Back-to-School Jitters: 5 Ways to Ease Worries

The thought of sending your little one off to school may be causing you some anxiety, but chances are, it’s affecting your kid too. Here are five ways to help calm your child's nerves -- and in turn, ensure your peace of mind as well.       

1. Talk to your child about his worries.

There’s nothing scarier than the great unknown. According to Dr. Dean Leav, a psychologist in Southern California, “many kids are worried about whether they’ll ‘fit in’ and develop their social network,” he says. To quell first-time jitters, Leav recommends having a dialogue with your child about his thoughts and feelings related to school. You can talk about the potential challenges your child may encounter, emotionally preparing him, says Leav. Explain that many kids have the same worries but are surprised by how friendly their classmates are. Remind him that all his fellow students will be new to the situation too and in need of making friends.

2. Explain how school works.

If your child is going to school for the first time, contact the school administrator and ask for a daily rundown of activities that you can go over with your kid. Find out about bathroom, nap and snack time policies as well so you can explain those to your little one. Then go over her day: Tell your child that the day usually begins by putting her belongings in her cubby and getting ready for attendance, or some other gathering ritual. Explain that there will be recess, lunchtime, more class work or playtime, and then dismissal. Let your child know that her teacher will help her get on the correct bus and that you’ll be there waiting at the bus stop.

3. Do a trial run.

“Doing a full walk-through, where the child pretends it’s the first day of school and actually gets dressed and goes to school can be very helpful,” says Leav. During this time, Leav says it’s especially important to explore the child’s thoughts and feelings. In addition, take advantage of any open houses that the school may have. While at the school, show him where you will pick him up and drop him off, and where the bathroom is. If you can’t get into the school before the first day, play on the playground and look in the windows so your child knows what to expect.

4. Arrange for meetups.

Ask friends, family and neighbors if they know any families with children the same age as yours that will be starting school at the same time. Arrange for a playdate, where you can safely accompany your child, so she can go to school knowing there will be at least one familiar face.

5. Give it some time.

During those first few days of school, your child might be especially clingy and ask you to come to school with him. Kids need extra support during this big, new transition, and it’s OK to go with them, says Leav. “For little ones, you should accompany them the first few times if they ask you to. Meet their teacher and new classmates with them. The goal is to show them that the new school environment is safe enough to explore independently. This will help them feel comfortable in their new environment.

Shape up With Family-friendly Fitness

The mere mention of starting a family-wide fitness routine may send everyone running for cover. But incorporating more physical activity into your family life doesn’t have to be a painful and serious undertaking. Here are three family-friendly fitness moves to get fit and have fun -- together.

Get Hooping
Remember Hula-Hoops? As a kid, you’d twirl those giant plastic rings on your waist, wrists and ankles until you just couldn’t do it anymore. Well, they’ve resurfaced as a hot exercise trend, with hooping classes springing up in gyms across the country. Hooping offers a great workout: It strengthens your core muscles, boosts your balance, and according to the Mayo Clinic, offers a great aerobic workout when you keep it up for 10 minutes.

You don’t even have to take a class to reap the benefits. Numerous DVDs provide a routine (and a soundtrack). You can also create your own. Just buy everyone a hoop (each hoop should reach from the floor to between the user’s waist and chest, according to the American Council of Exercise), crank up your favorite dance music, and have a group twirl-a-thon in the basement or family room. You’ll all have such a blast you won’t even realize you’re exercising.

Hit the Floor
You used to go to dance clubs, but that fell by the wayside when you had a family. Pick it back up by holding regular dance parties at home. Teens may be too embarrassed to join in, but younger kids will love it. Like hooping, vigorous dancing (e.g., salsa, hip-hop or belly dancing) gives you an aerobic workout -- about as much as jogging or cycling. It also improves balance, posture, endurance and flexibility. Step it up a notch and try Zumba, a Brazilian dance-fitness program taught in gyms and dance studios. DVDs and video games can also teach you the moves at home. Note: Zumba’s got some pretty sexy steps, so you may want to make this a girls-only activity!

Go Ahead and Jump
Prizefighters do it to build strength; kids do it to have fun. That combo makes jumping rope an ideal family fitness activity. Jumping rope for 10 minutes offers the same cardio benefit as jogging an eight-minute mile. It also builds bone-mineral density, muscle endurance and coordination. Ropes cost less than $20; buy at least one for every two family members so you can pair off for team competitions. There’s nothing like a little family-friendly fitness rivalry to keep you motivated!

Photo: iStockphoto.com/pixdeluxe