Susan C. Stone's Practical Parenting Blog dotcom

Getting Your Child (and yourself!) Ready for School

Posted on: August 19, 2011


How time flies!  It seems we were just preparing our children for the end of the school year, and now we have to ramp up for the beginning of a new year.  Some of you may be sad that the lazy, unstructured, non-lunch-packing days of summer are ending. Others are very glad to re-enter the world of  structure and, frankly, have a bit of time to themselves while their children are in school. Whichever camp you find yourself in, every parent is dealing with preparation for the new school year. This means buying school clothes and supplies, working out carpools and schedules, and planning for after-school activities.

What many parents don’t include in their to-do list is preparing themselves and their children for the transition from summer to fall.  For kids it’s more than new clothes – it’s often a new bedtime and wake-up time, new teacher, new school, new friends, new challenges. For  parents it’s helping children adjust to those changes. For some there are major transitions to negotiate  such as starting preschool or college for the first time which can be as difficult for a parent to adjust to as for the child! So…how do you help your children and yourself through these changes.

1. Begin right away to talk about school starting. Give them as much information as you have: 

For preschoolers, those starting kindergarten, middle school, high school or those changing schools – make sure they have seen the school facility and, if appropriate, the classrooms, yard, bathrooms,  lunch area, and drop-off and pick-up places.  Find out as much as about   their daily schedules and go through it repeatedly with them – a mental rehearsal. For young children, find out the last activity of the day so they can anticipate pick-up time.

For kids going off to college for the first time – Hopefully you’ve already visited the campus and they’ve gone through orientation there so they will have lots of materials to guide them, Don’t be at all surprised if they brush off any preparation you may try – they’re getting ready for one of the biggest separations in their lives and may push away anything that smacks of dependency. Plus, I’ve never met a college student who can’t locate the bathroom!

             For young children;

Talk to them about all the fun things they’ll be doing at school. Go over with them the protocols of being in a classroom – that they will be given directions to follow so they’ll know what to do, that they need to raise their hand to get the teacher’s attention, that items belong to the classroom and need to be shared. There are many good books to read to very young children about starting school and what they’ll encounter there.

             For older children:

Make sure you, and they, are clear on school procedures, codes of behavior, homework policies, etc. For children entering college, make sure they have a “go-to” person on campus for any questions they have so you can avoid being a “helicopter” parent who hovers and resolves any problems they encounter. One degree you hope they’ll graduate with is a “BI” – Bachelor of Independence.

2. Be clear from the get-go that school is not optional!

Take the approach that school is their “job”. If a child is resistant to going, from preschool to college,, there is usually some separation anxiety behind their reluctance. You can be empathic and reassuring, get help from the teacher, do more mental rehearsal, read more books, ask what they’re worried about BUT do not indicate by your words or your own sad or ambivalent demeanor, that you would waver on their going to school.  Children need to know that this is an adult decision. If your child starts school easily and then stops wanting to go, it’s important  for you to try to find out what is going on at school (or sometimes at home) that has created this change. Speaking to the teacher is often helpful.

3. Begin to institute a “school-day” bedtime and wake-up time.

Many families have a looser sleep schedule during the summer. Begin to regulate bedtime and wake-up time by 10-15 minutes every few days starting 2 weeks before school starts so there is no drastic change to implement on the first day of school.

4. Talk to children about how to make friends and join a group.

Even for adults, these can be  challenges. The one cardinal rule – for all ages – is Never ask permission to be someone’s friend or to join a group!  Doing so only empowers another child to say NO. For children under middle school age, having  a playdate before school starts with someone who will be in their class affords them a friendly face when school begins.  Depending on the age of your child , rehearse some “pick-up lines” for getting to know new kids. For young children it can be as simple as “What’s your name?” or “I like your t-shirt”.  Older kids need less direct approaches, usually ones that relate to what they may share in common with another kid – “Can I check  to see if I wrote down the right  the homework assignment?”; “Are you going to play soccer this year?”; “This teacher’s really hard!” “How long have you been at this school?”; etc.

Joining a group is a particularly hard skill. Again, teach your children never to “ask permission” to join.  Watching other kids play and then commenting or adding a suggestion is a good “on the yard” tactic for young children.  For older children – beyond preschool – joining in a game by first observing and then commenting is still a viable strategy. In the classroom, commenting on an assignment, sitting at lunch with someone or several people,  listening to the conversation and maybe adding a relevant comment, laughing at a joke, asking if anyone saw a certain show on TV can all be ways to insinuate yourself into a group. Participating in afterschool activities on campus can also provide opportunities to create commonality.

5. Prepare yourself to help your child through any initial resistance to starting school.

It can be very hard for a lot of parents to “let their children go”. From sending them to preschool for the first time to sending them off to college, we are challenged by the redefinition of our role in their lives as we lose some, or all, control over them. We lose the status of the only, or main, influence on them; we lose touch with what they are doing all day or even every day! We aren’t close by to catch them when they fall – literally or figuratively. We can also experience an emptiness of purpose and too much time on our hands. All of this can unconsciously lead us to perpetuate their dependency when what they need is independence. As the saying goes, “Good parents are slowly writing themselves out of the script”. So, prepare yourself for your child starting school. Think about how you would like to fill those now-free hours. Have confidence in the school you have chosen to take care of your child or, if your child is college bound, have confidence in how you raised them and the values you have taught that will keep them on track in the bigger world.

HAVE A GREAT SCHOOL YEAR!

 

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1 Response to "Getting Your Child (and yourself!) Ready for School"

Great advice, as always, Susan! Especially on how to never to ask permission to join a group or play with someone. Thanks!

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