Jammed lockers. Forgotten gym shorts. Lost lunch money.

Welcome to the first day of school!

Many of La Porte County’s children will soon be returning to school, kissing goodbye the dog days of summer.

Goodbye sleeping until noon. Goodbye staying up until midnight.

Hello Sunday night homework panics.

No matter how many times you live through the first day of school as either a student or a parent of a student, it remains a nail-biting, gut-wrenching experience.

Well, perhaps not quite as dramatic as all that; still, a bit of nervousness is to be expected. Meeting new teachers, worrying about whether your lunch period is the same as your friends’, panicking about whether you will know anyone in your classes are common worries of students of all ages, from preschool to college.

My subconscious still carries with me elements of those school worries. Nightmares on stressful days have me trying to remember my locker combination or weaving through the passageways of Elston High School to locate my friends at the pep session in the gymnasium. Apparently, they are rather common nightmares because I have talked with countless adults who say they also experience them.

Some children will fondly look to the start of school, but it’s not a universally blissful emotion amongst all children. Parents can help ease the back to school stress. Be on time if you pick up or drop off your child at school or bus stop, don’t cry and be positive. And, don’t compare your child to other children.

"Character styles are persistent, not permanent. A child who approaches life with fear may also be a cautious adult," explains Vivian Friedman, professor in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "An easy-going child is likely to continue to approach life with a positive attitude. Help your child to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty. When a child has a negative view, after acknowledging how he feels, ask him how else he might view that situation or how someone else might see it."

Children who remain overly anxious about school for more than two weeks may suffer from trauma and need outside help, said Freidman. Children who exhibit the following symptoms may have an underlying issue:

• Whining.

• Threatening to run away or hurt themselves.

• Having nightmares or other sleep disturbances.

• Renewed bedwetting.

• Having generally anxious behavior or startling easily.

A visit with your pediatrician may be in order if your child is suffering from any of these symptoms. You might also want to meet with your child’s teacher or school counselor to consider ways to work together to ease your child’s school anxiety and help school to become a positive experience.

Now is the time to help in the transition of going back to school. Encourage earlier bed times and morning wake-ups. Let your child pick out his or her supplies and new clothes (as long as you deem it reasonable). Create a place in your home where your child can do homework without interruptions.

Plan evening or weekend activities for which your child can look forward. Special afterschool snacks, dining at a favorite restaurant, visiting with family or watching sunsets at the beach are simple ways to help them through these first long days of the new school year.

While the school bell will soon be ringing, summer is far from over. There are still plenty of warm, sunny days ahead for swimming at the beach, riding bicycles, taking in the farmer’s markets and enjoying concerts at the park.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dune-brook, call 800-897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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