Nervous about kids going back to school? A big cause of back-to-school anxiety for parents is transportation. Should kids walk to school? Are school buses safe? I drive to school; how do I juggle schedules? Here are parenting tips on coordinating school transportation.
* Think long and hard about letting kids walk (or bike) alone. There's no hard-and-fast age when kids can walk by themselves to school. It depends on how far you live from school, what the walk's like and the child's maturity. Traffic and weather factor in, too. Young children shouldn't walk unsupervised, even in "safe" communities, however. There's too much that they're not developmentally ready to manage alone.
* Escort kids. Kids need to learn to navigate within their communities safely and walking is a great way to do that. But kids shouldn't be cast adrift without support. If you're able, walk your kids to school. If you're not, find someone who can.
* Groom kids for solo travel. Use walks to school to teach safety skills. Discuss stranger danger, traffic signals, road hazards and weather cautions. Role-play what-if scenarios. Use the "1 block per year" (after age nine, kids can walk one block alone for every year they are old). Provide a cellphone preloaded with emergency contacts. Require them to call as they leave school and let you know when they're home.
* Meet young kids at the bus. If you can't, ask an older sibling or (very) trusted teen or senior neighbor. Be sure your child knows (and is comfortable with) the person who's meeting him.
* Weigh the school bus option carefully. Yellow-bus phobia causes a huge amount of back-to-school anxiety. When our oldest was five, she realized all our fears. She got off the bus at the wrong spot, unbeknown to the bus driver. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, waiting for her to disembark and finding her not there. After that debacle, we looked at optional transportation.
* Enlist help. If you choose to drive kids to school, you'll need back-up (even if you're a stay-at-home-mom). Vehicles malfunction. Schedules intrude. Among our family members, my husband and I coordinated a transportation schedule for the kids.
* Connect with other parents. We later assembled a car pool in our neighborhood. This actually worked out better than having family drive because our carpool group lived in closer proximity. Note: keep the carpool small. It's easier to coordinate and you don't have to worry so much about who's driving your kids. All carpoolers should be seasoned adult drivers with safe vehicles.
Whether you choose to drive, have your children ride the bus or let them walk to school, remember, parental care is a child's best safety belt.