Editor’s note: Although this article is written with the North American school calendar in mind, the principles are applicable to parent/teen relationships in a variety of settings.

Happy new (school) year! There’s something about a new school year that has always excited me and brought hope. Whether it’s excitement about all the new school supplies, anticipation for my favorite season, fall, or the hope that comes with a fresh start, back-to-school time has always been one of my favorite times of year. August is usually a flurry of preseason sports, bus schedules, calendar planning and back to school shopping. And this August has been no different. But despite making my way through very familiar and “normal” feelings, it occurred to me that this 2021-2022 school year may be unlike any we’ve ever experienced before.

In the last 18 months, our families have bravely endured one unprecedented milestone after another. And if you’re like me, you’re tired of that word and ready for a return to normalcy. But while we may have had high hopes that by now the pandemic would be in our rearview mirror, the Delta variant and ensuing COVID-19 surges suggest otherwise. For us to think that this new school year would be anything but unprecedented would be an error.

One thing that has been made clear in my family throughout the pandemic is that I am at my best as a parent when I am well mentally, physically, and spiritually. If you know me, you know I am a woman who very much takes security from plans, order, and structure. The fear and uncertainty of the last year and a half has at times been completely overwhelming. I may not always be able to keep negative emotion at bay, but I know that there are certain self-care practices that help me have the best chance of being well. When I consistently connect with God, fuel my body with nourishing foods, exercise and sleep well I am far more poised to process the challenges that both myself and my family face. If you find yourself ending this summer feeling empty and depleted, I urge you to prioritize your own health!

Once we’ve put on our oxygen masks, so to speak, we can then turn our attention to assisting our children! Our teens are facing perhaps the biggest transition of their lives this fall. Sure, I need to make sure their backpacks are packed with the supplies they need, their closets are full of clothes that actually fit, and the pantry is stocked with the makings of a good lunch, but just doing the standard school year preparation won’t be enough this year. In the same way we wouldn’t send our kids off on the first day of school without all they need physically, let’s make sure we don’t miss the opportunity to help them be prepared emotionally and spiritually as well.

Below are five tips for supporting your teens as they head back into the classroom.

1. Seek to understand

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. Proverbs 20:5

Your teens likely have strong feelings about the return to school. As parents, it’s so important that we make space for our teens to feel. Your teens may be feeling any one of a number of things regarding school: joy to see friends, excited to have something to do again, insecurity about how they’ll be viewed, fear over where to sit at lunch, anxiety regarding COVID-19, nervousness about facing temptations and peer pressure, overwhelmed by the idea of going from a free schedule to an overpacked one, scared of bullies, or uneasy about their academic workload.

Each teen has a particular time that they are more likely to talk. Do you know what time that is for each of your children? Whether it’s on the way home from a sports practice, at the dinner table, or with a Frappuccino in front of them, when they speak, listen! Set the stage that you are interested in them sharing their feelings and make yourself available. Ask them open-ended questions that draw out their hearts. How do you feel about going back to school? What are some of the things that you’re looking forward to? What are some of the things that worry you?

Even with specific questions, not all of our teens are as adept at articulating their feelings. In our house we have one who lets everyone know what she’s thinking and another who isn’t often in touch enough with her feelings to share them. As a parent part of seeking to understand is listening and another part is noticing. Look for changes in demeanor, behavior, and habits. Is your normally extroverted child suddenly socially withdrawn? Does your teen lack interest in things in which they previously found joy? Have they all of a sudden stopped mentioning their best friend’s name? Look for signs that they may need your support and help them identify what they’re feeling.

2. Empathize

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. – Romans 12:15

Do your best to put yourself in your teen’s shoes (Crocs, Vans, slides, etc.) For all of 2020, the media and the government taught us to fear being in large crowds of people and now our kids are about to board buses to enter schools full of 2,000 other students. For some, that could be terrifying. Academic expectations and workloads are likely much different than when during virtual learning. If your teen is a senior, he or she last had a “normal” first day of school as a sophomore. If your teen is a sophomore, it’s possible that he or she is headed to a school that they’ve never set foot in. How would you feel if you had last gone to school as a freshman and now, you are entering the school as a junior? Many of our teenagers have been sheltered from so much during virtual learning and now may come face to face with drugs, racism and bullying daily. Our teenagers need us to recognize the battle that they are in and make our best effort to feel with them.

3. Model faith

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. – Romans 4:18-21

When we listen to our children and feel with them, we go alongside them to face the facts of their situation. The facts are that this year will be difficult for everyone in some way. Acknowledging that goes along way. But we can’t stop there. Our teens need us to model what it looks like to be faithful when faced with challenges.

How is your faith? What’s ruling in your heart: faith or fear? Whether we recognize it or not, our faith sets the tone for the faith of our household. If we approach challenges with an Eeyore-like spirit, it is unlikely that our kids will do so any differently.

I love the passage in Romans 4 because I believe it’s such a great model for my own faith journey. I am really good at facing facts. It is near impossible for me to not see a challenge in a situation or why something could be hard. I don’t love that I can be a glass half-empty kind of person. But seeing the facts doesn’t have to be negative. Abraham isn’t shamed for recognizing his age and the unlikeliness of him being a father. I believe this is because he chose to see God as bigger than any of his problems.

I can’t take away all of the challenges that my girls will face this school year. I won’t always have the right thing to say to comfort them. I can’t rescue them from difficult situations. I can’t do their homework for them despite how fun I think AP Gov would be as a class. But the good news is this isn’t about me. Faith is not about what I believe can happen. It’s about what God can do.

When my faith is weak, I like to pray what I call “God Can” prayers. Prior to the school year starting, our family plans to go to each of our girls’ schools and pray “God Can” prayers together. God can help my daughters to make great friends at school. God can calm their anxious hearts. God can find a way through temptations. God can fulfill his promises. I encourage you to consider doing the same with your family!

4. Train them to set boundaries

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22

I don’t know about you, but it took me well into adulthood before I truly understood how certain decisions impacted my future self. As I mentioned earlier, I now understand that my physical wellbeing plays such a huge role in my emotional and spiritual health. While many of our teens display wisdom beyond their years, it would be unwise of us to completely surrender the responsibility of managing our teens’ physical wellness to them.

One of the only things my girls liked about a year of virtual learning was the freedoms that they were afforded. The schedule itself was quite favorable to them. A later start in the morning meant later bedtimes were possible. Extra-long lunches at home and decent breaks between classes allowed for them to choose to eat at the time that they preferred. In our school district, we had Wednesdays as check-in days which even gave space for relaxation and time with friends in the middle of a weekday. The return to getting on a bus before 7 am, being only allowed to eat at a specific time each day and having their weekdays scheduled down to the minute is going to be a huge shock to their systems.

When they were young, it was much easier to implement boundaries. I would just tell them when to sleep, prepare meals for them and schedule their activities. But as young women, I need to work with them to establish routines and rhythms that work for them. They need me to help them think through how much rest they need to be at their best, what foods fuel them to do all that they want to take on in a day, how to schedule themselves so they can be excellent student athletes and how to live out the spiritual priorities they have set for themselves. I need to train them in how to think for themselves but also help them appreciate the value of getting advice. This training won’t be completed in a one-time sit down. We will likely need ongoing discussions as they experiment with what works for them.

5. Celebrate everything

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

We follow a God who likes to party! In fact, in the Old Testament, he prescribed seven different festivals to be held throughout the year. He and the Israelites faced many challenges together, but he trained them to see the good and celebrate! The last 18 months have been hard. The next 18 months may be just as hard. Who knows? The pandemic has alerted so many of us to the frailty of humans. Life is short. Celebrate everything!

Your teen gets off of the bus with a smile-CELEBRATE! Your daughter gets a better grade than she expected-CELEBRATE! Your son doesn’t make the team but vows to work hard to make it next year-CELEBRATE! God answers a prayer-CELEBRATE!

At school, our teens face a battle the likes of which we can’t fully understand. High school was hard when I went, and it is much harder now. Those who are trying to live out high school life with Jesus as their Lord have volunteered for an even harder battle. Keep your eyes open for the good and when you see something-CELEBRATE! Celebrations do not have to cost much or take much time. It can be as simple as a joyful hug and high five, to bragging on your kids while they’re in earshot, to their favorite treat after dinner. Let us make our homes a place of solace where our kids feel safe, valued, loved, and appreciated!