Article: Preparing for Back to School

For working parents, who have enjoyed a summer break from homework and getting children ready for school, back to school season can be especially stressful.

Those few days before school starts every fall can be a real drain on working parents—a lot of extra errands and stress. Getting ready for school is a big deal for children, and parents have to help pull everything together, even after a long day at work.

Since the start of a new school year affects the whole family, start with a family meeting where everyone can discuss their concerns and wishes, no matter how young the children.

Preparing for Changes Ahead
Going to a new school or having a new teacher can be challenging for children. Very rarely does a child have the same teacher or same classmates for two years in a row. For most children, every fall means some unknown is facing them. Of course, a new school is scary, but so is a new teacher, one who comes complete with rumors about how strict he is. Or your child's best friend, whom she has gone through every grade with, has moved away, and now your child has the daunting prospect of facing everything alone.

Ask your child what her concerns are about the new semester. "What are you looking forward to?" "What are you worried about?" Don't presume. Don't belittle. She may be panicking about having to sit next to the class troublemaker or someone she had a big fight with last year. Help her to focus on the positive aspects of what's ahead.

As children move up in school, new expectations are put on them: to learn new subjects, do more homework, and concentrate for longer periods. Children usually have a sense of what's expected of them and that can lead to worries. Your encouragement can help them tackle what is ahead.

The stress of the new school year may cause behavioral changes. Expect regression, crankiness, anger, backsliding and resistance (to homework, doing chores).

More Preparation: Shopping for Clothes
A new outfit for the first day… Didn't you look forward to that when you were young? Some things never change. Maybe kindergarteners aren't tuned in yet, but as children move through elementary school, and even more so in middle and high schools, the right first day outfit can set the tone for a glorious school year. And the wrong one can put a child in a bad frame of mind that is hard to shake. The right outfit is one that makes the wearer feel like a million bucks—not the wearer's parent.

You're probably imagining a nice little outfit, neat, fitted but not too tight (or too loose). If your daughter has dreams of dressing like Lady Gaga, the time to bridge this gap is not at the mall, when your child has the dream outfit in hand. Talk about what you are willing to buy well before you set out to shop. It may take some time to find a compromise.

The other area to discuss in advance, especially with older children, is how much you're willing to spend. How many pants, skirts, shirts, and pairs of shoes.

Even with students who wear uniforms, there is shopping beyond the required outfits. Most children look for ways to assert their individuality in a sea of plain polos and khaki pants. Buying barrettes, shoes, or special socks can be very important to uniform-wearers. Allow time for choosing and purchasing these accessories.

All these shopping trips can be both time-consuming and draining. Plan them for a time when you are both fresh. If you have to do it on a work night, try to allow plenty of time and figure in a break for a snack.

Shopping for Supplies
The biggest day of the year for school supplies is the first day of school. Stock up in advance. That means a week or two, not a day or two, on items you know will be required. But there will always be something that has to be bought on that first night: a certain kind of binder (you got three-ring, Mrs. Walters will only accept two-ring!) or a green pen that the teacher wants to see tomorrow. Trying to find school supplies at eight o'clock that night is frazzling. Maybe this is the day to use a little flex time, somehow arrange to take off work a little early so you can get to the stores before they sell out.

Preparing Yourself
And don't forget to get yourself ready, which means getting prepared for the additional responsibilities of helping with homework and getting children to school early—things you've had a summer vacation from, too!