Education (Aug. 2011)

Whether your child is entering preschool or kindergarten, starting school for the first time can be stressful for kids as well as parents.

“Even if your child is excited about going back to school, it’s still a stressor,” said Catherine Hutter, Ph.D., a psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Parents should be on the alert for those signs and start easing the child back into the school routine.”

There are several things parents can do to alleviate the first day jitters for their child and themselves. Being prepared ahead of time will prevent many of the problems that can occur on that first day at school.

Here are some great ways for parents to start the school year off.

1 Request the class list. If parents can obtain a student roster for their child’s upcoming class and arrange play dates, the children can get to know one another before school starts. Seeing families and friendly faces on that first day will help a child feel more comfortable.

2 Request a school handbook. Set aside time to review the school handbook together so kids will know the rules and understand what will be expected of them.

3 Shop for supplies together. Shopping for new school supplies together is a fun ritual that helps children mark the transition between summer and school days. Let children have a choice about what to buy, keeping in mind budget and the school supply list.   The more say children have, the more likely they are to anticipate the new school year with a positive attitude.

4 Discuss daily activities. If kids know what keeps their parents busy throughout the day, they can make the connection that going to school, like when mom and dad go to work, is a job to be taken seriously.

5 Prepare to meet the new teacher. Introductions are in order! If the occasion presents itself, seize the opportunity for the child to meet the new teacher before the first day of school. Parents can also help kids learn the new teacher’s name and how to spell it. Have your child draw a picture to give to the teacher on the first day.

“Parents should meet the teacher. That would help the teacher get to know the child better. A visit to the kindergarten class offers a real advantage because they’ll know what to expect,” says Sharen Crockett, professor of family studies at Harding University in Searcy, Ark.

6 Cut down on first morning frenzy. Have everything ready ahead of time. Pack your child’s lunch and help them pick out their favorite outfit the night before and lay out all their supplies so they can grab them first thing in the morning.

7 Take a Tour. Visit the school and check out your child’s classroom. Find the bathrooms and the cafeteria. Walking through the school before hand take away some of the strangeness of a new place.

8 Spend some special time together. As school approaches spending extra time with your child can make her feel more secure when she is away from you. Don’t linger on that first morning, it only makes it worse but plan for some together time after school is finished. With a little help from you, your child can have a great experience at school and learn to love learning.

Belinda Mooney is a freelance journalist.