Ready or not, it’s the first day of school.

For some, it will be a great day. For others, it will be a tough one.

Years ago, when I picked my daughter up after the first day of school, I could see her crushed little spirit even before she got into the car. A teacher had yelled at her for standing in the wrong lunch line. Some of the kids had been especially mean. None of her friends were in her homeroom class. Her big brown eyes gushed with tears as she told me about it. It took all of my strength to keep from saying, “I’m going to straighten this out, right now.”

I said something proper like, “You’ll work through it! Just pray about it–it will be okay.”

But I didn’t take my own advice. When we got home, I crumbled.

Like every mother, I wanted the first day of school to be perfect. In fact, I sort of expected middle school to be an overwhelmingly positive experience (in retrospect, what was I thinking?). I began wondering if her bad day was our fault. Obviously, we hadn’t prepared her enough. Did we chose the wrong school? Had we been wiser parents, she would have come home smiling.

Something must be done to fix it. Right. Now. Wild torrents of regret and guilt raged through my mind. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was teary all the next day.

Maybe your child’s first day or week has been a disaster, too. Maybe you are tempted to despair, blame yourself, or to try to fix it.

Breathe. Don’t overreact like I did.

Here’s how NOT to handle a bad first day at school:

Be overly emotional–cry, get riled up, fly off the handle. Although this might provide temporary relief, remember that our kids watch us closely. If we overreact, they probably will, too. Believe me, it’s better to remain calm. Those irrational, mama bear feelings can get out of hand. My tears and despondency didn’t model a very healthy perspective for my daughter. I’ve found that reading the Scriptures, praying and spending time with God daily helps me react to life better. When we’re hurting, it can be hard to pray or to worship. Do it anyway. This strengthens us for bad days.

Find as many things as possible to feel guilty about. After all, the quality of our children’s lives depends solely on us, right? Seriously, no matter what we do, our children will have bad days. Expect it. I tortured myself by asking “Why did this happen?” and “Where did we go wrong?” These questions don’t help very much. They keep us focusing on ourselves and can prevent us from giving the strength and support our children need.

Second-guess your every parenting decision. Rehash. Agonize. Saying woulda, coulda, shoulda is a trap that hamstrings our future decision making. It sucks the joy out of parenting. Sometimes, we will make bad decisions. Sometimes, our kids will. But once a decision is made, it’s best not to go back. I know: read about a time I did this: NOT mother of the year. Praying and then choosing to trust God after making decisions, is better than rehashing things we can’t change. This verse really helps me: “Cast all your [parenting] anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, my paraphrase).

Talk your kids OUT of being sad or angry. I confess that many times, I’ve tried to talk my children out of their feelings. It would have been wiser to acknowledge their pain and tell them I’d been there, too. I’ve learned the importance of giving them space to feel their feelings, instead of trying to spare them. After the space of a good cry, or playing outside, or getting an ice cream cone, we can gently help them gain a more balanced perspective.

Try to “fix” every bad situation so your kids will have it easy. When we do this, we miss the golden spiritual opportunity bad days can providePraying with our children about their problems builds their faith. The Scriptures assure them that God loves them. Modeling trust in God, especially in tough situations, leaves a lasting impact. It’s a lesson our kids won’t forget. Being rejected and working through problems with others can grow our children’s character and cause them to cling to God–that is, unless Mama goes down to the school and tries to “fix” it (which, regretfully, I have done). This quote reminds me that interfering isn’t always best: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

My daughter had a pretty rough year. My heart ached to watch her struggle. And even though I didn’t handle it very well at first, eventually, I learned to relax a bit and to trust God’s work in her life more. With each passing year, things got better. Eventually, she found a sweet friend group and even made the cheer squad. The struggle taught her to work through difficulty. And thankfully, it taught me a lot, too.

Some of you will pick up a dejected or sad child from school this week. As you watch him or her approach the car with earnest, tear-filled eyes, a sick, I’ll-fight-to-make-it-right feeling courses through your heart.

Breathe. Your reaction means a lot. Remember how NOT to handle it.

Instead, try this:

Understand that each struggle has value:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” (Romans 5:3-4, TLB)

Believe that God is aware of your struggle:

You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh.” (Psalm 38:9, NLT)

Decide to trust in God’s love and direction for this new school year:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:4-5, NLT)

Why not pray over this school year in a focused, intentional way? Click here to receive Back-to-School Prayers–a free, downloadable prayer guide. Each day has a different prayer focus, verses and writing space. Save the guide until the end of the year and see how the Lord has answered!