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Coping with Back-to-School Jitters

Reading, writing and -- real anxiety.

The fear factor can be pretty intense for little ones heading back to school, especially first-timers.

Huge questions weigh on their minds, such as "What if the teacher's mean?" and "What if Ihave an accident?"

And on "The Early Show Saturday Edition," Parents magazine Health and Psychology Editor Diane Debrovner shared tips to help you address your child's back-to-school fears.

It's normal for kids to feel that way, Debrovner says, especially if they're heading to school for the first time.

Parents have to prepare not only the kids, but themselves, for back-to-school time, she says, adding that you shouldn't let the kids see your apprehension.

Parents editors asked teachers about the most common back-to-school fears and put word on the top five in the magazine's September issue. The five apply mainly to children four-to-six years old.

Fear # 1 Getting Lost / The Big Building

The teachers we spoke to told us that kids look at the school building and think, "Wow, this place is huge! What if I get lost?"

Children are not used to finding their own way around a new building. The idea of spending a whole day finding their way around a new place on their own can be very intimidating. It is unfamiliar, children are creatures of habit.

How can parents help calm their child's concern about getting lost?

With any of these fears you want to make sure you stay calm. I know back-to -school can be stressful for moms and dads but your child will feel like there is a reason for them to be nervous if they sense your nervousness.

Most schools have an orientation that you and your child should attend before the first day of school. Once kids have seen the inside of the school, especially their classroom, it won't be so foreign to them and they won't be afraid.

If your school doesn't have an orientation, call and ask for a tour. Explore the fun areas like the library, gym and art and music rooms. On the first day of school, you can also point out key landmarks, such as that her classroom is right next to the water fountain.

A lot of kids worry that they're going to have to find their own way to each classroom. Let your child know that she'll never be in the hallways alone. A teacher will always take her where she has to go.

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Fear #2 Strange Grownups / The Teacher

Kids, even little kids, have seen enough movies with scary or mean characters-even mean teachers-to know they should be worried about getting the mean teacher. Older kids, especially older siblings, reinforce this fear when they say things like, "Oh you got her? She's mean," or, "She's a hard teacher."

Your child may be worried that the teacher will have a lot of strict rules, and worry about whether he'll get into trouble if he breaks a rule.

How can you make your child comfortable with his teacher?

Remind your child that the teacher cares about children and they are there to help him/her with anything he needs during the day.

Explain that most of the school rules like no interrupting, no back talk, no hitting, no yelling-are the same ones he already follows at home.

The teachers we spoke with recommended snapping a photo of your child and their teacher together at orientation. You can post it on the fridge so he/she becomes more familiar with this new important role model in their life.

Fear #3- I'll Get Hungry / The Lunch Area

It's common for kids to worry about not being fed when they're hungry. Plus, they're not used to feeding themselves and are worried about being embarrassed if they can't open their lunchbox or juicebox straw on their own.

Eating in a cafeteria is new experience for kids and they might be worried about not being able to open his thermos, forgetting his lunch or dropping his tray.

What's the best way to introduce the idea of packing a lunch and eating in a cafeteria?

If your child is bringing her own lunch, use easy-to-open containers that she's practiced with beforehand.

To familiarize your child with cafeteria-style settings, try eating at a few similar-type restaurants so that she'll be comfortable taking a tray, silverware and food as she makes her way down the line.

You can even tuck a note or a surprise, like stickers, into her lunch box to let her know that you're thinking of her.

Fear #4-Going to the Bathroom by Themselves / The Restroom

Again, this is something kids may not be used to doing on their own without any help from Mom or Dad. You child might be thinking, "I'm not used to going to the bathroom with other people. What if the stall door won't lock or I get trapped? What if I have an accident?"

How can mom and dad help at home before their child goes off to school?

You can remind your child that he's not on his own-that his teacher is there if he or she is unsure about something. Your child can ask the teacher for help with anything he/she needs.
You can also choose elastic-waist pants to make bathroom breaks easy.

What if he does have an accident?

Little kids often get wrapped up in their activities and don't realize how badly they need to go until it's too late.

Remind him/her that all kids have a change of clothes in their cubby and so its not a big deal.
Don't make a fuss about it after school.

Fear #5-What If No One Wants to Be My Friend? / The Playground

If your child is going to a new school, it's natural for him/her to worry about who he/she is going to play with on the playground or whether or not they will make friends.

How can parents help make the playground less intimidating?

Ask for a list of your child's new classmates and arrange a playdate or two during the weeks before school begins. Seeing a familiar face on the first day will help your child transition to the new setting. Then once school begins, try to find out if there is a child your child likes and arrange more times to play outside of school.

Reassure your child that he/she is not the only one in class who's nervous about making friends.
Offer some suggestions, such as, "Wouldn't it be fun if you asked a classmate to kick a ball with you tomorrow at recess?"

How can you tell if one of these fears is bothering your child?

Young kids won't always tell you exactly what's on their mind. No matter what your child is afraid of, they may just say he/she doesn't want to go to school or they don't like school. It'll be up to you to ask him/her/her some gentle questions-are you having trouble at lunch , are you having something you like to eat, are you finding someone to play with in the playground? Don't focus on problems , just get feedback from the day in general. Depending on what they say, you can probe a little more, and reassure them about how to feel more comfortable ("Now remember, if you have to go the bathroom or want a drink of water, just ask your teacher, and she will always help you.")