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Be Back-to-school Prepared: Your Weekly Attack Plan

Getting ready for the classroom? Our guide will help make the transition back to school a breeze.

There’s no question that the transition from summer to the start of the school year can be a tumultuous time for parents and children. But it doesn’t have to be: With the right strategies, back-to-school season can be happy, healthy and stress-free. To make your life easier, we asked the experts for advice on how to prepare. Use their timeline to get your kids on the right schedule -- and in the right mindset -- for success all year long.

Back-to-school Preparation: One Month Before

A few weeks before the first day of school, take the kids back-to-school shopping. “Involve them in the process of picking out supplies and clothes,” says Candice Sasaki, a second grade teacher at Captain James Lawrence Elementary School in Burlington, N.J. “Showing your excitement will ultimately get your child excited about school, as well.”

If summer means later bedtimes in your home, now’s the time to gradually adjust to an earlier schedule. “For most ages, 8 p.m. is a good bedtime,” says Sasaki. “That allows your child to get enough sleep to be refreshed in the morning.” It also allows them to pay better attention in class: According to one recent study of preschoolers by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, those who had a consistent bedtime performed better at math, reading and language skills than those who didn’t.

To help your kids snooze more soundly, start winding down after dinner. Research published in the journal Sleep Medicine showed that kids who went to bed after 9 p.m., had a television in their room or consumed caffeine during the day took longer to nod off and got less sleep overall. So switch off electronics -- including computers, video games and television -- at least an hour before bed.

Back-to-school Preparation: Two Weeks Before

To prevent a meltdown the first week of school, it’s smart to get your child emotionally prepared for the classroom now. With young children, reinforcing positive behaviors -- like paying attention, having patience and following directions -- will help them understand the way they’re expected to act at school, says Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a professor of clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“At the dinner table, for example, let them know how proud you are of them when they’re able to stay seated through the whole meal,” explains Gurwitch. “Remind them that their teacher will be proud of them when they use these behaviors at their desks, too.”

It’s also a good idea to start spending some more time reading with young children and encouraging older kids to do more reading on their own. For those who’ve never had homework, introduce a structured period of time in the afternoon or evening to work on activity books together. And if your child had a summer reading assignment, make sure he is caught up -- and won’t have to rush to finish at the last minute.

Back-to-school Preparation: One Week Before

Call your child’s school and ask if you can briefly meet the teacher and see the classroom. “I set up the classroom weeks in advance,” says Sasaki. “And I encourage parents to bring their little ones to visit me before the first day.” Knowing who their teacher will be can help them feel more comfortable and secure on the first day. Checking out the teacher’s web page, if there’s one available, can also give you an idea of what else you need to prepare.

For children entering middle school for the first time, says Gurwitch, two of the biggest sources of anxiety are having a locker and changing classes. If possible, take your child to school during this week to test out his locker, and walk through the building so he knows where to go on the first day.

If you daughter is entering kindergarten or elementary school, put together a care package for her to keep in her backpack, recommends Dr. Charles Smith, a professor emeritus of family studies at Kansas State University and author of Raising Courageous Kids. It can include a supportive note from you, an inexpensive trinket that can serve as a security blanket and a box of tissues in a fun back-to-school design.

“Having something sentimental they can hold onto may help a very nervous child get over the fear of leaving home,” says Smith. “And emphasizing the use of tissues when kids sneeze or cough is important for teaching them good hygiene and for reducing the spread of germs.”

Back-to-school Preparation: The Night Before

Encourage your children to pick out their outfits for the first few days. With your help, have them lay out their clothes the night before to make getting dressed easier in the morning. “You might give them a few different options, but letting them make at least part of the decision is important for giving them a sense of responsibility,” says Gurwitch.

If you’re packing a snack or a lunch, check that you have everything you need before going to bed. Then set a wake-up time that will allow the whole family to be ready without rushing.

Back-to-school Preparation: On the Big Day

Prepare a healthy breakfast, and encourage your kids to discuss their expectations and concerns about the day. Most children are excited and nervous about school, says Smith, so try not to indulge their negative emotions. “Use positive words when talking about their new adventure,” explains Smith. “Avoid saying, ‘Don’t be scared,’ because that introduces the notion that there’s something to be fearful of. Instead, tell them how much fun they’re going to have and how brave and strong they are.”

Most important, says Smith, don’t let your children know if you’re feeling anxious or nervous: If you’re high-strung or weepy when dropping them off, chances are they will be too. Instead, pack some tissues to have on hand if either of you start to cry. Take lots of photos, send them off with a smile and don’t hang around after saying goodbye. Know your child is in good hands and will have a great time making friends and learning new things.

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