September is just around the corner and your
child's first day of school is an important one. Going to school may
seem new, exciting and easy from a grownup's perspective, but for a
child it can be filled with anticipation and dread. As you try and
imagine what the new school year can be like, remember that kids just
starting school for the first time are leaving the comfort of home and
facing the challenges of unfamiliar surroundings, new routines, a new
adult figure in their life and lots of children they don't know.
yourself in their shoes by imagining yourself being asked by your new
boss to go to a cocktail party in a strange city where you know no one.
You're expected to be on your best behavior without knowing any of the
rules of the game. How is that for being scary and intimidating?
The best way to keep anxiety to a minimum is to prepare your
child before school even starts. Walk to school, go in if you can and,
when possible, have him meet some of the other children his age who
live in the neighborhood. Let him know what to expect in terms of
routines around arrival and departure, bathroom visits, talking in
class, making friends and anything else you can think of. There will be
lots that you won't know and you can have fun learning together as the
school year advances. Telling you his concerns or "worst fear" may let
you to help him work on his worries before he ever steps foot in the
Most children are just beginning to adjust to school when
everything gets interrupted for the holidays. Some children experience
greater anxiety than others, and things like sleep difficulties, tummy
troubles, crying, and general behavioral changes or regression do merit
parental and, at times, professional attention.
Check out your child's friendships and ensure all is
well. Some children take longer than others to make friends, but if
your child seems to be sitting alone, not involved in play dates or is
being picked on by the other children, it is important for you to find
out why and to work with the school to ensure that he doesn't become
isolated by his peers or get bullied.
Getting your child off to school in the morning with everyone
feeling relatively calm requires incredible organization and infinite
patience. Assuming he had plenty of sleep (about 11 hours a night for a
five-year-old) and is well rested, the morning can actually be an
enjoyable time before everyone goes off for the day. With breakfast and
clothes sorted out in advance, you and your child can decide on a
healthy, child friendly lunch and prepare it together the night before.
Now all he has to do is organize his school
supplies. Color-coded file folders, ice packs, baskets, water bottles
and notebooks all keep life in order by identifying whose supplies
belong to whom and help lay the groundwork for further organization of
notebooks and homework materials as the school year advances.
If you are consistent and help teach him a routine, you won't
have to nag him to sit and do his work. A regular time to do homework,
eat meals, bathe and go to bed will stand him in good stead for his
later years. He will need a well-lit, quiet spot that he can call his
own to do his work and perhaps a little help from you to get started.
While it may be tempting for you to just "do" the work, your role is
one of consultant. He needs to learn how to be manager.
Once you have your child sorted out, don't forget to make sure
that in the first months of school you introduce yourself to the
teacher and get a sense as to how she feels he is adjusting. By asking
her what you could be doing so that you can work together to make it a
wonderful year, she will see that she has a caring partner at home.
If your child is biking to school, make sure his helmet fits
properly and he actually understands the importance of wearing it. If
he is walking, he should know that it is dangerous to walk while
listening to music or sending text messages. While he may be too young
to personally carry these, an older sibling walking with him may be
distracted. Your child needs to know the rules of the road as most
drivers don't notice a young child crossing between two parked cars.
Finally, try not to fall into the trap of over-scheduling your
child with after-school activities. Let him pick one or two activities
and save the others for a later time. After all, while you may want him
to have time to socialize, be creative and get exercise, he needs "down
time" in order to play, relax and destress.
One of the greatest treats for a child at the end of the day is
to bounce into the house, yell that he's home (not that you wouldn't
notice) and slowly unwind. You may have to gently encourage this with
some milk and cookies and a giant hug, but when you are there to
listen, at that moment, or later, when you arrive home, if you work
outside the house, you'll be amazed at all that he'll tell you. With
proper preparation school can really be a ton of fun.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. firstname.lastname@example.org www.drbatyaludman.com
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