Yvette Santana is passionate about women’s ministry and education. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and has served as a counselor for at-risk youth in an urban public school. Today Yvette serves as Women’s Discipleship Coordinator for the Church of God Southwest Region and as a leadership adviser for the Faith & Education Coalition.

Andrea Ramirez, executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition-NHCLC, recently interviewed Yvette on a common challenge for students: overcoming insecurity.

Why is insecurity, as it relates to education, important to address as Christians?

The issue of shame has plagued God’s children since Genesis —when Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden. Perhaps it’s the adversary's way of breaking us down, not allowing us to move forward toward our purposes in God.

We can help young children push past the beginnings of insecurity now that later becomes shame. Maybe they don't read as well as other first graders, maybe a child is not as tall as other kindergartners. If we can help them understand their value in the early years then their insecurity can be transformed into lasting security. By equipping students to recognize their value because of who they are in Christ, we conquer an area where the enemy wants to take ground.

For example, if a child learns to feel shame about their physical size, they begin to compare themselves to others, which taints their relationship with other children. It can prevent them from recognizing bullying and holding their ground. Teachers are often on the front line to observe when and how their students begin to fall into these patterns.

How might parents see this exhibited at home?

When your child says she doesn’t want to go to school, has a consistent morning stomachache, anything unusual and repetitive, it is wise to delve a bit further. See your pediatrician if you suspect a medical issue. But often, especially for young elementary age students, they simply don't know how to articulate what they're feeling. So their emotions may be expressed as a physical discomfort.

You can also ask the teacher if your student is having any struggles in the classroom or with other students. You may learn that something is causing stress at school, and you would be able to address that anxiety at home.

Another way parents can address the topic is to share stories of what caused them fear as a child. By sharing how God helped you overcome fear, your child may realize, "If mom and dad did it, perhaps I can do it too!"

Absolutely! And you can pray with them over their areas of insecurity. I'm a big believer in praying before bed. Read that bedtime story, and then have prayer: “Today Father, we just thank you for taking care of us. Tomorrow let Jimmy have a great day. Let him trust in you with all his heart. Let him just be the best that he can be while he's in class." Prayer is essential.

With children who complain of, stomachaches, or whatever, each school day—how can you probe a bit deeper?

I find that great conversations with little ones occur as you're playing a board game or while you're in the car. They let their guard down when playing games, and you can ask, “So m’ijo, tell me about your friend, Kevin. I saw you on the playground after school today, and it seemed maybe you guys were arguing. Is everything okay?” Those “side by side” gentle conversations help them feel safe.

Even while they're in the back seat of the car as you're driving, conversations flow a little bit easier since you’re not face to face. Ask open-ended questions rather than, for example, "How was your day?" They’ll usually offer a one-word answer: "Fine." Perhaps you can try questions such as "What was the best thing that happened today? What was the worst thing that happened today? What was your favorite thing that happened?" Those open-ended questions require a response that's at least a sentence long!

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What insecurities do you see as a pattern for young girls?

For young ladies, insecurity generally increases around the middle school grades, sixth grade and up. You really want to observe your daughter's body issues and self-image. Our culture and our society offer a picture of beauty that reflects perhaps 2 percent of our population.

You can tackle these distorted images of beauty with your daughters. Show them the photo-shopping process used in every magazine and billboard. Help them value their own bodies and heart and gifts. Help them feel secure in their worth as daughters of the King.

Again, it can begin with nightly prayer time, in quiet conversations where you say, “Your value is not in what others think of you. Your value is in what Christ thinks of you.” Tell them as often as possible how beautiful they are, not only in your eyes, but in the eyes of their Heavenly Father.

What other insecurities are common among students?

Once they leave elementary school, young people often find themselves in larger classrooms, feeling less noticed. They have multiple teachers rather than a single teacher who really gets to know and care for them.

There can be a lot of insecurity around test taking. Just that word tends to raise blood pressure! I suggest unpacking test anxiety in advance —and online. The Internet can be a parent's best friend. I highly recommend resources such as the “Ready for the Test” tips.

Students can also feel insecure about fitting in. From academic life to social life, middle and high school can be a tough place to fit in. If there is a time your children need prayer, it will be in those teenage years when options for positive friendships can be limited.

I find that to be so interesting because the emotional and social aspects really do impact how a child learns in the classroom. As children grow older, how can parents continue to stay engaged in their student's school environment?

Each parent needs to go to the school to ask how they can best help. Most high schools and middle schools are short of help. Funds are limited. And if you would like to volunteer every Monday, they would love to have you cutting paper, making posters, running mail. Be a friend to your school. Go in and say, “What can I do? I have a couple hours. Where do you need me?”

What thoughts would you like to offer in closing?

To Christian parents I would say: The enemy wants to rob us of our identity as children of God, so it is important to have conversations daily with your children. Observe them. Be prayerful and allow the Holy Spirit to give you discernment if your child is not able to verbalize their insecurities. I believe the Lord will reveal those insecurities to parents.

And I would encourage these parents to tell their children: Seek only the approval of God. This is not about what the student in the desk next to you is doing. This is about you and the Lord. Do your best. Work hard. Seek God's approval, not man's approval. Proverbs 3:5 says, “In all your ways acknowledge him.” You can make a difference and bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth. Be light, be salt.

No matter our age, our identity is rooted in God’s love for us and our relationship as his sons and daughters. Resting in our true identity is the best defense against anxious thoughts and insecurities.

[ This article is also available in español. ]