School will begin for most youngsters in two or three weeks. For some children and their parents, the transition from summer vacation to the school year is easy; but for others, it is more of a challenge. Some kids will breeze into the classroom, while some will enter under protest. A few parents will shed a tear as they leave their child at school, while others will find it hard to restrain their joy. For those who may have a more difficult time, here are a few tips for getting the school year off to a good start.
Prepare for the first day. For children who are beginning in a new school building, it can help to see the school before the first day to get comfortable with the building and the route they take through it to get to their classrooms. Point out the fun parts of school, such as the playground. Describe what will happen at school. Explain the sequence of the day so your child knows what to expect. Ask your child specific questions to prepare her for the school day, such as What are you looking forward to? or What do you think will be the best (or hardest) part about the school day? Be positive and prepare your child to have a good experience.
Get enough sleep. If your child has been accustomed to staying up later and sleeping in this summer, be practical. One or two weeks before the first day, start moving bedtime earlier in the evening and waking earlier in the morning. On school days, wake early enough to allow time for breakfast. Adequate sleep and a good breakfast will help your child learn better and stay healthier.
Learn about and prepare your child for transportation. Will he ride a bus? What is the school drop-off policy? Plan how you will say good-bye. Often, a quick drop off is best, but some children may do better with a few minutes of quiet time with the parent.
Be positive and do not share your anxieties with your child. Don’t tell him how much you will miss him. This will only make him miss you more or feel guilty for leaving you. If your child is upset, acknowledge this and work together to find solutions. As a way to give your child a sense of control about the situation, let him help pick out school supplies and a backpack, and offer choices of clothes. Be firm that skipping school is not an option.
Become involved in your child’s school and education. Get to know the teacher. Support your child’s bond with the teacher as this will facilitate learning and comfort. Ask your child to show you around the classroom. He will love the sense of ownership and sharing with you. If your child balks at going back, remind him of the fun stuff and not the work. If your child says, “I hate school,” find out what is wrong. Ask your child to identify a problem and work together to solve it. Don’t be surprised if your child is tired or upset at the end of the day, especially at the beginning of the year. Each new school year presents new experiences and challenges, and the days can be long.
Be aware of your own separation anxieties. Connect with the teacher and follow your child’s progress daily. Ask specific questions of your child about their school day, who they met, what they did, what they learned. Remember that the school and teacher are capable of taking care of your child. Let them do their job, and support them and your child.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Children’s Hospital Services (mercy.net).