Getting Back into School Mode

September has arrived and along with it new beginnings for millions of American school children. Making that transition from beach to bus, heat to homework, can be hard for everyone in the family. To make it easier for all, spend some time getting everyone ready for the new school year. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

Shopper's World: Who doesn't recall the thrill of buying a new lunch box? Kids now have double the fun than we did as kids - they get to buy backpacks too! Some words of wisdom: don't buy the first one your child likes! The minute after you buy it, they will see your neighbor's cool Spiderman lunchbox and pine away for that one instead.

It seems that it has become routine for teachers to send out summer letters that include a long laundry list of items to buy for the school year. As tempting as it is to put it aside until school looms near, give yourself lots of time to get this shopping done. It is next to impossible to find all the items in one store. Consider it a major feat of you get the job done after visiting two stores.

Looking Good: Make sure you schedule back-to-school haircuts at least two weeks before school starts. No child, particularly a pre-teen or teenager, wants to have a perfect coif the first day of school. You don't have to buy a new outfit for the first day of school unless that is a family tradition (or you want to start one!). Instead, have your child plan out their wardrobe the night before the first week of school so that there is one less thing to do in the morning.

And please parents: make your kids take a shower or bath the night before school starts. And as a special favor to themselves, force them to brush their teeth before boarding the bus. The last thing in the world they will want is to start out the year being called Smelly Sally.

Basic Training: While you're shopping with the kids for all their supplies, go over some basics with them in the car when they are not surrounded by Playstations, friends, or cell phones. Review bus stop safety. Talk to them about the no-no's of picking noses in public, the importance of coughing on their sleeve, washing their hands after using the bathroom, respecting adults, etc. Remind older children about your family's rules on smoking, drinking, curfews, instant messaging, and when no means no.

Unlocking the Mystery: For kids new to schools with lockers and the much-dreaded combination lock, get one for home to practice before school starts. Mastery of what for many is a difficult technique can make a huge difference in your child's comfort level those tricky first days of school. If they're attending a new school, stop by the day before school starts when the teachers will be there so they can get a feel for the school's layout.

Timing it Right: Of course, the whole family suffers those first few days of school when everyone has to get up earlier than they've gotten used to over the summer. To ease the transition, consider a gradual adjustment to the new timetable and start easing your way into it a week before the Big Day.

Lunch Box Woes: Packing the lunch box come September can be quite a challenge. No one likes a mushy, smelly mess emerging from their lunchbox, especially those first days of school when first impressions among peers are made. My kids are not big sandwich eaters which means I have to really be creative when it comes to packing a healthy snack and lunch. Some new tricks up my sleeve include: a tasty dip to go with a thick slice of hearty bread or pita bread; room temperature meatballs; pasta salads that have stuff that your kids actually eat inside; cut up hot dogs; rolls of bologna or proscuitto; or cut up slices of cheese and apples.

Same Child, New Habits: There is no better time than September-when a child has new friends, new teachers, and is learning new things at school-to establish new routines at home. If you don't like the kids your child is hanging with in their new class, intervene now. If you don't want your child watching more than an hour of television on school nights, begin implementing the new policy today. If you think your child should come home and do homework first before grabbing a Playstation controller, lay down the law and stick with it.

September is an exciting time full of new school stuff, new faces and new routines. It's up to us parents to help our kids best prepare for a new school year, putting their best face and new backpacks forward. The best part is that summer vacation is less than a year away!

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