Back to school roundup

Since those of us with school-age (preschool or older) kids have had a few weeks to cope settle in, I thought now might be a good time to talk about some of the stuff that crops up at this time of year. There are already some great discussions of kindergarten-related stuff over at Jody's, and some high school stuff at Lisa V's. If anyone's got discussion about middle-school stuff, let me know and I'll link it.

Let's talk about a couple of things that seem to come up for a lot of people, and see how everyone is getting through them.

Separation anxiety

Kids going into new school situations (and even sometimes going back to the same classroom and teacher) often feel separation anxiety for the first few days or weeks. Different schools handle separation in different ways. The school my older son goes to asks the parents to stay in the hallway outside the classroom until the child is comfortable in the classroom, while friends' schools ask parents to leave the first day and make a distinct break.

However your child's school handles drop-off, there are some things you can do to ease the transition. Be positive about the school and teachers; make it clear that school is for kids and teachers, not grown-ups; tell your child when you're leaving, don't ask them if it's OK; and always, always say goodbye--never sneak away. Remember that your child's teachers are your partners in parenting now, and they'll tell you how your child is doing and how the separation is really going. You may be hearing a ton of crying when you leave, but your child might cry for a minute but then go off happily to the sand table soon after you leave.

Some kids seem to have a huge problem with being left while you go away. My cousin had this problem, and for weeks he'd cry and cry when my aunt sropped him off at school, even though he loved school. Finally my aunt realized it was the leaving he couldn't take, not the school, so she worked out a solution with another mom that worked perfectly for them. The other mother would come to their house and pick up my cousin, so he got to be the one leaving my aunt. They'd say goodbye as he left, and he had no more problems going into school. Then my aunt would do pick-up for both kids.

Other parents have noticed that kids who get really upset when one parent drops them off at school are often not upset at all when the other parent or a grandparent or babysitter drops them off. So if you have a child who's still having a difficult time at drop-off, it may not be a problem with the fact of drop-off, but with the method of drop-off. See if you can rethink the logistics to see if that helps the situation.

Anyone else have problems or ideas about separation anxiety?

Changing sleep patterns

Lots of kids change sleep patterns when the school year starts, even if they're getting up at the same time, just because school takes so much energy from them. Kids who don't nap during the summer might take naps after school, and bedtimes are usually earlier during the school year.

Just when you've probably all adjusted to the new amount and pattern of sleep your child is getting, it's time to change the clocks back to standard time. This year the switch is on October 29. We talked about the time change back in April, and people gave some strategies for adjusting to the new time. Pick a strategy (inching your child to the new bedtime, or just going cold turkey), and be prepared for a couple of days of strangeness.

Applying to schools

This is the time of year parents are busy choosing and applying to schools for the next year. Everyone who's happy with their local public school, count yourself lucky. All the rest of us are busy applying to magnet public schools or to private schools. It can be quite a crazy-making process that requires a ton of intense research and planning and work, followed by a long period of nailbiting.

I'm strangely fascinated by the whole process, which is why I agreed to review The Kindergarten Wars: The Battle to Get Into America's Best Private Schools by Alan Eisenstock. Eisenstock follows several families (mothers) as they go through the process of trying to get their children into top private elementary schools. I really liked it, despite not wanting to. I thought it would be overly sensationalized, but it was actually calm and rational and funny. His sections on minority children are hilarious (directors admit frankly that they don't have any non-white kids in their schools even while touting the value of "diversity" as if "diversity" is a consumer product for their students) and he shares the emotions as well as the actions of the families he follows through the process.

The schools are composites of top privates across the country. Eisenstock agreed to leave the school his children went to in California out of the book, and in exchange he got help accessing heads of school, admissions directors, and parents at schools across the country. And they told him all sorts of stuff you wouldn't think they'd admit. It had enough insider stuff to be entertaining, but it wasn't a dirty schadenfreude-laced tell-all.

We're not planning to go through the process of applying to private school, so I read this book more as entertainment than as an instruction manual. I found it as interesting as any recent books on private school admissions follies, but with better writing and no unnecessary subplots. I'm not sure, however, that if I was a parent in the middle of applying to a private kindergarten I would love this book, since it doesn't give you any magic bullet to get your kid into the right school. Eisenstock's revelation is that the best way to get your kid in is to be a normal, loving family that clicks with the admissions director, and to be known by the director of your preschool. I thought it was a breath of fresh air in the middle of an industry that feeds itself by escalating the panic, but that might enrage the very parents who need it most. If there's one thing my time in New York has taught me, it's that de-escalation is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Let's hope the parents who need to step back a little for their own emotional health (and their childrens' health) can find this book helpful. If you do live in a not-so-crazy area of the world, this book will probably help you keep persepctive on the whole process.