Getting back into the swing of things
Editor’s note: Transitioning from August to September can be daunting for children, according to the National Association of School Psychologists, but parents can help by being realistic, positive and by planning. NASP offers a wealth of tips and resources on its website (www.nasponline.org). Here are just a few.
ON YOUR MARK, GET READY . . .
It’s never too late (or early) to . . .
Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional or psychological development with your pediatrician. Your doctor can help determine if your concerns are normal, age-appropriate issues or require further assessment.
Review all material sent by the school such as important information about your child’s teacher, room number, school supplies, sign-ups for after-school sports and activities, school calendars, transportation, health forms, and volunteer opportunities.
Make a note of important dates, especially back-to-school nights. This is especially important if you have children in more than one school and need to juggle obligations. Arrange for a babysitter now, if necessary.
Make copies of all your child’s health and emergency information for reference. Some health forms may be reusable for camps and other extracurricular activities.
Re-establish bedtime and mealtime routines (especially breakfast) at least 1 week before school starts. Prepare your child for this change by talking about the benefits of routines in order not to be exhausted or overwhelmed by school work and activities.
Encourage children to play quiet games, do puzzles, flash cards, color, or read as early morning activities instead of watching television. This will help them ease into the learning process and school routine. Maintain this practice throughout the school year.
Visit new schools and/or teachers with children (especially if they are young). Meeting teachers, locating classrooms, lunchrooms, etc. will help ease anxieties and also allow children to ask questions. Call ahead to make sure the teachers will be available.
Establish homework/backpack areas. Older children should have the option of studying in their rooms. Younger children usually need an area set aside that facilitates adult supervision and encouragement. Similarly, designate a spot for school belongings and important notices and information sent home for you to see. Explain that emptying backpacks nightly is part of their responsibility.
Freeze a few easy dinners. It will be much easier on you if you have dinner prepared so that meal preparation will not add to household tensions during the first week of school.
BEATING BACK-TO-SCHOOL BLUES
Help your kids overcome anxiety by . . .
Lettting them know you care: Send personal notes in the lunch box or book bag. Reinforce their ability to cope. Children absorb their parents’ anxiety, so model optimism and confidence. Let your child know that it is natural to be a little nervous at first.
Not overreacting: Young children in particular may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure them that you love them, will think of them during the day, and will be back.
Remaining calm/positive: Acknowledge anxiety over a bad experience the previous year. Children who had a difficult time academically may be more reluctant to return to school. Share your child’s concern with the school and confirm that the problem has been addressed. Reassure your child that the problem will not occur again and/or that you and the school are working on it together.
Reinforcing coping skills: Give children strategies to manage a difficult situation on their own. But also encourage them to tell you or the teacher if problems persist. Maintain open lines of communication with the school.
Arranging play dates: Try to arrange get-togethers with some of your child’s classmates before school starts and during the first weeks of schools to help re-establish positive relationships.
Volunteering: If possible, volunteer in the classroom at least periodically. This helps your child understand that school and family life are linked and that you care about learning. Iyt is also a good way to develop a relationship with teachers and see the classroom environment.
CHOOSING AFTERSCHOOL ACTIVITIES
When planning extracurricular itineraries, you might want to . . .
Go for quality, not quantity. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development and teach new skills. Too much scheduled time can be stressful, especially for young children, and may make it harder to concentrate on schoolwork.
When evaluating activities, consider your family schedule and your own energy level. Multiple activities per child may be too much to manage, particularly if the activities have disparate locations, require your attendance, or disrupt the dinner hour.
Find out from the school or teacher which days will be heavy homework or test study days and schedule extracurricular activities accordingly.
If your child does not want to participate in regular, organized extracurricular activities, consider other options to help build interests and social skills such as library reading programs, recreation center drop-in activities or regular play dates with other children.
STUDENT PROBLEM OR PROBLEM STUDENT
If difficulties arise, bear in mind that . . .
If your child demonstrates problems that seem extreme in nature or go on for an extended period, you may want to contact the school to set up an appointment to meet with your child’s teachers and school psychologist.
They may be able to offer direct or indirect support that will help identify and reduce the problem. They may also suggest other resources within the school and the community to help you address the situation.
It is generally wise not to over-interpret behaviors. More often than not, time and a few intervention strategies will remedy problems. Most children are wonderfully resilient and, with your support and encouragement, will thrive throughout their school experience.