Ask! How to handle starting school?

This week, Dr. Steiner talks about how to get your kids ready for school, whether they're going for the very first time or just heading back after a long summer off.

Believe it or not, it’s almost back to school time! Despite the advertising zeal of this time of year, the real questions aren’t what school supplies or new outfits your child needs, it’s really getting your child emotionally ready to start or re-start school.

Depending on a child's age and developmental stage, school can be more all-encompassing for children than jobs are for adults. This is what they do during the day and where they form their peer groups and friendships, and achievement in school is important for the future. Thankfully, for most kids school is fun!

To prepare children to go to school for the first time, decreasing anxiety and mystery is important. You can arrange play-dates with the new kids at the school and make visits to the school – even visiting the playground or outside of the school can help. Most schools recognize the importance of doing this and have "Welcome Nights" or similar events where parents can go with children to help them become comfortable in the new setting. One word of caution —children tend to be more resilient than parents. Having a kindergartener going off to school is a huge event for parents, and often their anxiety can come through in subliminal ways to the children, making everything worse. It’s important to be positive and infuse confidence in your children for whatever they need to do.

Returning to school in the fall for older children is often a mix of anticipation and excitement, but also disappointment that the carefree summer is over. Help your child readjust by getting back into the necessary sleep schedule for at least 3-4 days before the first day of school. Letting your child chose some new supplies and clothes can be a fun bonding experience for parents and children while shopping. Again, the children have enough anxiety and concern about restarting, so a parent's jobs are to help reduce the anxiety, infuse confidence, and be a steadying force.

Remember the benefits of eating dinner together once school gets going—it’s been shown again and again in studies that families eating dinner together at home is a mitigating factor not only for nutritional concerns like obesity, but also for risk-taking in adolescents and other things. Get the family dinners started again on a routine and use it as an opportunity to ask to hear about "three things from school today," which can be done by preschool and school-aged kids.