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Emotionally prepare your kids for school

Posted August 17

Preparing your kids for the new school year requires more than a supply stop.

A few years ago an author colleague and I both had sixth grade girls and desired to better prepare them emotionally. We asked questions of them and their friends, surveyed mothers, and wrote a book on their top concerns and ways to positively address them.

We have found using this information in "What Every Sixth Grader Needs to Know" has boosted their confidence and yielded more successful results particularly for children in fourth through eighth grades (although the concepts can be applied to most ages).

Here are what we found to be the top three worries of back-to-school children and a few possible solutions.

1. Friends. The key to making friends is for kids to be confident within themselves, then open to others. Easier said than done — unless you use one of these tips.

Be your bold self. Have your child ask him or herself, “What would My Bold Self do or say in this situation? What would (confident person they admire) say? What if I knew I would be totally successful in this moment/experience/situation?” Then encourage them to consider which choice to make and action to take.

Kindness is key. Today’s school world is not so different from prior generations in the area of mean girls, rude boys, and embarrassing situations. Whatever the moment, kindness is best. Kids are people too and ultimately, kindness gets respect and often a pass that other kids don’t experience. Encourage your child to ask in a difficult situation, “What is the kind thing?”

When I was young, I befriended a new girl in school who was beautiful but shy. She ended up being very popular (which I was not) and her kindness helped me at opportune times when popular allegiance smoothed my intended road.

Ask questions. Most kids are as uncomfortable as your child will be. Teach them to ask each other basic questions such as, “What’s your name? How was your summer?” They can genuinely compliment something they like (“Nice shoes”) or ask about sweet tech devices. Asking simple social questions is a lifelong skill; may as well get the benefits now.

2. Peer pressure. With friends will come the peer pressure to do or be a certain way. This is tough for elementary through early high school kids especially, who want to feel accepted, noticed and approved of.

Give ready phrases. If a child is being teased, have them use the Ben Carson method. When he was younger, kids would make fun of his worn clothes so he would throw it right back with a creative or funny phrase. Our kids can happily say things like, “Thanks, you too,” or “I know, isn’t it great?” and simply walk away.

When I was younger, I lived in Scotland where we wore a school uniform that was not in any way trendy. It was gray, industrial-strength and seriously ugly. To which I added heavy black shoes, except mine were finished with light swirls of green and red on the toe area. A picture to be sure, but I loved them. One day I walked down the sidewalk when two popular girls walked down the other, looked at me, laughed, and said, “Nice shoes.” Not understanding sarcasm, I said, “Thanks!”, unwittingly stopped them in their verbal tracks, and felt happy all the way home.

Practice pretend scenarios. One of the best ways to prepare kids is practice possible situations in a safe place like home. Create a pretend problem, then role play how to best handle it.

Last year I used one of the scenarios from the book to prepare my fifth grade daughter to handle peer pressure. As it turned out, she was standing with a group of girls when one suggested they play truth or dare. She wasn’t sure what to do. They turned to her and dared her to go hug a boy, and if she didn’t do it, she was out of the group. With her phrases handy, she boldly declined, chose to leave the group, and searched out different friends.

3. Academic worries. Children worry if they’re going to be smart enough or able to handle the unexpected. Parents can remind children of the tough things they’ve faced and succeeded in before. Then both can search for solutions. Let your kids know they are not stuck with one option but they need to keep seeking to find a fit. Success in life is not a ready-made experience; we have to work it.

One year during the first week of school, our teenage daughter came home and declared she was quitting her honors math class. Once we ascertained it was because of worry about skill not anything else, we talked her through it. We also explored solutions such as her father tutoring her, getting an online program to help, creating a study group, etc. Ultimately she stuck it out, used a few of the solutions, and achieved straight A's for the year, which was her personal goal.

Try talking together about one of these top concerns to find out how prepared your child is for school. Opening a discussion and seeking solutions will better prepare your child for a successful school year.

Connie Sokol is an author, presenter, TV contributor and mother of seven. Contact her at connie@8basics.com.

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