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Preparing Your Child for the New School Year

Kids who are starting school for the first time or moving to a new school have to cope with the biggest adjustment, but even moving up a grade means facing more academic demands, a new teacher, and a changing social circle. The good news is that a little bit of preparation and forethought--a very little bit, so you can enjoy these last weeks of summer! - can make those first weeks of school easier for your kids – and yourself.

Here’s how:

1. Make sure your child is familiar with the school.

If your child was at the same school last year, great! You only need to talk about any differences this year.

But if this is his/her first year at this school, then you’ll want to take some trips there. Even if there is a formal orientation day just before school begins, start now by taking a trip to the school. The more your child sees of the school, the less he/she’ll fret with fear of the unknown, and the more comfortable he/she’ll feel on the first day.

2. Take advantage of any orientation opportunities.

Many schools let new students, especially in the younger grades, come to school for an orientation session before school begins. If the school doesn’t have such a program, ask if you and your child can come by to meet the new teacher for a few minutes a day or so before school starts.

3. Facilitate your child’s bonding with the teacher.

All kids need to feel connected to their teacher to feel comfortable in the classroom. Until they do, they are not ready to learn. If you can arrange for your child to meet the teacher in advance, by all means do so.  

4. Facilitate bonding with the other kids.

Kids are always nervous about their new teacher, but if they know any of the other kids, they’ll feel more at ease. Even if your child is not new to the school, find out what other kids are in his/her class and arrange a playdate so he/she’ll feel more connected if he/she hasn’t seen these kids all summer.  

5. Practice saying goodbye.

For many children, the biggest challenge will be saying goodbye to you. Orchestrate small separations to practice saying goodbye, and develop a parting routine, such as a hug and a saying like

“I love you, you love me, have a great day and I’ll see you at 3!”

6. Start conversations about the next grade at school or about beginning school.

Get your kids excited by talking about what they can expect, including snack, playground, reading, computers, singing and art. If you know other children who will be in his class or in the school, be sure to mention that he/she will see or play with them. Share your own stories about things you loved about school.

7. If a younger sibling will be at home with you

If a younger sibling will be at home with you, be sure your child knows how boring it will be at home and how jealous you and the younger sibling are that you don’t get to go to school like a big kid. Explain that every day after school you will have special time with your big child to hear all about his/her day and have a snack together.

8. Get your kids back on an early to bed schedule well before school starts.

Most kids begin staying up late in the summer months. But if you have to wake your child for school in the morning, then your child has not had enough sleep. Children need 9 1/2 to 11 hours of sleep a night, depending on their age and individual physiology. (Teens need a minimum of 9.5 hours; toddlers usually do best with 11 hours). Getting kids back on schedule so they’re sound asleep by 9pm, so they can wake by themselves at 7am for school takes a couple of weeks of gradually moving the bedtime earlier.

9. Let your child choose his/her own school supplies...

...whether from around your house or from the store, and ready them in his/her backpack or bag.

10. The day before school starts, talk about exactly what will happen the next day... give your child a comfortable mental movie.

11. Get yourself to bed early the night before school... you can get up early enough to deal calmly with any last minute crises. Be sure kids – including teens! – lay out clothes the night before, that lunches are made, and that everyone gets enough sleep and a healthy breakfast. Plan to arrive at school early so you have time for meaningful goodbyes. And don’t forget that “first day of school” photo before you leave home!

12. If your child gets teary when you say goodbye

If your child gets teary when you say goodbye, reassure him/her that he/she will be fine and that you can’t wait to see him/her at the end of the day. Use the goodbye routine you’ve practiced.

13. Make sure you’re a few minutes early to pick your child up that first week of school.

Not seeing you immediately will exacerbate any anxieties he has and may panic him altogether. If your child cries when you pick him/her up, don’t worry. You’re seeing the stress of his/her having to keep it together all day and be a big child. Your return signals that it’s safe to be his/her baby self again, take it as a compliment.

This is true for kids of all ages, who may have uncharacteristic meltdowns during the first week of school, or just before school starts. Chalk it up to stress, don’t be hard on them, and be sure you’re there to talk so they don’t have to resort to tantrums. Before you know it everyone will be comfortable in their new routine and not even looking back as they race into school.