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Tackling Back-To-School Fears

Summer is wrapping up and it's time to start getting your kids ready for school. The first day of class is often filled with many unkowns, so to make it easier, The Early Show, with the help of Parents magazine, takes a look at common fears your child may have.

The September issue of the magazine highlights the seven most common back-to-school fears and provides tips on how to help your kids cope with them. Parents senior editor Diane Debrovner discusses a few of them with co-anchor Hannah Storm.

According to a recent poll:

  • Sixty percent of kids were most afraid of being separated from their parents when they started school
  • Twenty-five percent were afraid they wouldn't make any friends.

Debrovner says it's best to discuss these fears as you get your child ready for school about a week or two before classes start. Bringing up fears too early can cause more anxiety than needed, she says.

Instead, parents can get their children on a schedule ready for school by getting them up early every morning so that they are into the routine, or having them pull clothes out the night before and saying, "This is what we will do every night before school." This is a good way to review routine and discuss your child's fears in a natural, unforced way, she says.

Here are some fears children may have:

FEAR: "I'll Miss You, Mommy."
The biggest hurdle for preschoolers and kindergartners is being separated from everything that's familiar - especially their moms and dads.

Coping tips:

  • Smooth the transition by taking your child to visit the school several times before the year starts.
  • Visit the school over the summer. When you're driving by the school, casually point it out to your child.
  • Make sure to play in the school playground a couple of times or if the school is open before the term starts, viist the classrooms.
  • Take your child to visit her classroom, meet the teacher, and tour the building so it will seem more familiar on the first day.
  • If your child has trouble saying goodbye once school starts, keep your morning routine predictable and goodbyes short. After you say goodbye, the teacher can distract your child by involving him in his favorite activity.
  • Put a note or drawing of a big heart in his lunch box.
  • Give him/her a "magic" acorn or seashell to keep in his/her pocket. Tell him/her whenever he/she touches it, she/he will know you're thinking of him/her.
  • Be on time for drop off and pick up.
  • Be positive yourself - don't let your child see that you're worried.

FEAR: "I Won't Make Friends."
Coping Tips:

  • Request a class list and contact one or two kids who live nearby for playdates before or soon after school starts.
  • Encourage your child by saying, "I know it's scary to meet new people, but remember that the other kids are scared, too. They'd probably be happy if someone as nice as you asks them to play because you know how to share toys and take turns on the slide."
  • Let the teacher know if your child is especially shy. She'll make an effort to help your child navigate relationships.
  • If several weeks pass and your child still feels left out, speak with the teacher to find out whether there are other issues - some kids are afraid to join a playgroup without being asked.

FEAR: "I Won't Like My Teacher"
As the first day approaches, young students may imagine a child-crunching monster sitting behind the teacher's desk, especially if older siblings have teased him with exaggerated stories.

Coping Tips:

  • Introduce your child to his teacher before school starts.
  • Remind him of any family friends or relatives who are teachers.
  • Once school starts, your child might think the teacher is mean if she/he seems a bit strict or does things differently from you or the day-care provider.
  • Use this opportunity to talk about classroom rules and how people do things in their own way. Explain that it can be hard to make sure 20 kids are quiet and paying attention at the same time.
  • If school is in full swing and your child suddenly reports that his teacher is mean, don't be too surprised. It may be based on a single incident when the teacher corrected him or her or scolded the class.

FEAR: "I'll Get Lost In That Big Building."
Coping Tips:
  • When you visit, suggest visual clues that will help your child find the way around (such as floors that are different colors) - and show him or her how to get from the front door to her classroom ("Go right up these stairs and walk to the third door after the office.").
  • Draw a map or construct a shoe-box model to help him/her see that the library is directly upstairs from the gym, for instance, and that the cafeteria is the big room at the bottom of the red stairwell. Show your child where the bathrooms are.

FEAR: "I'm Scared Of The Bus."
The school bus can seem daunting to most kids, especially when they don't know anyone. TV shows and movies in which the bigger kids taunt the younger children may have also given her the wrong idea about what happens on the bus.

Coping Tips:

  • Many towns now offer practice rides for kids and parents before school starts.
  • Once classes start, introduce your child to the bus driver and make sure your child knows the driver's name and the bus number. If your child is worried about getting on the wrong bus, reassure the child that teachers supervise dismissal time.
  • Remind your child to always tell you or another adult if other kids on the bus bother her or him.
  • Also remind your child that drivers have radios and teachers have phones in case there's a problem on the road.
  • See if there's an older child in the neighborhood who would sit with your child.

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