Psychologically Speaking: Ready for school?

September marks new beginnings with new opportunities. Is your child ready?

ethiopian child 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ethiopian child 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Whether it's your child's first day of school, or he is returning and entering a new grade, September marks new beginnings with new opportunities. Is your child ready? With Rosh Hashana not falling until the end of September and thus prolonging the disruption of the settling-in process, it could be November before your child gets serious about learning. Start today to get your child ready for the first day of school and focused on the year ahead. Children think summertime is a great time to "chill out" and ignore anything school related. The wise child will continue reading during the summer and review math and other difficult subjects even if he is working or busy socializing. When school starts he will be ready to integrate new material and won't need time to review and get up to speed. Enable your child to become a good reader by reading to and with him at home. Have him practice letter writing to family. Keep your child active. Watching television and playing video games don't qualify, so set limits before the school year begins. Clean out closets and get organized. Doing household chores is a great way to encourage responsibility. A child of any age can and should help out. Family activities such as joining a gym and visiting a museum or the library provide fun ways to keep both your mind and body in shape. Have kids talk about what they see and keep a journal. A family meal enables kids to tell you what they think and feel and may just surprise you. The first day of school, while exciting for some, may be anxiety provoking for others, as the unknown can be quite scary. It's easy to imagine the worst. Check beforehand as to how he feels about going to school and clear up any misinformation early on so he can feel confident. Be aware of tummy upsets, headaches, difficulty sleeping or feeling tired or unwell as possible indicators of difficulty with things like making friends, bullying, getting along with the teacher, understanding and keeping up with the work or getting back into a routine. He may feel alone and have difficulty describing what he is experiencing, which may only add to his frustration. The summer is a great time to review with children just how to learn. This doesn't come naturally for many children, yet learning good study skills is essential. Children benefit from being organized, actively listening, taking good notes, having a set time to do homework, keeping a homework notebook and having good homework habits. Sticker charts to record progress are great for this purpose. Set goals with your child before school starts and follow through on how he is learning. Having a clean and uncluttered work space and knowing just how to think and access material helps kids prepare for tests, fosters good self-esteem and creates success in later life. Before school begins, get back into a healthy bedtime routine. Wake your child about 15 minutes earlier each day so that he'll be tired enough to fall asleep. Once school starts, lay out clothes, pack books and prepare lunch the night before. Encourage good coping skills. Remind your child how resilient he is and how well he has managed past situations and how great he felt when he succeeded. Stretching beyond one's comfort zone is difficult but kids often discover that the very thing they thought would be "horrible" wasn't quite as bad as they imagined. One still has to be honest and not minimize the difficulties involved. When my children were young I placed a big kiss inside their fist and on closing it I told them that it was always there for them whenever they needed it. If being away from you is a worry, it can help them to know that they have a part of you close "at hand." Continue to check in with them periodically to ensure that all is okay. Talk positively about school. Encourage your child to respect his teacher and make sure she is aware of any family situations that may impact on your child's school year. Look after logistics. Shop, label school supplies and put names on all clothing that goes to school. Buy shoes that fasten easily. Make separate color file folders for each child and put information that has to go back and forth to school in each folder. Discuss lunch choices, how they can get involved and make a place for lunch bags and other things regularly taken to school so that your child can find it each day. Buy a calendar for the refrigerator and make sure all important events get posted so everyone can see them. Plan carpool arrangements early to maximize your time. If your child will be coming home to an empty house, will carry a key or will be preparing a meal or snack, familiarize him in advance. He should have a list of neighbors and other emergency phone numbers. He must know his address and phone number, but remind him not to give it out to strangers. If your child rides a bike, make sure the tires are full and that he always wears a helmet. All kids need reminders about playground etiquette and how to cross the street. On the first morning of school, give your child a good breakfast, pack a healthy snack, include a little note and say a quick but loving good-bye. Let him know that you'll be excited to hear how it went. You can help him best make the transition by not staying beyond a few minutes to say your good-byes. The sooner you leave, the easier it will be for the teacher to help each child feel more comfortable in his new environment. Remember, each child grows and develops at his own rate. They not only have to get ready, but you do too. The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.