Starting school, or a new school year, can be both exhilarating and nerve wracking for kids and parents alike. There are some tips that all parents can do to get ready, and some things that some parents will want to do if their child is particularly nervous.
All families should certainly take advantage of any orientations, new student meet-ups, or other ways to connect your child to the school.
Consider your child’s health: we do a great service by teaching kids how to take care of themselves when launching them into any new independent milestone in their life (especially school, so fraught with new germs and viruses!) In addition to simply keeping them healthy, it will also keep them in school; so important for those first few weeks when they’re building friendships, getting to know their teachers, and generally settling into their new routine.
Dr. Kevin A. Charlotten, a family physician at Q-Care Affordable Medical Care in Elmhurst, Queens shared a few simple ways to keep kids healthy in the new school year.
- Really drill home the importance of clean hands.
- Wash with soap and water when possible, or with alcohol based sanitizer or wipes.
- Teach your kid to sneeze into his elbow. Dr. Charlotten explained a great many details about “respiratory droplets” (ewww…) but suffice it to say that sneezing into your elbow contains the germs better than your hand, and also limits the spread of those germs with hand-to-hand contact. A little packet of tissues goes a long way as well.
Dr. Charlotten recommends staying up to date with your child’s immunizations, especially the flu shots. This year’s flu shot includes the H1N1 vaccine, so there are no additional shots, but kids will need 2 shots about 4 weeks apart to amp up their immune system.
Once you’ve prepared the basics, visited the pediatrician, bought the new school clothes and school supplies, you’ll want to consider your child’s general “readiness”.
- Does your kid take to new experiences with jumpy excitement, or does she approach slowly, with hesitation? Child development books call that child “slow to warm”; your child observes his environment, has to get a feel of the “vibe” of the place, and figure out his role in it. All excellent traits in a human being, but can cause kids some frustrations as they get their bearings outside of familiar environments.
- For kids who are “slow to warm” or just super duper shy, everything from the separation to the pressure of homework to the mysterious world of socializing with peers can just feel like too much. Those who had time in pre-school will be more familiar with the structure and the social skills, but even they must learn many new elements: responsibility, expectations, homework, and grades!
If your Mama radar is telling you that your child is a little worried about the upcoming school year, you can help; with a light touch. There is nothing more confusing to a child than being told he’s about to take a big step toward independence, but his Mommy is the only one that comes and sits in class for a week. Likewise, asking the teacher to keep an extra special eye on your nervous little ladybug is setting everyone up for failure; the teacher is immediately on high alert, and you’ve planted the idea in your child’s head that she’s already having a hard time. You may ultimately want the teacher’s help, but try preparing outside of school first:
Play “Let’s Go To School!”:
A few days before school starts, do a dress rehearsal. Wake up at the right time, create a morning routine together (let your child decide as much as possible: breakfast first or get dressed first?), do the commute, and then…stay a while. If there’s a playground or a yard you can use, hang out – have a snack. Get familiar and create some good memories. If you can, try asking open-ended questions about what he might be excited and nervous about. (i.e. “What about school sounds exciting?” vs “Are you excited for school to start?”)
There are so many wonderful books about creatures big and small who are worried about going to school. I found these recommended reading lists I liked: Parent’s Choice Reading List and About.com. One of my personal favorites is “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. It’ll even make YOU feel better about your child starting school!
Introduce a more dignified lovey:
Your child should not bring the ratty bunny he’s been sleeping with for 5 years, but he can have a small token of home with him. A piece of age-appropriate jewelry, a keychain, or a small photo of the family (maybe include the ratty bunny?) kept in a clear sleeve in his notebook are some options. Transitional items are a fantastic way for kids to “carry” the people and feelings they are most familiar with into new experiences. We most often associate this idea with toddlers, but I know many adults who have pieces of jewelry or other personal items that represent security and love for them – if adults can use that little boost to face the world, why not your first grader?
A “Back To School” Party
Invite whoever would be appropriate (Family? Future classmates? Siblings?), but try to have a mix of ages so you get a mix of school memories. Ask everyone to bring school mementos; first day of school photos, yearbooks, class pictures, art projects, whatever they want. With yummy food and in a celebratory environment, everyone can look a the photos, have a few laughs at unfortunate hair-do’s, and make an opportunity to share memories and feelings about school.
Most kids should find their stride within a few weeks, though some may continue to struggle for longer. When your gut tells you to, do reach out to your child’s teacher; she’ll know him well enough by then to have good ideas. Keep in mind; even kids who never seem to struggle sometimes do. Tell your child plainly “If you’re ever having a hard time with class work or a friendship, those things are normal. If something at school is bothering you, come talk to me, and we’ll figure it out, together.” This is a comforting safety net for a child taking a courageous leap, and the most stable of foundations that you can lay for this next step in your parent/child relationship.
Finally, don’t forget to tuck some tissues into your own bag; let’s not forget you’ll probably be weeping as soon as you see her enter that building. Good luck, Mamas. Be strong.