As the middle of September approaches (already!) most, if not all, children have returned to school, an event both anticipated and dreaded among many parents. A return to school means more structured routines around the house, and maybe a much-needed break for moms and dads. But the onset of school brings with it a host of papers to sign, homework to review, field trips to chaperone, and never-ending fundraisers.
All in all, though, the foremost concern for all parents is that their little ones have a safe, happy and healthy school year. Read on for some common-sense ways to tackle school days with ease.
• Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should weigh less than 20 percent of your child’s body weight. Every few days, go through your child’s backpack with him or her and remove unnecessary items that are adding extra bulk or weight.
• Talk to your child about bus safety: boarding and exiting the bus safely, waiting for the bus to stop completely before approaching it from the curb, and walking where he or she can see the bus driver at all times (which means the driver will be able to see him or her, too).
• If your child is old enough to drive to school, repeatedly emphasize smart driving. Teens should be reminded regularly to focus on the road, limit distractions, and never use their cell phones or other mobile devices while driving. Since some teens are more likely to be distracted or take driving risks when other teens are in the car, it may be a good idea to implement a “no-passengers” policy.
• If your kids will be walking to school, make sure their route has well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection. Have a frank discussion with them about “stranger danger” and never accepting rides with people they don’t know.
• Unfortunately, returning to school means increased exposure to viruses and other contagious illnesses. Don’t forget to practice and promote good hygiene with your kids, especially proper hand-washing. Make sure kids understand the direct connection between washing their hands and avoiding the illnesses that make them feel icky, so they’re more likely to comply when you’re not there to supervise.
• Make sure your kids know what to do in the event of an illness or emergency at school, a change in schedules, or if they’re unable to reach you during the school day. Go over several possible scenarios with them and make sure they have clear action plans.
• Bullying is a big problem that is receiving more and more media coverage, but unfortunately, is still very difficult to prevent. Remember that most kids who are bullied will be hesitant to come forward for fear of making the bullying worse. Parents must be proactive. Talk to your kids about their friends and the interactions they have throughout the school day. If you suspect a problem, don’t delay. Alert school officials immediately and follow up with them, as well as your child, frequently. Don’t forget to address cyber bullying, which can be just as hurtful as face-to-face interactions. Outside of school, emphasize your child’s positive traits and encourage him or her to participate in activities that boost self-esteem, so comments from bullies have less impact.
• Don’t assume your child could never be a bully. Start the conversation long before bullying becomes an issue. Involved parents and continual, proactive parenting are the most effective weapons against bullying. Be sure your child knows that bullying is never OK, and make sure he or she understands what bullying really is – name calling and other insults, physical intimidation, “ganging up” on one child, etc. Encourage empathy by asking your child to place himself or herself in someone else’s shoes. Be a positive role model. Speak kindly about others and demonstrate courteous behavior in front of your children. Lastly, encourage your child to support others and immediately report any bullying or aggression they witness.