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5 Tips for a Successful First Week of School

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It's that time again... 

We've soaked up every last bit of summer. Stayed up way past bedtimes. Eaten way too many ice cream cones and s'mores (is that possible?) 

As our children head back to school, it's a strange feeling. One part sadness, one part excitement, and one part... PANIC! Transitions can be tricky, for parents and children alike and back to school time is no exception. As a former elementary school teacher, I'm here to share my five best tips for having a successful first week of school, with the hope that a great first week will turn into a fabulous year of learning and fun for all! 

1. Acknowledge that behavior is communication, especially with young children. 

Often children (and teens) don't come out and say exactly how they are feeling. But, they do show us how they are feeling and if we pay attention and act in a proactive manner (rather than reactive), we can help our child get through whatever is bothering them. Don't be surprised if your child begins to "act out" or cause more problems than usual in the days leading up to the first week of school.  Take these out-of-the-ordinary behaviors as a sign that your child is trying to tell you something, and it's probably "I'm nervous about going back to school."  Even the most confident child can feel uneasy about a new classroom, new teachers, or new friends. Give your child the word's s/he needs to express his/her feelings and try to talk through it by acknowledging the fears and providing some encouragement and support. Often just saying, "I know you're nervous and that's okay. I'm nervous too when I start something new," is enough to validate the child's feelings.

2. Open the lines of communication with your child's teacher.

At open house, I always stressed to my parents the importance of parent/teacher communication. The littlest thing that happens at home can really have an impact on a child's school day.  Perhaps dad is out of town or the child had an argument with a sibling right before getting on the bus.  Maybe the child didn't get a good night's sleep the night before because of a nightmare or other fear.  Send your child's teacher a quick e-mail, not asking for any special accommodations or treatment necessarily, but just a "Hey, just thought you should know this. It might impact Johnny's day at school today..."  As a teacher, we can give a few extra smiles, hugs and high-fives if we know the child is coming to school feeling a little down.  Don't be afraid to let your child's teacher know what's going on at home. 

3. Take control of the paperwork.

As a parent, when I think of the first week of school, I think of the never-ending forms that need to be filled out and turned in. As a teacher (without kids), I always wondered why parents couldn't get their acts together and get this stuff completed on time. Now, as a parent...I understand. 

My best advice is to start the year off with a system that will work for you throughout the year. In our home, that's a binder with clear sleeves for all the paperwork that has important information we may need throughout the year. Classroom routines, contact information, calendars.... It all has a place in ONE binder that stays in a cabinet in our kitchen and is easily accessible to anyone in our family who may need it.  

I also recommend checking your child's folder (assuming the school uses that system) as soon as you see the backpack after school or in the evening. Take everything out, complete whatever needs to be sent back, and immediately put it back in the folder.  

4. Set an example of POSITIVITY! 

Maybe your child didn't get the teacher you were hoping for. Maybe the new carpool policy seems a little too strict. Let's be honest - there's bound to be something about your child's school that you might not be thrilled with. Keep it to yourself when your child is around.  For your child to have an positive and enthusiastic opinion of school, we as parents need to model the same.   Make it a point to tell your child how great you think the teacher is or how excited you are about something they'll be doing in the new school year.  Children don't need to get wrapped up in adult drama and I've found that children are generally quite easy going and can acclimate themselves to new situations pretty easily. Let them do that. They have at least 13 years of education ahead of them and, well, it's a mighty long road if you're not enjoying it and looking forward to going.  Children are little sponges and mimic our attitudes. Make yours a good one... even if it's only until they go to bed. ;)

5. Don't forget all the little "firsts" that are bound to happen that first week.

Of course, most parents will be armed and ready with the camera and an adorable first day of school sign on that first day. But, don't forget to capture some other moments too. If your child rides the bus, we sure to get that first step onto the bus, a wave out the window, and the big smile as they come running OFF the bus at the end of the day (I don't know about you, but that NEVER gets old to me!) 

If you're not the type to save every single art project and piece of paper that comes home, snap a few pictures with your phone or camera of those first day drawings and writings. You will be amazed at how much your child's skills will grow and change throughout the year and documenting that growth doesn't have to involve piles of paper. A few simple pics with a cell phone will do, trust me.

High school graduation will be here before you know it. If for no other reason, document and save all this cute stuff so you can make one heck of a display board at the graduation party and embarrass the heck out of your 18 year old.  <wink, wink>

Okay, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What are YOUR best tips for getting through those emotional first days? Comment below and let's help each other out. I'm off to grab the 15 pack of tissue boxes at my local Costco now. Just in case...

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