Students at the Rhoades School. (Courtesy photo)

Longtime San Diego educator Regina McDuffie still vividly remembers when her daughter started kindergarten years ago. At the time, they lived in New York and her daughter used the bus to get to school.

“I was so terrified that she would get lost, so I tied an index card around her neck like a piece of jewelry with her name, address and my phone number,” McDuffie said. “I am not sure if that was a good idea for many reasons.”

But, McDuffie said, the first day of school was a scary time for her and her child — just as it is with many families.

“I think as parents the first day of school is hard for us,” said McDuffie, now the head of the Rhoades School in Encinitas. “It’s a milestone in our children’s lives. We have to send them off and this makes us scared.”

Now, McDuffie, who has worked in the education industry for more than 25 years, hopes to help other parents prepare their children and themselves for school.

As the summer break comes to a close for many San Diego County students, McDuffie reminds parents not to over-schedule their children.

“Parents with the best of intentions can overschedule their children,” McDuffie said. “Children need time to renew, reflect, relax and use their own imagination to create and play.”

Instead, parents can prepare their students by discussing the start of school and how they may be feeling.

Regina McDuffie (Courtesy photo)

“For younger children, parents might need to provide a list of ‘feeling’ words so they can go beyond just saying that they are happy or sad,” McDuffie said. “Sometimes children say ‘I don’t know’ when asked how they feel because they don’t have the vocabulary to describe their feelings. Parents can help by providing them with that vocabulary.”

She also encourages parents to watch their children for certain behaviors so that they can acknowledge their feelings.

Anxiety may be one of the dominant feelings parents and their children face before the start of the school year. McDuffie encourages families to learn breathing techniques to overcome it.

“Breathing helps to relax the body and the mind and is a good technique at the initial onset of anxiety,” McDuffie said. “If children can learn to breathe when they begin to feel anxious it can help to stop the anxiety from getting worse.”

And, when families are feeling overwhelmed, they can remember the “Four Rs”:

  • Reading: If it is possible, read with or to your child for 20 minutes per day. If you can’t do 20 minutes, 10 minutes will work. Just read as often as possible.
  • Routine: Children often fall out of routine over the summer. Before the first day of school, get them back into a routine. The best time for routines is in the evening when your children are getting ready for bed, brushing their teeth, reading can be part of the routine. And of course, making sure that your children get to bed early and get at least ten hours of sleep.
  • Recreation: Play games with your children that have educational elements to them or do fun at-home science experiments.
  • Research: If your children have access to the Internet, encourage them to do research on a favorite animal or planet or any area that is of interest to them and then share it with you. If your recreation time includes a road trip, have them use the Internet to figure out how much gas will cost for your trip or have them plan the route to the final destination, with sights to see along the way.

Finally, McDuffie said parents should remember they can trust educators at schools.

“It is so difficult to do, but we need to avoid projecting our parental fears on our children,” McDuffie said. “My daughter is now a junior in college and I still have those parental fears. They never go away. We just learn to manage them better.”

Parents: What are your tips for preparing students for the new school year? Tell us in the comments.

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