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Michaele Potvin Michaele Potvin
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Helping kids get ready to go back to school

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Helping kids get ready to go back to school (AP file photo)

Summer seems to be flying by, and for parents of school-age children it means looking ahead to the traditional, “getting the kids ready to go back to school” time of year. We all know there are clothes and supplies to buy and vacation plans to finish, but there are other things we as parents can do to help prepare our kids up for a successful school year.

Be prepared! Many teachers have their school supply list done early and make it available at the school. Start buying early and you can stretch out the buying to avoid the heavy costs of school supplies. If possible, allowing your child to be part of the buying process can be helpful, too. It gives them the opportunity to make choices and builds their sense of confidence in themselves.

Be a collaborator in your child’s life. Children often struggle with being able to name and deal with difficult emotions. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling; help them to name the emotions and ask them what their thoughts are on how to handle difficult emotions and thoughts. Spend time around the table asking them about school. If you get little to nothing out of them, get specific, “Who did you sit with at lunch?” or “What are you working with in science?”

Get creative, “Which subject do you think will be the most challenging and why?” Or, as a friend suggested, get silly, “Which teacher do you think would survive the zombie apocalypse?” Remember to follow up with them and check in on the things they do talk about, this will validate them and help them to feel as though what they have going on is important.

Get them excited about learning. Give them the freedom to be curious about anything during the summer months, whether its reading, walks on the trails, even while swimming. Curiosity is a cornerstone of loving to learn! Learn about a park, waterfall, monument, or historic spot near you talk about it as a family and go together on a family field trip! There are plenty of web resources and free parks here in Maine to enjoy.

Encourage independence; help them to build self-efficacy and confidence in their own abilities. This will help them to feel as though they can go places without you and use their own skills to cope with situations that may arise. A simple way to do this is allowing children to pick out their own outfits. Give them the structure they need around appropriate dress for the weather and situation, play versus dressing up or sunny days versus rainy days. My kids love watching Todd Gutner who will detail morning recess and afternoon weather and then plan their clothes based on that. Beyond that though give them the freedom to choose, even if it means a sparkly tutu with reindeer antlers and elf socks! Compliment them on specific choices they make, not the end product; i.e. whether they look pretty or silly or that everyone will like it. Help your children to learn problem solve situations as they arise or before if possible. Take the role of facilitator and observer whenever possible to give them the confidence in their own abilities.

Anticipate anxieties surrounding new places, situations and people. For children who may be starting a new school or transitioning into a higher grade, ask to get a tour or go to any open houses the school may have ahead of time. For younger kids, when the school sends the letter home with the teacher assignment find out who else might be in their class and schedule a play date on the playground at the school.

Establish routines ahead of time. Dragging your kids out of bed at 7 a.m. during summer vacation may not be your idea of fun but you, their teacher and your kids will appreciate it in the long run. Structure is good for everyone, especially school-aged children. Help set up routines such as bedtime, morning, hygiene and homework time (which can be reading or another activity) ahead of time.

Get to know their teachers and help the teachers get to know your child. Some teachers send home a school survey. The survey asks about the child interests, worries, and goals for the school year, etc. Questions parents might have, etc... If a teacher sends one home, fill it out and send it back. It allows an opportunity for the family/student to talk about wishes/dreams/fears/needs, etc. It also allows the teacher some valuable insights to the child and his/learning. If the survey doesn't come home, feel free to talk to your child about these things and send in a quick letter letting the teacher know. The teacher will be thankful for the insights because it will help the child in the long run.

Role model a love for learning. What you say and direct your children to do pales in comparison to what they see you doing. Be positive, be curious, and be engaged in their lives. If there was an issue for you as a school-aged child, try talking with your child’s teachers around your fears or concerns. If you feel the need to talk with your child reframe it for the positive; how did you persevere? Who did you turn to for help?

Honestly, there are so many ways to do parenting right. If you are even reading this article give yourself a pat on the back for being a good parent who cares! Parenting is hard and this article is not meant to be an instruction manual but more of a list of gentle suggestions to get your own creative juices working. Raising kids can be challenging and amazing all at the same time, kudos to you awesome parents for raising the next generation of leaders, peacekeepers, mediators, or whatever their hearts tell them to be!

(Michaele Potvin, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who provides therapy to clients at Restorative Health. Michaele helps families and individuals who are experiencing stress due to divorce, separation, problematic behaviors of childhood, anxiety, and anger management issues.)

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