Your child comes home from the first day of a new school year. He sits down at the table, and you refrain from plying him with questions about every single detail. Instead, you focus on what’s most important to him: which friends are in his class.
He lists some familiar names.
You: “So you like everyone in your class?
Him: “Well, I don’t know a few of them, but I like the rest…except for Whit.”
He sighs. You sigh. You look at each other. “Whit” is a familiar name (that I picked entirely at random for the purpose of this example), but not for good reasons. Whit disrupts the class during reading. He cheats on math tests. He bullies and manipulates on the playground. He refuses to eat the cafeteria food then complains about his stomach growling during social studies. He tries to be friends in all the wrong ways. And he lies.
You sit down across from your child, stalling while you silently pray your guts out. How can you help him honorably deal with the difficult kid in his class?
I’ve faced this situation with my children in both elementary and middle school. I’ve learned the answers to the following four questions helped us show Jesus’ love to “that kid”—not always perfectly, but consistently.
4 Questions to Help Us Love “That Kid”
- What do we know about him?
Help your child remember things Whit has said in the past, situations he has faced, comments he may have overheard.
a. What is his home situation?
- Maybe he plays video games from the time he gets home from school until 2am. That shows a lack of supervision and no set bedtime.
- Maybe he faces older siblings who are bullies themselves.
- Maybe there’s one parent/guardian in his home, and that person works all the time.
- Maybe he’s in a fostering situation.
- Maybe his home address keeps changing or he’s staying with grandparents “just for now.”
- Maybe his family has constant financial concerns. I heard somewhere that one in five children now live below the poverty line in the United States.
b. Does he face learning challenges?
- Maybe he’s dyslexic or ADHD.
- Maybe he struggles with math or another aspect of education. Kids who “act up” are often trying to distract everyone from the fact that they can’t do the work.
- Maybe no one has taught him how to sit quietly or how to study on his own.
c. Does he have a spiritual influencer, someone who shows him Jesus?
The answers to these questions will help us understand some of the reasons for Whit’s behavior. You’ll probably need to help your child connect the information with the issues behind it, as in the video game example above.
- How would you feel if your life were like that?
Help your child put himself in Whit’s shoes.
You might need to start: “If I were a kid and I knew my family didn’t have enough money to buy food, I would feel worried all the time, even at school. My stomach would probably hurt, and I would eat anything I could find, even if it wasn’t good for me. Or I might be embarrassed about getting free lunch, so I would pretend I wasn’t hungry.” Take whatever circumstances your child has noticed and help him imagine if his life were similar.
- How can we pray for Whit?
Let your child lead out on this one. After he thinks about life from Whit’s perspective (no. 2), he’ll probably have some amazing insights into praying.
How can we pray for ourselves as we spend time with Whit?
You’ll think of many Christ-like qualities, but you can start by praying for kindness, patience, and the ability to show friendship even when he acts out.
- In what other ways can we show Jesus’ love to Whit?
Brainstorm ways your child—and your whole family—can be generous toward Whit and his family without embarrassing him or drawing attention to his situation. It starts with the way your child interacts with Whit at school, but there may additional possibilities. I’ve spoken to teachers privately and made donations of school supplies or lunch money. I’ve volunteered to help with reading in the classroom. We’ve invited our Whit to birthday parties.
Perhaps most importantly, remember this won’t be a one-time conversation. Continue to encourage your child and follow up regarding how he deals with Whit. Join your child in praying for Whit.
Your child can to do more than endure a school year beside “that kid!” It takes some courage—on our part as much as our child’s—but he (or she) can grow in Christlikeness and represent Jesus to this child who may have no other Jesus influence in his life.
Who knows, they might even become friends.
Your child can do more than endure a school year beside “that kid.” 4 #IntentionalParenting questions to help him/her learn to love even the difficult ones in class, via @Carole_Sparks. #backtoschool (click to tweet)
Do you have some suggestions for helping your school-age child deal with the difficult kid in class? What’s a good Bible verse to supplement these four questions? Add to the conversation below. We would love to hear from you!