Conquer first-day fears with strategies from teachers who have young kids themselves. Plus: Score advice on back-to-school clothes shopping, friend making, and more.

By Michelle Crouch
Juco

From how to ease separation anxiety on the first day of school to tricks for getting everyone out the door in the mornings, teacher-moms know best. Nail the school year with these tricks and shortcuts from parents who have experience on both sides of the classroom door. Be calm, Mom, and read on!

1. Help them make friends.

If he says he has no one to play with at recess, suggest he ask someone to play instead of waiting to be asked to join in. That’s often all it takes, says second-grade teacher Janet Nasir, mom of two in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

2. And help them keep friends.

Miscommunication causes a lot of drama, so help your child practice the words to tell a pal when she is upset, suggests Bonnie Toth, a preschool teacher in Las Vegas. And if she needs to say sorry? Teach your kids to be specific about what they’re sorry for, suggests second-grade teacher Janet Nasir, mom of two in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Then have them follow up with, ‘How can I make you feel better?’ ”

3. Ease separation anxiety with a special trinket.

A token to keep in her backpack or cubby like a pebble or heart-shaped locket may be just what your child needs to get over her separation anxiety. “I told my son, ‘Whenever you miss me, hold it in your hand. It’s like Mommy is giving you a hug,’” says Meryl Schulte, a preschool teacher in Las Vegas.

4. Shop for a big-kid watch.

“I gave my daughter a watch as a reminder that I would be picking her up soon," says Maria Barker, a preschool teacher in Mesa, Arizona. "It made her feel like a big kid.”

5. Bake a few special cookies.

“Before my kids start school each year, we read The Kissing Hand, by Audry Penn, and make cookies that look like a hand with a heart in the middle," says first-grade teacher Lauren Tingley. "The kids get them in their lunch that first week so they know that I’m thinking about them. Even my fourth-grader still looks forward to her kissing-hand cookie.”

6. Build excitement for the first day.

Before school starts, make a playdate for your child with a few kids who will be in the same grade at his school. Seeing familiar faces on the first day will soothe the jitters.

7. Review the new school schedule.

When Tingley’s kids felt anxious about preschool, she reminded them about the sequence of activities so they “realized they wouldn’t be left there forever.” She told them, “Mommy will drop you off, then you’ll play, have circle time, eat lunch, lie down for nap, and then Daddy will pick you up.”

8. Create a goodbye ritual.

Teachers know the repetition of a daily ritual is comforting for a child, whether it’s a silly handshake, blowing kisses, or making a face through the window. “I always gave my son three hugs and three kisses before I left,” says Schulte.

9. Resist lingering when you say goodbye.

Leaving without saying goodbye is a big no-no, but so is hanging out. “The longer you stay, the harder it is,” says Brooke Wetzel, a kindergarten teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I give my own crying daughter a big hug and kiss, tell her she is going to have a great day, and then run.”

10. Talk about the positives.

When you reunite, instead of “How was your day?” say “What is something new you tried to do today?” or “Tell me what made you excited today,” suggests Marlene Heuer, a preschool teacher in Rochester, New York, and mom of a 5-year-old.

11. Stock up on the right gear.

Slay back-to-school shopping by snatching up these brands that teachers can't live without.

  • JanSport Backpack: It comes with a lifetime warranty! If your child’s backpack rips or the zipper breaks, send it back and they’ll repair it or send a new one.
  • Crayola Crayons: They’re easier to color with because they’re less waxy than other brands, says Tiffany Seay, a kindergarten teacher in Phoenix. Buy extra when they’re on sale and stash for midyear.
  • Cat & Jack Clothes: This Target brand has no tags, limited seams, and soft fabric. “One of my kids is picky about clothing, and he loves the line,” says Seay.
  • Ticonderoga Pencils: They sharpen better, and their lead doesn’t break as easily as other kinds do, says Jenn Larson, a teacher in Sacramento, California.

12. Snag secondhand clothes.

You won’t worry as much about their getting dirty or lost. “I see how many jackets pile up in our school’s lost and found, so I always buy them used for my kids,” says Seay.

13. Lace-up with flat cotton laces.

Many kids’ sneakers come with sleek, round polyester laces that don’t stay tied for long, says Megan Mitchell, a first-grade teacher in Sylvania, Ohio. Replace them with flat cotton laces, sold in most shoe stores.

14. Buy fewer long-sleeved shirts.

“They inevitably turn into a tissue or a napkin and come home filthy,” says Tingley. “If it’s cold, your child can put on a sweatshirt.”

15. Skip open-toed shoes.

Teachers prefer sneakers over flip-flops, Crocs, and sandals because they’re safer for the playground. Opt for Velcro or no-tie laces.

16. Say no to pants with a fly.

Until your kid masters zippers and buttons, buy elastic-waist pants he can easily pull on and off.

17. Pack a lunchbox that cares.

If you buy The Feed Lunchbox, 15 meals will be donated to children in need. Plus, the box—designed by Lauren Bush Lauren—is easy for kids to open and close. Some students are too shy to ask for help at lunchtime, so whatever box your kid uses, practice with it at home, says Nasir.

18. Wake your kid up a smidge earlier than you planned.

Otherwise, you’ll likely lose patience as your child fumbles with the buttons on his coat or struggles with his laces. “Some mornings it would take my son five solid minutes to put on his shoes, but I knew it was important for him to learn to be independent,” Schulte says. “Instead of rushing him or doing it for him, we started waking up five minutes earlier.”

19. Have one-on-one time with each kid.

Toth staggers her kids’ wake-up times so she spends five minutes with each of them before the others wake up. While they cuddle in bed together, they talk about the day ahead. “It provides a connection first thing in the morning so we start the day on a good note,” she says.

20. Give them a break.

Vivian Udart, a preschool teacher in Las Vegas, always lets her children unwind for at least 20 minutes before starting their homework. “It helps their mood and makes it easier for them to focus,” she says.

21. Go out on school nights every now and then.

Teachers say if the kids get home late once in a while, it’s not the end of the world. (And a break from the usual routine might recharge you all.) Just jot the teacher a note if you think your kiddo isn’t going to be on his A-game.

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