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How to Respond When Your Child Has a Bad Day at School

How to Respond When Your Child Has a Bad Day at School

I could see my daughter’s crushed little spirit even before she got into the car. Her shoulders drooped as she looked up at me with big, despondent brown eyes. 

School had not gone well. Again.

One of the girls had said something mean to her on the playground.

A teacher had yelled at her for standing in the wrong lunch line.  

Her “friends” told her she couldn’t join their study group. 

She told me all about it, as tears gushed down her cheeks. I bit my lip to keep from saying, I'm going to straighten this out, right now. Instead I said, "You've just started middle school! Pray about it and keep your head up--everything will be okay."

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

Like every mother, I wanted school to be a wonderful experience. In fact, I sort of expected middle school to be marvelous fun (what was I thinking?). Disappointment set in. Soon, I began blaming myself: Had I chosen the wrong school for her? Did I fail to prepare her for middle school? If I was a better parent...

I felt like I had to fix it all. Right. Then. 

Frustration and guilt raged through my mind as I tossed and turned that night. I was red-eyed and tearful all the next day.

Maybe the beginning of school has been tough for your child, too. If so, it may be tempting to fall into despair, blame yourself, or to try to fix it.

Breathe. Don't overreact like I did. Here’s what I’ve learned not to do:

5 Things Parents Shouldn’t Do after a Bad Day of School:

1. Cry, get riled up, fly off the handle. 

Although this might provide temporary relief, we must remember how closely our kids watch us. If we overreact, they probably will, too. Believe me, it’s better to remain calm than to let those irrational, mama bear feelings get out of hand.

2. Find something to feel guilty about. 

After all, our children's happiness depends solely on us, right? Seriously, no matter what we do, our children will have bad days and tough school years. Expect it. I tortured myself by asking "Why did this happen?" and "Where did I go wrong?" These gloomy questions kept me thinking about myself, rather than her.

3. Second-guess every parenting decision. Rehash. Agonize. 

Saying “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is a trap that takes the joy out of parenting. Sometimes, we will make bad decisions. Sometimes, our kids will. I’m learning to pray, decide, and then choose to trust God, instead of choosing to look back. This verse really helps me do this: "Cast all your [parenting] anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7, my paraphrase).

4. Talk your kids OUT of feeling sad or angry. 

Many times, I've tried to talk my children out of their feelings. But I’ve learned that it’s best to acknowledge how they feel and to assure them I've been there, too. Giving children space to feel their feelings, is better than trying to spare them. After the space of a good cry or playing outside, we can gently help them regain perspective.

5. Try to "fix" every problem so your kids will have it easy. 

Don’t miss seeing the golden spiritual opportunity bad days can provide, like I did. Problems can cause our children to cling to God like never before—that is, unless Mama goes down to the school and tries to "fix" it (which, regretfully, I’ve done before). Use each hard situation to point your children to the Lord, who can help them a lot more than we can.

My daughter ended up having a pretty tough sixth-grade year. But eventually, things got much better. She found a sweet group of friends and even made the cheer squad. Her struggle taught her to work through difficulty. And thankfully, it taught me a lot, too.

Maybe you will pick up a dejected 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 may course through your heart.

Breathe. Your reaction is important. Remember what you shouldn’t do. Instead, try this:

  • Accept 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)

May God bless your children (and you) this year!

May Patterson has been writing and teaching biblestudy classes for years. Her new book, “Seeking a Familiar Face,” was birthed from a Bible study she wrote in 2014 called “A Time to Seek.” She was trained in small group dynamics for over ten years at Bible Study Fellowship, serving as a leader for four years. She has written for several magazines including Focus on the Family, Upper Room Magazine and iBelieve, among others. She is married to her dear friend, Mike, and they have three grown children. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the adventure of seeking God. For more information, visit

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