Okay, so my thermometer and my hair know that it’s still summer (hello, humidity!), but the calendar is showing me that a new school year is right around the corner. How did that happen? Parents who’ve been struggling to keep kids occupied and entertained all summer may be quite happy about this news. Kids…maybe less so. So let’s make the transition as smooth and pain-free as possible for everyone concerned. These 10 tips should help reduce your own stress and start your child off with positive anticipation. Then when 7 a.m. rolls around on the first day of school, you’ll all be ready to bring your A-game!
Build Your Child’s EQ Skills. Success in school is not just about IQ, it’s also about EQ: emotional intelligence. Kindergarten teachers report that more than 30% of children entering their classrooms do not have the necessary social and emotional skills to be prepared for school life. Knowing how to identify and manage their own emotions—and to recognize the emotions of others—is a key component of EQ. So start by teaching your preschooler the words for feelings; it’s the most important vocabulary they will ever learn!
Take 10 for Reading. Some amount of “summer slide” is inevitable—this is what happens when kids’ academic skill regress while their brains are idle during vacation. To get children back in gear for the new school year, have them read for at least ten minutes a day—(and if they get hooked on a good story and keep going, so much the better!). Even reading a kids’ magazine such as Highlights or Sports Illustrated Kids can help students get back in the studying groove. And if you have a pet, children can get terrific practice reading aloud to a comforting and non-judgmental animal friend.
Early To Bed, Early To Rise. No one loves the struggle of waking groggy kids as the new school year begins. So don’t wait for the first day of school: Two weeks beforehand, start sending your children to bed half an hour earlier and waking them up a little earlier in the morning. This will help children slowly adjust to their new routine.
Don’t Shop Till You Drop. Children love the ritual of back-to-school shopping and parents love to take advantage of the back-to-school sales. But don’t buy everything all at once. Kids like to dress like their friends, so they might want to hold back on a few things until they start school to see what everyone else is wearing.
Brush Up on Safety. It’s been a while since the kids have made the trek to school, so parents should make sure to review important safety tips with their children. Stand back from the curb at the bus stop. Always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle to school. Walk to school with a friend—and always stay on the sidewalk and look both ways before crossing streets. (Parents, you should also be hyper-aware of your surroundings while driving: Back-to-school traffic is serious business.)
Talk About Bullying. This is an important conversation to have with your children before school begins. Start by helping kids learn to read nonverbal cues so they’ll recognize them in others: Have them look in a mirror and see how their faces look when they’re expressing “angry,” “happy,” or “scared” feelings. Empower your child with safety strategies if they feel threatened by someone: They can turn and walk away; stay calm and speak in a friendly manner; move to a crowded place; hold their hand up and say “Stop it”; stand up straight and say, “Leave me alone!” Encourage them to seek help if they’ve been bullied by talking to you, to a teacher, or to a friend.
Know the Plan. Familiarize younger children or first-time students with the route to school, and go over their new daily routine. Give directions on how to get to the lunchroom, bathrooms, lockers, gym, bus stop. This will ease tension and anxiety so that your child can move forward with confidence.
In with the New. Try to schedule a meeting with your child’s new teachers. Invite new classmates over for a play date the children can all get acquainted. Making friends is an important EQ skill that some kids may need your help with. Teach simple strategies for entering a group setting—smiling and saying hello, introducing yourself, and showing interest by asking questions. If they’re uncomfortable meeting new people, offer this handy trick: Suggest that they look at the color of the person’s eyes (this promotes eye contact while giving the child something else to think about). Role play at home so your child feels comfortable and ready to start the new year.
Reassure Your Child. Let your children know that everyone feels nervous about going back to school, even teachers. Share a personal experience to show that you can identify with how they are feeling. Remind your children about how well they did in school last year and how many friends they made, with more to be made in the coming year ahead. Above all, listen to his/her concerns with empathy and understanding. Validate feelings without judgment or telling them how they should feel!
Make It Fun. Whether it is an ice cream date or game night, plan a celebration or two for the first week of so your children have something to look forward to. Get the entire family involved, and talk about feelings surrounding the first days of school.
The school year is such a rich time of mental and emotional growth, adventure, friendship, new experiences. A little preparation as summer winds down can help your kids walk through the front doors wide-eyed and ready to learn and grow.
Denise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.