This article was written by Sandy Rhee and Connie Bessette.

Sandy Rhee is a Professional Organizer specializing in working with students. She taught Middle School and High School for 12 years and has recently transitioned to her own business as an organizer.

My son is starting first grade and he is worried that his teacher will scream a lot or that he will get in trouble. How do I help him?

Will he give you examples of what he thinks might happen? The idea is to get him talking about it. He may just be uneasy and not be able to give you more information. Try doing a role play with him, acting out different voice levels that a teacher might use in the classroom. You can also talk with him about examples of classroom rules and their importance.

My 8 year old daughter seems really worried but won’t give me any details. What should I do?

Pay close attention to how she is behaving and what she is saying or not saying. For instance, if she seems irritable, or is fighting with siblings, bring that to her attention with a question such as, I wonder if you are getting nervous about starting school? Also listen closely to what she is talking about. Usually if we pay close attention our children give us clues…it is as if you have to be a private investigator. The objective is to get her to talk and let her know that her worries are normal.

My 10 year old son knows that he will not be in classes with any of his old friends; he is afraid he won’t have anyone to hang out with/ sit with at lunch; what can I tell him?

Put aside time to listen to his concerns, validating/affirming him—not trying to interpret or lessen his concerns. Ask him if he would like a few ideas on what to do. If he is interested offer these ideas:

Say hi to many kids…some will respond some will not—go back to the ones who respond and start a discussion (brainstorm with him). Also joining a club, group or extracurricular activity is a great way to make new friends.

If he says he does not want your help or ideas, let him know that you are available to listen anytime and that you believe in his ability to figure out tough issues; and if he is interested offer him an example of a time when he solved a problem on his own.

My daughter who is starting middle school is worried that she won’t be able to find her classrooms, remember her locker combination or may get lost. How can I help her?

These are very common worries for most children; so begin by normalizing this fear—letting your daughter know that many kids are worrying about these same issues. Empathize with her—don’t try to correct or reassure—listen and then affirm what you are hearing e.g. you’re worried about not finding your way. Correct any distortions you are hearing e.g., if your child is thinking that she will be in trouble (maybe get detention) for being late for her first days of classes, let her know that all students will be confused and teachers will be flexible. And, help her prepare, e.g. use a diagram of the school so she can anticipate her route; get a combination lock and practice at home.

My son was issued a Student Planner by his school. How can I teach him to use it effectively?

The key to using a planner is to use it for everything. There should be room to record both school and non-school activities. If the planner does not include everything, your son will have to remember to look in multiple places before he commits to any additional activity, which is much more difficult and not likely to happen. Teach him to record every school assignment on the day it is assigned. Then, long term assignments should also be written on the day they are due. Every practice, club meeting, and activity that requires his time should be recorded as well. This includes activities outside of school such as family time, club sports, religious activities, and the like.

We have been lenient about bed times over the summer break. I don’t want my daughter to be shocked when school starts up again. What should we do?

About a week before the first day of school, start to adjust bedtimes and wake times by a few minutes each day to allow for a transition. Prior to doing this, let your daughter know what you’ll be doing so it is not a surprise to her. By adjusting gradually, you will avoid the shock of an abrupt change.

Last year was a rough year for my son. He is transitioning to middle school this year and I want to make sure he has the best start possible. What can I do to prepare him?

Start by having a conversation with your son where you share your family’s values and expectations about education. Establish routines to have a calm start and end to each day to relieve some of the stress that can be controlled. Establish a homework routine as well. Let your son know that he will have a set number of minutes each night where he will be required to work on homework. If he doesn’t have enough homework to fill the time, the remaining time can be spent on learning activities you choose or reading. This helps to avoid the temptation to rush through assignments just to be finished faster and reinforces your family beliefs about the importance of education.

My daughter is starting middle school and will have six different teachers. We are worried about keeping everything straight and meeting multiple expectations. What is the best way to handle this?

Most teachers will hand out an outline of their expectations on the first day of school. Let your daughter know that she should bring these home with her. Sit down and go over each handout, discussing and answering questions as you go. Highlight key information such as homework policies, late work policies, what to bring to class every day, and general expectations. It is a good idea to review these in the proper order of her day, starting with her first period teacher and continuing. Let her make notes if she needs to. Make sure that you have the proper supplies for each class. It is advisable to wait to buy notebooks and binders until after the teachers explain what they expect as these tend to be fairly specific per class. Review the expectations each night for the first few and then periodically throughout the year.