Before your child starts preschool or kindergarten, be sure he's schooled in these basics.
Everything in this slideshow
Bathroom Skills 101
Going to the bathroom at school often takes the top spot on kids' list of anxieties, and for good reason: Young children still don't have total control of their bladder. "At age 5, 15 percent of kids are still at risk of having daytime wetting accidents," says Chris Cooper, MD, director of pediatric urology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Your child may have bladder signals that come on suddenly (so he'll have to dash to the bathroom ASAP), or he may not recognize the early warning signs that he has to go. Plus, kids this age tend to get so absorbed in an activity that they'll wait until the last minute to pee.
Teachers will schedule bathroom breaks, but reassure your child that he can ask to go anytime. "By kindergarten, kids have the bladder capacity to last only three to five hours, so they should be going at least twice during the day," says Dr. Cooper. It's especially important to remind your child to go about an hour after lunch, since most accidents occur between 2 and 5 p.m. Explain that even if he does have an accident, the teacher will help -- and that he shouldn't worry, since it happens to lots of kids.
You can help make your child's bathroom trips easier by ensuring that he can undo his buttons and snaps. Even though your child may look adorable in overalls, he probably can't get them off very quickly. Tights are another big challenge for little girls, so try swapping them for leggings until she gets the hang of quick pull-downs.
Friendship Fine Arts
Walking into a classroom full of new faces can make any kid quiver. To boost his bravery, give him a refresher course in making friends. Lesson one: Assure him that his classmates are just as nervous as he is. Talk about how you made friends at a new job or mommy group -- maybe you were worried at first, but everything turned out just fine.
Try role-playing to help your child feel comfortable approaching a potential friend. He might look for something he has in common with one of his classmates ("Hi, I'm Jack. I really like your backpack -- it's my favorite color. What's your favorite color?") "Let him order his meal at a restaurant or give money to a cashier so he can practice talking to new people," says Lonna Corder, founding director of the Playgroup preschool in San Francisco.
Don't forget to cover the ways your child can be a good friend, such as sharing and taking turns. Praise him when he shares toys or waits to use the swing at the park, and explain that kids will be happy when he does the same at school.
That giant yellow bus can make any kid tremble, and it's easy to see why: Chances are your child has never set foot in anything larger than an SUV. Check in with the school to see whether it offers a practice bus ride before the first day so your child can see that it's not so scary.
If there's no test-run, take a walk with your child to her bus stop before school starts and go over the essential info she needs to know. Tell her that you'll introduce her to the driver and that he'll make sure everyone on the bus stays safe. You might suggest that she sit near the driver -- she may feel more relaxed being close to an adult. Cover dismissal time too, since kids are often anxious about finding the right bus after school. The teacher will probably explain the procedure, but you can prep your child ahead of time.
Intro to Dining
Your child's fine motor skills are still developing, so opening plastic containers or sandwich bags can easily turn into a frustrating battle.
Avoid mealtime meltdowns by running through a few "practice" school lunches at home. You'll learn what she can't open and have time to rethink your packing technique.
Give your kids "scripts" for scary situations. I knew my son would feel nervous about playing with so many new kids, so I told him what to say if another child wouldn't share or pushed him.
-- Angeline D. P; Traverse City, Michigan
I taught each of my preschoolers to put on their own jacket. I laid it on the floor and told them to stand near the hood. Then they put their arms in the sleeves and flipped the jacket up and over their head.
-- Elizabeth T.; Rochester, New York
I helped my son learn his address and phone number by turning them into songs so they'd be easier to remember. We'd sing them in the car, and he memorized them quickly.
-- Donna M. S.; San Jose, California
When my daughter Sophie and I toured her school during the summer, I brought my camera and took pictures of everything: the teachers, the circle-time rug, you name it. I put them in an album and called it "Sophie Goes to School." I encouraged her to flip through it before the first day so that school would feel familiar to her.
-- Jenna M.; Santa Barbara, California
Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Parents magazine.