is this? When we face uncertainty, the brain reacts with a fight-flight response. It will often overestimate danger and triggers hormones that tell the body to watch out, leaving you anxious and worried about the future.
So, returning to my anxiety during these uncertain times, I recognized that I was seeking certainty in my circumstances. As a believer and a mental health professional, it could be very tempting to berate myself for these experiences. Instead of ignoring or shaming myself, I asked myself, "How do I face today's challenges with gracious uncertainty?" These thoughts came to mind.
1) Remember Jesus's compassionate instructions to us. Uncertainty isn't new. As we read in the Bible, God's people faced uncertain circumstances throughout history. His disciples, those closest to Jesus, faced anxiety and fear as He told them He would be going to the Cross. With loving words, Jesus spoke to them, "Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Remembering God's kindness and compassion toward our fear enables us to face them. I believe the degree I can meet my struggles with kindness and compassion is the degree I can offer the same to others as they struggle.
2) Clinging to God's loving word during anxiety anchors us to His faithfulness. I have heard it said of ships when they get into a storm, drop anchor and be still. Staying in the present moment keeps us from future tripping about what might or might not happen. One beautiful way to stay anchored in the present is to take God's word and literally breathe it in. I invite you to stop throughout your day, breathe in His Peace and, breathe out fear. Anchoring God's word to the breath is a beautiful way to hold on to the hope of His word.
3) Stay connected to God and His people. Did you know that when we talk to family and friends, it releases all those good oxytocin chemicals in the brain? I know you’re thinking, "You don't know my family," but it's true. God has designed us for connection, and part of that beautiful design is the benefits our brain receives from connecting with others and Him. Our Church family is also a considerable resource God has given us during these challenges. I encourage you to invite your friends and family to be a part of our online services, or if your health permits, attend one of our in-person services. This connection is vital to our hearts, souls, and minds as well.
4) Give gratitude for the fleas. What? One of my favorite stories is from the book The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boons' sister is challenging her in a concentration camp to practice gratitude. What follows is a less than half-hearted prayer of gratitude for the fleas. What God makes clear later is the reality that Corrie and her sister were able to share the gospel and lead women to Christ before they died all because the guards would not enter their barracks. Later, Corrie sincerely thanked God for the fleas. Part of gratitude is the practice of thanking God amid the fleas. Gratitude may be a challenge for you right now. It's not easy, but it allows us to change our perspective, brings us back to the present, and anchors us to His love and faithfulness.
Staci Reichmanis, MA, LPC
Published on Aug 10 @ 12:24 PM CDT
For most of us, receiving a lump sum of money, such as the COVID-19 stimulus check, can raise a lot questions about the best and most responsible way to allocate the funds. Let’s take a look a six things to do with your stimulus check.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He we will make your paths straight.” (Prov 3:5-6)
As you thank God for providing a Stimulus check, consider how He would have you use it. Here are some things to think about:
1. Cover the Basic Essentials
Have your hours been cut at work or your salary reduced?
- If so, use this money to “make up” the difference for a few more months. Take care of your four walls first (food, utilities, shelter and transportation-in that order).
- Don’t use it all at one time - be strategic about how you spend it and find ways to stretch it as much as possible.
2. Pay Down Debt
Depending on your situation and goals, this may be a great opportunity to pay down some of your outstanding debt. Continue to make minimum payments on all outstanding debt and ask about payment deferrals if you’re not able to make your minimum payments during this time.
3. Build Your Emergency Savings
If you do not have a fully funded emergency fund and you’re able to make your minimum debt payments, saving this money can allow you to use it for future emergencies and have peace of mind knowing you will be able to cover potential surprises.
4. Serve an Individual or Family in Need
If you are feeling financially secure and you’re grateful for a stable job, look for ways to “live and give like no one else!”
- Be generous and help others that are going through a difficult time. Maybe you have a neighbor that was laid off or a friend in need.
- Find ways to bless others. Consider giving above and beyond your tithes and offering to our Benevolence Fund to help those in our church family and our community negatively impacted by COVID-19.
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
5. Support your Local Community
Supporting our local communities is more important than ever. Buy from local, independently owned businesses. Order carry-out. Check out a local farmer’s market. Tip better than you usually do. There are also several ways you can jump in and help through Community Impact. Consider designating an online gift to Community Impact to support their ministry efforts.
6. Invest for the Future
if you already have an emergency fund and your job is secure, you may want to consider using your stimulus check to invest for the future. Take advantage of compounding interest working in your favor. Save for retirement or start a 529 plan for child(ren)’s future college education expenses.
“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15)
Sources and Additional Resources:
- Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University https://www.daveramsey.com
- Coronavirus: What to Do if You’re Out of Work https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/what-to-do-if-you-miss-a-paycheck
- How to Manage Your Money (and Business Finances) During a Crisis https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/how-to-manage-money-during-crisis
Published on Apr 20 @ 8:47 AM CDT
During this unprecedented time, we understand that you’re inundated with information and guidance regarding everything from the right way to wash your hand to social distancing to how to manage your finances. Understanding that it can be overwhelming, we’re breaking down what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your money in a crisis
Don’t Lose Hope
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
There’s a lot of information coming at you these days-everything from the right way to wash your hands to how far to socially distance yourself from another breathing human. And in the middle of all the information overload is your money. Let’s break down what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your money in a crisis.
What Should I Do if My Income is Stable?
- Keep saving!
- Keep working your baby steps. (If that term is new to you, consider joining one of our online Financial Peace University groups starting soon)
- Continue to make minimum payments on all outstanding debt.
- Keep paying your bills on time.
- Use your stimulus money to help those in need. Consider giving to our Benevolence Fund to help those in our church family and community who are negatively impacted by COVID19, or Community Impact to support their ministry efforts in our community.
- As stewards of God’s grace, we should “use whatever gift we have received” to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10)
- “If it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously…” (Romans 12:8)
- Look for ways to “live and give like no one else!” Be generous!
- Do not pause your debt snowball.
- Do not cash out your 401k. Contact your financial advisor for guidance.
- Do not defer your student loan payments.
- Do not stop paying your mortgage.
- Get and stay on a budget. Give every dollar a name. Review your expenses against your budget, at least monthly.
- Again, if you haven’t taken Financial Peace before, now is the time! Check out our online group schedule here.
What Should I Do if My Income is Not Stable?
- Pause your debt snowball. If you’re out of work or have a potential job loss on the horizon, go ahead and pause temporarily, but don’t stop indefinitely!
- Make sure your four walls (food, utilities, shelter and transportation-in that order) are covered, then save as much as you can.
- Make the minimum payments on your debt (if you can).
- Cut out all unnecessary spending from your budget (need vs want).
- Get and stay on a budget. Give every dollar a name. Review your expenses against your budget, at least monthly. If you haven’t taken Financial Peace before, now is the time. Check out our online group schedule here.
- Look for a part-time job, sell stuff to make extra money, or start a side hustle.
- Use any stimulus money to cover your four walls and save the rest in your emergency fund.
- Do not take on new debt! Debt is never a good idea, especially when you’re facing a potential recession.
- Do not take out a payday loan.
- Do not get a home equity line of credit (HELOC).
- Do not stop paying your mortgage.
- Do not cash out your 401k unless you’re facing foreclosure or bankruptcy. Contact your financial advisor for advice.
- Seek short-term financial assistance. Try to do everything in your power first. Don’t be too prideful to ask for a helping hand.
Should I File for Unemployment?
- Check with your state government to see if you qualify
- Keep looking for work
- Do not file for unemployment if you can bring in at least 50% of your income another job (full or part time)
What if I Run a Business?
- Take advantage of the payroll tax deferment offered through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act
- Do not take out a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan if at all possible
- Check out our Facebook page COVID-19, My Work and My Faith for resources and encouragement for business owners.
Wherever you’re at right now, just know you’re not alone in any of this. We’re all taking this one day at a time. But hold on, take a breath, and don’t do anything out of fear. We are going to come through this. Moment by moment. Day by day. Hope springs eternal.
“May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Published on Apr 20 @ 8:46 AM CDT