Psychologically Speaking: Is your child ready for school?

September is just around the corner and yourchild's first day of school is an important one. Going to school mayseem new, exciting and easy from a grownup's perspective, but for achild it can be filled with anticipation and dread. As you try andimagine what the new school year can be like, remember that kids juststarting school for the first time are leaving the comfort of home andfacing the challenges of unfamiliar surroundings, new routines, a newadult figure in their life and lots of children they don't know.

Putyourself in their shoes by imagining yourself being asked by your newboss 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 therules of the game. How is that for being scary and intimidating?

The best way to keep anxiety to a minimum is to prepare yourchild 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 wholive in the neighborhood. Let him know what to expect in terms ofroutines around arrival and departure, bathroom visits, talking inclass, making friends and anything else you can think of. There will belots that you won't know and you can have fun learning together as theschool year advances. Telling you his concerns or "worst fear" may letyou to help him work on his worries before he ever steps foot in theschool.

Most children are just beginning to adjust to school wheneverything gets interrupted for the holidays. Some children experiencegreater anxiety than others, and things like sleep difficulties, tummytroubles, crying, and general behavioral changes or regression do meritparental and, at times, professional attention.

Check out your child's friendships and ensure all iswell. Some children take longer than others to make friends, but ifyour child seems to be sitting alone, not involved in play dates or isbeing picked on by the other children, it is important for you to findout why and to work with the school to ensure that he doesn't becomeisolated by his peers or get bullied.

Getting your child off to school in the morning with everyonefeeling relatively calm requires incredible organization and infinitepatience. Assuming he had plenty of sleep (about 11 hours a night for afive-year-old) and is well rested, the morning can actually be anenjoyable time before everyone goes off for the day. With breakfast andclothes sorted out in advance, you and your child can decide on ahealthy, child friendly lunch and prepare it together the night before.

Now all he has to do is organize his schoolsupplies. Color-coded file folders, ice packs, baskets, water bottlesand notebooks all keep life in order by identifying whose suppliesbelong to whom and help lay the groundwork for further organization ofnotebooks and homework materials as the school year advances.

If you are consistent and help teach him a routine, you won'thave 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 hislater years. He will need a well-lit, quiet spot that he can call hisown 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 isone of consultant. He needs to learn how to be manager.

Once you have your child sorted out, don't forget to make surethat in the first months of school you introduce yourself to theteacher and get a sense as to how she feels he is adjusting. By askingher what you could be doing so that you can work together to make it awonderful year, she will see that she has a caring partner at home.

If your child is biking to school, make sure his helmet fitsproperly and he actually understands the importance of wearing it. Ifhe is walking, he should know that it is dangerous to walk whilelistening to music or sending text messages. While he may be too youngto personally carry these, an older sibling walking with him may bedistracted. Your child needs to know the rules of the road as mostdrivers don't notice a young child crossing between two parked cars.

Finally, try not to fall into the trap of over-scheduling yourchild with after-school activities. Let him pick one or two activitiesand save the others for a later time. After all, while you may want himto have time to socialize, be creative and get exercise, he needs "downtime" in order to play, relax and destress.

One of the greatest treats for a child at the end of the day isto bounce into the house, yell that he's home (not that you wouldn'tnotice) and slowly unwind. You may have to gently encourage this withsome milk and cookies and a giant hug, but when you are there tolisten, at that moment, or later, when you arrive home, if you workoutside the house, you'll be amazed at all that he'll tell you. Withproper preparation school can really be a ton of fun.

The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. [email protected]