The term "back to school" can cause any number of feelings for both parents and students. For some it is "just" another year in elementary, middle or high school. But for others, going "back to school" means starting a whole new school experience, whether it is being in a new building, having new teachers, making new friends, going to kindergarten or leaving home to start college.
Going "back to school" can be just as exciting as it can be stressful for both parents and students. But there are some steps you and your child can take to ease some of the anxiety and stress you both may be feeling.
Keep calm and keep the lines of communication open. It is very normal for a child (and you, the parent) to be nervous and have anxiety about going to "back to school." Talk to your child about what she is likely to experience; you may even share your first day of school experience, at any level. Provide not just answers to your child's questions, but also comfort and reassurance to help him or her feel more confident about going "back to school."
Get your child involved and excited about buying school supplies. Perhaps allow your child to pick out a special "first day of school" outfit. It doesn't even have to be a new outfit, every kid has a favorite shirt or pair of shorts they like to wear.
There also are a number of children's books that can help you prepare your child for the first day of school. Many of these books provide the opportunity for your child to ask questions and express any feelings he or she may be having about going "back to school." One of my personal favorite children's books is "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn. This book is geared toward elementary students, especially those going to kindergarten.
For parents of first-time school children, take time to say good-bye to your child. If your school provides parent time in the classroom while new students adjust to the new surroundings, don't sneak off when your child is not looking. This can make the transition far more difficult for your child as he or she may become scared and upset when realizing you are gone.
Get a doctor checkup for your child. Vaccinations are one of the easiest ways to help keep your child healthy and promote public health this school year. All students must provide proof of immunization to their school. Specific immunization requirements are available from your child's school and/or pediatrician. Parents also should be aware that beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, all West Virginia students entering seventh grade must have had one dose of the Tdap vaccine and one dose of the meningococcal vaccine. Students entering 12th grade also must have had at least one dose of the Tdap vaccine and a second dose of the meningococcal vaccine. More information can be found by visiting the Randolph County Board of Education website.
Be sure you and your child get lots of sleep. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence on the importance of sleep for academic achievement. I'm sure this comes as no shock to you, but most children (even adults) do not get enough sleep. What may come as a shock to you is how much sleep children really need. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 years need 10 to 12 hours of sleep; 7- to 12-year-olds need nine to 10 hours of sleep; and 13- to 18-year-olds need nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep in order to maintain optimal alertness during the day.
There is no right bedtime for any specific age group of children because each child's routine, metabolism and need for sleep is different. However, a normal range of bedtimes for school-aged children is about 7:30-10 p.m. Even if your child doesn't seem tired, getting him or her into the bedroom between 7:30-10 p.m. and having "alone time" (i.e., reading, coloring or even playing quietly) helps to prepare the body for rest and even leads to a better night's sleep. It should be noted, however, that during this "alone time," music, phone, computer, video games or TV should not be used as these stimulations can disrupt children's ability to fall asleep, as well as affect their quality of sleep.
Remember that breakfast is an important part of every day. Research shows that eating a healthful breakfast has a lasting impact on a child's performance at school, and can affect anything from focus to energy to behavior. Fortunately, 12 out of 15 Randolph County schools will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students starting this fall. Even if your children often skip breakfast, encourage them to eat something prior to going to their first class. If time is a factor in the morning, provide your child with a piece of fruit to eat on the way to school.
Routines are important to establish and maintain. Establish a school-day routine. Discuss with your child the morning and evening schedule from brushing teeth to homework to watching TV so there are fewer arguments and your child knows what to expect. Help your child get organized with the basics such as checking the assignment sheet for homework before leaving school or packing up a book bag the night before to assure everything is ready for the next day. Develop a plan for lunches, early dismissal, snow days and what should happen if your child becomes ill at school.
Get to know your child's teacher(s). Finally, make a point to introduce yourself to your child's teacher and don't be afraid to contact him or her throughout the school year. In the first few interactions with your child's teacher, provide them with some information that will help him or her get to know your child better. For example, let the teacher know if your child is shy, really enjoys learning about dinosaurs or really does not like social studies. Your child's teacher will be spending the next nine months with your child and wants just as much as you for your child to learn, grow, succeed and have a fun and enjoyable school year.
While there are many ways you can help your child prepare for "back to school," these are just a few. Anticipate some ups and downs the first few weeks of school as you and your child adjust to the new schedule. And remember, even children are allowed to have bad days.
(Dr. Jennifer Tesar is beginning her third year as assistant professor of education at Davis & Elkins College. Prior to coming to D&E, she was a middle and high school social studies teacher in Southeast Ohio and adjunct professor of education at Ohio University. She received her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. She has two kids, Emily, 1, and Andrew, 4. Her husband, Tom, also teaches at Davis & Elkins College. Dr. Tesar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)