5 Strategies For Preparing Your Child To Head Back To School

First you'll have to deal with your own fears. Here's how to get started.

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The first day of school is bittersweet for both kids and parents.

For kids, the first few days of the school year are full of exciting possibilities—along with embarrassing encounters, frustrating schoolwork, and long hours outside of their comfort zones.

As a parent, you can help your child adjust to the shock of the new school year. However, you’ll have to conquer your own anxieties first. Here are our tips for getting started by planning ahead.

1. Realize that your child will pick up on your attitude.

If you’re worrying and fretting over every little detail, your child will naturally become apprehensive. After all, don’t we all pick up on one another’s worries?

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Kids pick up on quite a bit, too, so be confident and optimistic. Talk about your first days of school, focusing on positive experiences. Discuss the tangible, controllable aspects of your child’s school day: what they will take for lunch, where they’ll go for class, which of their friends will be there.

2. Talk to your child—but use the right approach.

Avoid promises like “Nothing bad will happen” or “Everything will go perfectly.” Those kinds of affirmations are disingenuous, and we know it because every adult has a few horror stories from their first days of school.

When something does go wrong, your child might feel more anxious than before if they weren’t prepared to react. While you want to stay positive, you don’t want to act like the first day isn’t a big deal.

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Tell your child that it’s perfectly normal to be a little scared or nervous. For the first few weeks of school, block out special time for your child to talk about their day when you can dedicate a listening ear. Stay positive and optimistic, but don’t treat legitimate concerns as “silly.”

3. Talk about problem-solving strategies.

Your child will want constant reassurance, but that’s not necessarily the best way to approach their fears. Instead, talk about how to deal with potential problems in a constructive way.

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What should your child do if she forgets about her homework? How can she approach the teacher if she doesn’t understand a lesson? What if she misses her stop on the school bus? By addressing these hypotheticals, you’ll help your child feel more confident, and you’ll probably feel less nervous, too.

4. Ease into the first few days of school.

Help make your child comfortable in the new environment. A few days before summer vacation ends, plan to visit or at least go by the school (call to check with the school’s office before actually walking onto the campus, though).

Most schools arrange for tours in the weeks leading up to the new year. Take advantage! A quick tour can help to alleviate a lot of your child’s anxiety.

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You should also look into activities such as sports and academic clubs that will start up during the first weeks of the school year. For young kids, these might not be an option, but you can at least arrange for one of your child’s friends to meet at the school grounds or bus stop before the first day.

5. Finally, don’t forget about the basics.

Make sure your child has a good breakfast before the first day of school. Pack a great lunch (perhaps with a reassuring note) and set a firm bedtime for the last few days of summer vacation.

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Take care of as many of the little things as you can, and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring those first days are much less intimidating.

And one final note: Take plenty of pictures!

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