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, hesitantly bidding adieu to 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 as 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 who will sit with you at lunch and wondering if you have any classes with friends are common worries of students of all ages, all the way from preschool to college.

Some children will fondly look to the start of school, but it’s not a universally blissful emotion amongst all children. Vivian Friedman, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says that above all else, parents can help ease their children’s stress by staying positive. That means, Friedman says, be on time (if you pick your child up at school, or meet him or her at the bus stop), refrain from crying, and don't compare your children to others. That would only add to their stress.

"Character styles are persistent, not permanent. A child who approaches life with fear may also be a cautious adult," explains Friedman. "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.

If you haven’t already scheduled the well-child check-up this summer, you’ll want to give your physician’s office a call. Your child doesn’t need the stress of last minute vaccinations or trying to track down immunization records as he or she is learning to juggle a new schedule.

To help in the transition of going back to school, encourage your child to try to get to bed earlier and wake up earlier. It’s difficult to go to bed when the darkness doesn’t settle in until late in the evening. When you’re doing the back to school shopping, 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.

Rick and I also try to give our daughters things to look forward to in the evening or on the weekends. Special afterschool snacks, dining at a favorite restaurant, visiting with cousins, 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 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 on Saturday mornings 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 Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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