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.

Sunday Supper…or Any Other Time

For Nancy Richmond, Sunday dinners are something to treasure. While her family sits down to eat together in the dining room practically every night (with candles and tablecloths no less), these meals are special. “My husband cooks the same kind of wonderful meals he makes all week long, but it’s different. We’re all more relaxed,” says Richmond. “Sunday night is the evening we’re most likely to invite company and the night my kids invite their friends.”

Mealtime traditions -- whether it’s Sunday supper, Saturday morning bagels or Tuesday night pizza -- are more than just good food and fun times. They are the glue that holds families together. “These traditions are the things that make us feel we belong somewhere and that we’re special -- that our family is different from other families,” says Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a researcher in the way routines knit families together.

It isn’t easy to pull off a family dinner every night of the week, which is why designating one day for a special meal is so important. “The average meal gets eaten in anywhere from 18 to 20 minutes,” says Fiese. “The average kid watches four to six hours of TV a day. There’s room in there somewhere. Just turn off cell phones, computers and the TV and sit down together.”

Here’s how to keep everyone at the table…and happy to be there:

Tweak your tradition… Sooner or later, most kids will groan and snort at the idea of spending any more time at the table than they have to. “As kids grow up, expect plenty of eye-rolling but don’t give up,” says Fiese. “Teens may act like they want you to drop the routines entirely, but they don’t.” Ask if they’d like to try a little cooking instead of always getting stuck with the dishes, for example. For Richmond, allowing kids to invite friends has made a huge difference: “Sometimes we get 10 kids here -- there’s always something we can fix in the kitchen to feed them.”

…Or borrow someone else’s For anyone who grew up in a traditional Italian home, the scent of slow-simmering sauce (known as gravy, to some) is a cherished memory. Many Southerners feel the same way about chicken-after-church dinners. If you love your Sunday dinner tradition, but are tired of your traditional Sunday food, take a page from someone else’s cookbook. Vary the menu on your typical Sunday meals and see what happens.

Make It Extra Special
Tere Estorino and her 3-year-old son, Max, live seven houses away from her parents, so they share many meals together. But her favorite occasion is the monthly brunch her parents host, when her siblings and their kids all converge for an hours-long Sunday brunch -- Cuban style. “I love that my son is getting to know his aunts, uncles and cousins this way. I know it’s good for Max, but it’s also good for me,” says the 31-year-old Miami mom. “I so look forward to a Sunday spent talking and laughing with my family. I need that connection, too.”

Ready, Set, Napkins!

If your child still brings his plate to his chin to shovel rice into his mouth or wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, don’t despair! It’s never too late to teach him good table manners. The trick is to help him see why it’s important -- beyond just to placate you.

“I tell kids that it’s not about being fancy but about showing respect for yourself and others, and frankly, to keep you from making embarrassing mistakes,” says Florida-based protocol coach Patricia Rossi. “For example, if you’re sawing bread with your knife, you might shake the table and spill someone’s water glass. That’s why we break off little bites of bread instead.”

If you keep it light, your lessons will go down a lot easier. Use these games and activities to make learning good table manners fun:

Craft a model place setting Cut a large rectangular place mat out of construction paper or poster board. Show your children the proper placement of each item in a place setting -- fork next to napkin to the left of the plate, knife and spoon to the right, drink above -- and have them draw the outlines on their placemat. Have them draw the food, too, if they want. Laminate the paper and let the kids use it as a guide until they master the art of setting the table.

Make up rhymes and catchy phrases Kids love alliteration, repetition and rhyme, so try applying these to common etiquette rules. You might say: “Don’t chat while you chew!” “Food to mouth, not mouth to food,” “Sit up straight, and you’ll look great!” Feel free to get silly: “Don’t be a dork -- use a fork!” Challenge kids to come up with their own phrases, or prompt them with suggestions such as: How ’bout one for not eating with your fingers?

Teach tricks Etiquette experts use special techniques to help kids remember the rules of fine dining. Peggy Newfield, president of the Atlanta-based American School of Protocol, tells kids to touch their pointer fingers to their thumbs and hold the other three fingers straight to form a small “b” with the left hand and a small “d” with the right. When you put them on your lap, it reminds you to put your bread to your left and your drink to your upper right.

Stage a “fancy” dinner party Dust off the china, dig out Grandma’s candlesticks and have the kids set the table with the works: tablecloth, cloth napkins, real glasses, salad plates, forks, soup bowls and spoons. Need a refresher course on table setting? Go to eHow and search for “set a formal table.”

Demonstrate do’s and don’ts Nothing’s funnier to kids than seeing grown-ups acting goofy: “Do we slurp soup loudly like this? (exaggerate rude slurping noise) “Or do we sip quietly from the side of the spoon?” “Do we get up and do a silly dance?” (act it out) “Or do we stay seated until everyone is finished?”

Ask kids to show you the wrong way to act at the table, followed by the right way, including how to sit (bottom squarely on the chair, straight posture), how to hold silverware (fork like a pencil in left hand), how to chew (thoroughly and with mouth closed) and anything else that comes to mind. The sillier you can make the dining don’ts, the more fun and memorable the guidelines will be.

Whatever else you do, be sure to model proper dining behavior yourself! Your children will watch -- and learn. Bon appétit!

Bring in the Cash

Sure these are tough times. But there is some good news on the earning front for people who want to pick up extra income: “While companies are cutting full-time employees, there are still tasks to be done -- and a bigger need than ever for part-timers who work from home,” says Tory Johnson, CEO of the career coaching firm Women for Hire and co-author of Will Work from Home: Earn the Cash -- Without the Commute (Berkeley 2008). One caveat: If a company overpromises in the pay department, it could be a scam, warns Johnson. “Legitimate opportunities will pay a low or reasonable hourly rate.” Here, some of her favorite little-known income boosters that you can do in your spare time.

Virtual customer service rep Are you a people person with a pleasant voice? Then fielding customer calls from home for such big companies as J.Crew or 1-800-Flowers might be for you. You’ll need a computer, high-speed Internet access and a landline telephone. But you can generally set your own schedule, working from a minimum of 15 hours up to 60.

What it pays $8 to $15 per hour

Online juror Love The People’s Court? Now it could be your turn to deliver a verdict -- and get paid for it. Attorneys trying to decide whether to take a case or how to handle it with the jury often hire online “jurors” to give their opinions before they go into the courtroom. All you have to do is read the specifics of a case, then answer an online questionnaire. OnlineVedict, eJury or Trial Practices are the main Web sites for online juries. You must be 18, a U.S. citizen and can’t work or be married to someone who works in the justice system.

What it pays $10 to $60 per case

Virtual lemonade stand owner Are you a member of Facebook, MySpace or another social networking site? If so, you might be able to make some extra cash by setting up a “stand” on your page from another site called lemonade. All you do is choose your favorite products from over 200 major manufacturers to recommend to your friends who visit the site. If one of them clicks on the product and makes a purchase, you make money. That’s all there is to it -- and the service is completely free. The retailers pay a commission to lemonade, and the site passes 80 percent of that on to you. In addition, some companies, such as cell phone service providers, will tack on an additional incentive, of which you also earn 80 percent. All transactions take place on the retailers’ Web sites, so you don’t have to deal with inventory, shipping or payments. Plus, it’s fun and easy to design your own stand and add your product recommendations.

What it pays Commission on sales, depending on the retailers

Added savings bonus:
Survey taker
In this hypercompetitive economy, marketers are more interested than ever in your views of their products -- and they’re willing to reward you for it. Just sign up at the Web sites ZoomPanel, SurveySpot, MySurvey and Harris Interactive, take some surveys, and start racking up points to earn free goodies, including food, beauty products, cleaning supplies, toys and even electronics.

What it pays Free products and services, coupons

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Lepro

The Right Job at the Right Time

Over the past few decades, kitchens, spare bedrooms and backyard garages have been turned into offices. Why the renovations? An estimated five million women across the country have hired themselves as head honchos and launched their own home-based business. With many working moms out of a job and at-home moms eager to bring in extra income, the idea of being your own boss is becoming more attractive than ever.

The appeal is obvious: With no commute and no employer dictating your workday, you can pursue your passion, bring in bucks and still keep a foothold on the home front. It’s just that these days, you’ve got to be a bit more flexible and strategic in choosing the business you launch.

“In this economy, think carefully about what other people are willing to spend money on,” says Ellen Parlapiano, co-author of Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Practical Step-By-Step Guide to Work-At-Home Success (Perigee Trade 2002). “Personal services, like home organizing and personal training -- which mompreneurs have traditionally done well with -- are really taking a hit right now.”

In addition, this probably isn’t the time to launch your first clothing line or start producing that deluxe diaper caddy you designed. “Manufacturing any product can take $50,000 just to get started and three to five years to make a profit. Unless you have lots of money in the bank or a true million-dollar idea, I’d think twice before manufacturing anything right now,” says Parlapiano.

So how do you figure out what’s right for the times? And how do you get started on a business and make it blossom?

Tap your talents Veteran legal secretary Andrea Cannavina of Hicksville, N.Y., started typing transcripts for lawyers at night to earn extra cash several years ago. She eventually had so much work that she quit her day job, invested in a secure computer server and launched LegalTypist, a Web-based business. “I tell everyone who asks for advice, ‘Go with something you know,’” says Cannavina, who now oversees a staff of more than a dozen freelance virtual assistants. “Everybody has a strength. Sometimes the trick is simply figuring out what it is.”

Do your homework Research as much as you can about services or products like yours, what potential competitors are charging and which small-business development organizations are located in your area.

Also, consider taking a course. Before launching her clothing line for plus-size petites, Diane Lindblade of Pittsburgh, Pa., enrolled in FastTrac, a “boot camp” for aspiring entrepreneurs that’s offered at various locations across the country. “It helped me draw up a realistic business plan and develop a budget. The few hundred dollars you spend on a course like this may eventually save your business or your personal finances,” says Lindblade.

Make the most of your online lifeline The Internet is oxygen for home-based entrepreneurs. Your first order of business should be setting up a Web site. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune: Many sites offer inexpensive templates you can use. Next, tap into social networking sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. “The exposure and contacts you make are invaluable. And best of all, it’s free,” says Parlapiano.

Grow slowly and be flexible You may have big dreams about managing a staff and turning over the boring stuff like bookkeeping and order fulfillment to someone else. In the beginning, however, much of this work will probably fall in your lap. “In this economy, your first priority is to get cash coming in quickly and to avoid putting a lot of cash at risk,” says Parlapiano. “Then, once you’ve got a steady cash flow, you can consider outsourcing and hiring in order to focus on the big picture.”

That’s certainly been the case for Cannavina and her LegalTypist business. “When I started out, I was up all night typing on my own, trying to fulfill my clients’ demands,” says Cannavina, who now focuses almost entirely on managing and growing the business. “I have no limits on how big I want to get. I just grossed six figures this year, and I figure if I can get to six figures, I can make a million.”