Whether your child is starting kindergarten, going from middle school to high school, going to a new school district or going back to the same school he or she went to before, the start of the academic year is a time of transition for everyone. And the first day of school can be as stressful for your child as the first day on a new job might be for you.
"On the first day of your new job, you would not want anyone to yell at you or demand you eat what
they have cooked," says Eileen Wacker, the author of the Fujimini Adventure Series for kids and mom of four. "You would not want anyone to criticize what you are wearing or how your hair looks. You would NOT want to be late. You would not want to enter the new office crying. These must be avoided at all costs."
So how can you make that transition go more smoothly, for you and your child? Here are a few ideas.
- If your child is starting school for the first time, a little role-playing can help them handle their fears. The key is to let them be the teacher, while you play the role of the student; as they "teach" you a thing or two, ask them how they feel about starting school, and find out what concerns they may have. Answering questions from a position of authority -- even if it's just pretend -- may make children more confident about voicing their fears.
- Make sure you and your children understand the school rules. Are electronics allowed? Can older kids access email? Can you text your child during the school day? Do phones have to be turned off? What's the dress code?
- Go over all school-related routines. Will kids be going to school earlier once school starts? Will they have to lay their school clothes out the night before? Make their own breakfasts? Pack their own lunches? Walk or bike to school by themselves? Take the bus? Practicing without pressure will help make these routines second nature by the time school is well underway.
- Get your kids' input. "Being organized and getting up and out on time are big challenges," Wacker points out. One way to make things go more smoothly is to let your kids have a say in the way they have to wake up for school. "One of our kids likes to get carried to the kitchen and placed in a chair," Wacker says. "Another uses an alarm clock while another wants the shades opened up." If your child's teacher has given out a last-minute wish list, let your child be involved in the shopping-it'll make him or her feel invested in the process, and keep excitement levels high.
- Establish a routine for yourself. Do you know what you need to do to get everyone out of the house on time? Does making lunch the night before really save you time in the morning? If you don't know, try doing it for a few days before school starts. It's better to discover that you need more time in the mornings before you actually need more time in the mornings.
- Don't turn breakfast into a battle. Plan back-to-school breakfasts for the week, if possible, and make sure the menu is made up of things they will actually eat, Wacker suggests. "Our youngest two want macaroni and cheese and chunky soup for breakfast, so we let them eat it. It is a warm meal (and fairly healthy) and we feel better knowing they have something in their stomachs," she says. "Especially with young teens - if they want pop tarts or something they can eat standing up, fine. Using logic about energy and concentration only leads to a battle in our house."
- Pencil in some down time after school. It's easy to think "they're just kids," but school is their job right now, and a dealing with circle time and new teachers and homework can be as stressful for them as back-to-back meetings, a new boss, and your overflowing email inbox are for you. Let them blow off steam before settling down to do homework, especially during that first week back.
- Ward off after-school meltdowns. Stock up on healthy snacks -- a tired kid with low blood sugar is an explosion waiting to happen.
- Learn how to handle homework. Breaking the nightly assignments down into manageable steps can help your child avoid feeling overwhelmed, and having a dedicated study station can help older kids stay focused. If you have younger kids who don't have to deal with homework yet, try giving them something busy to do while you work on dinner. It doesn't have to be complicated -- coloring a picture, leafing through a favorite book, or sorting blocks by color will do the trick, and establishing a homework-type step in their routines now will make it easier for them to transition to the task when they're older.
- Don't stand on ceremony. "The perfectly groomed first grader wearing sensible new shoes with perfectly cut hair smiling for cameras on the first day is too stressful," Wacker says. "We buy items based on when they are on sale not necessarily for back to school. Label their treasured clothes so they're less likely to end up in the Lost and Found and skip the first day ceremony."
Also on Shine:
- Why don't schools serve water to students during lunch?
- Girls perform better in single-sex school environments. Why don't boys?
- One mom's method for managing her child's peanut allergy at school
- The 10 hottest back-to-school items for 2011
- 5 ways to boost your kids' learning power
- Stop annoying your kid's teacher