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Dr. Gail Gross Headshot

Back-to-School Preparation Tips for Parents

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It is important when preparing our children for the first day of school to plan ahead. Children take their cue from their parents. If parents are calm, reassuring, optimistic and supportive, children will feel both confident and competent.

Children want to fit in, so parents must begin at the beginning, and first find out what the dress code is (if there is one) and obtain any supply lists. This way, they can have all the required clothing, backpacks, lunch boxes and supplies purchased in advance. No last-minute shopping -- it only adds to stress at an already anxious time for both parents and children alike.

Children will experience separation anxiety and so will parents. Therefore, it is so important for parents to take the lead and parent -- not burdening their children with their own anxieties. Be honest with your children: Talk to them about their fears, and listen with empathy. Children will tell you everything.

Here are additional tips to help parents prepare their children for going back to school:

• If attending a new school, try to visit your child's school at least one week in advance. Let your child get familiar with classrooms, hallways and important offices such as the principal and the nurse.

• If possible, find out if there are any friends, relatives or neighbors in their class. Knowing a child and creating a buddy system makes the transition to move more smoothly.

• Do your homework: If possible, talk to the teacher, the nurse, the guidance counselor and the principal in advance. Show both your interest and your goodwill. Tell them of any concerns you have in regard to your children's health, and apprise them of any learning problems in advance.

• Start a bedtime schedule one week in advance of school so that your child gets at least 10 hours of sleep at night. As an adult, we know how cranky we get when we are tired, and so do our children. Remember that they don't have our coping skills.

• A 'safety first' attitude is a very important part of preparing for the first day of school. You want your children to know traffic safety as well as physical safety. Young children should know their name, how to spell it, their telephone number and the number of a safe and responsible adult that is designated by their parents. Teach your child the proper way in advance to deal with bullies by reporting them to either a teacher or counselor.

• Talk with your children about their feelings and invite them to participate in a conversation that gives them some sense of control. Never embarrass, discount or demean your children's feelings. Ask them how they would like to be helped in this transition -- what things parents can do and they can do as partners to make the first day of school a pleasant beginning. This is called the empathic process, and if you invest children in the discussion, they are more likely to follow a smooth outcome and go happily to school.

A little preparation before the big day can go a long way in easing your child's transition back to school. It is important to be honest with your children and tell them you will miss them too -- and that they will like school because it will give them new and exciting experiences. Be empathetic, be compassionate and be firm. Nurture your children, meet their needs and be reliable. You can't spoil your children with love.