The Expert Parent on back to school jitters
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The Expert Parent on back to school jitters

Here is some help for preparing your child for school, especially a new school.

A stress-free start

Q: We just moved and my young children will be starting a new school in September. How can I help ease some of their first-day jitters?

A: Whether your child is starting a new school or returning to an old one, the first day in the classroom is fraught with excitement, nervousness and anxiety. Anything you can do to prepare for the beginning of a new school year and help your child make the shift from slow summer days to a more regimented schedule will be helpful.

In the weeks before school starts, begin to ease your child back into a reasonable bedtime if you've been letting her stay up late. Cut back on television and schedule regular mealtimes and bath times.

Discuss the routine for the first day of school, including wake-up time, what clothes your child will wear, how he will get to and from school, and what his after school plans are. Try a "trial run" the week before school starts, from waking up on time to getting dressed, and walking to the bus stop. Even discussing or play-acting procedures for raising hands and going to the bathroom can help ease anxieties.

If you haven't done this already, tour the new school and show your child where her classroom, the cafeteria and bathrooms are. Teachers are often in the building a few days before school starts, so it might be a good idea to call and see if you can come in and meet your child's teacher. Even if you can't get into the building, visiting the playground and taking the walk or drive there will put your child more at ease the first day.

Ask children what they think school will be like, enabling them to express anxieties. Clear up any inaccuracies with the correct information. If your child is worried about not having a friend, arrange a play date with a child in his new class or at least someone who will ride the bus the first day.

Reading books about the first day of school is a great way to get children to voice their apprehensions and let them see that they're not alone in having first-day jitters. And remember, if you are excited about the new school year, your child will be too.

Books that can help

Sam and Gram and the First Day of School

By Diane L. Blomberg For ages 4-6 This book takes children on an hour-by-hour tour through a typical first day of school (kindergarten or first grade) so they'll know just what to expect, the people they are likely to meet, and the fun in store. Written by a national expert in communications and human relations, it also has two special sections: "Things to Do" -- a list of practical things you can do to help a child prepare for school, and "Things to Talk About" -- a list of questions to get your child thinking and talking about her feelings.

I Don't Want to Go Back to School

By Marisabina Russo For ages 5-8 This picture book dramatizes a child's panic about going back to school after summer vacation. What if the bus driver misses Ben's stop on the way home? What if no one remembers Ben at school? What if the teacher asks him a really hard question, and he doesn't know the answer? Ben's older sister adds to his fears by telling him that his teacher is mean. Of course, things turn out well, but Ben's universal worries and questions about school will reassure young readers.

Wemberly Worried

By Kevin Henkes For ages 4-8 Wemberly worried about everything. Then it was time for school to start and Wemberly worried even more. "What if no one else has spots? What if no one else wears stripes? What if no one else brings a doll? What if the teacher is mean?" Henkes, the author of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, speaks directly to the hearts of worriers everywhere in this universal story about dealing with anxiety, and smoothing school transitions. (Parents will enjoy Wemberly's roller-blading grandma wearing a T-shirt that says "Go with the flow.")

First Day Jitters

By Julie Danneberg For ages 5-8 Every child who has moved to a new school or is reluctant to start the school year can relate to this story with a surprise ending. When the alarm rings on back-to-school morning, Sarah Jane Hartwell doesn't want to get out of bed. "I'm not going. I don't know anybody and it will be hard..." she wails. Finally, Mr. Hartwell orders her down to breakfast, puts her in the car and drops her off at school. Children love the final revelation that Sarah Jane is not a student, but the teacher.

Judy Moody

By Megan McDonald For ages 6-10 The first day of third grade puts Judy Moody in a mad-face mood. She just knows everyone will come back from summer vacation with T-shirts proclaiming their adventures at "Disney World" or "Jamestown: Home of Pocahontas." All Judy has is a plain old no-words T-shirt. She'll have to go to a new classroom, with a new desk, and she won't have an armadillo sticker with her name on it like she did last year. And knowing her luck, she'll end up sitting next to Frank, the boy who eats paste. Luckily, bad moods never last and before long Judy's day -- and year -- begin to look brighter.

Coping with Changing Schools

By Sandra Lee Smith For ages 12 and up For older children starting a new school, these fictional scenarios may help calm the nerves by illustrating situations and emotions a teenager might experience. Each is followed by analysis, which generally concludes that a positive attitude makes the transition smoother.

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