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How to cope with back to school anxiety at any age—from kindergarten + beyond

Most children are stressed by the advent of going back to school after summer break. But stress isn't the same as anxiety, which manifests as avoidance of school preparation and avoidance of talking about school and irritability about the topic. Children who are naturally anxious or have anxiety disorders are the most fragile when it comes to anticipatory anxiety about school.

Depending on the developmental age, children's worries will vary. Here's how to help your child cope with their fears at every stage of school.

Kindergarteners

The kindergartner has little notion of school except for experiences in preschool. Preschools that prepare children predominantly through play of the child's direction actually prepare children best because they build their ability to share, socialize and express themselves.

Preschools that undervalue play and focus on rote learning and academics place children at a disadvantage for the critical thinking skills they'll need to attain, such as flexibility, impulse control, empathy, learning the impact of their actions on others, frustration tolerance and problem solving in a collaborative way.

Children entering kindergarten or any new school should visit the school as often as needed prior to the first day of classes. Walk them through the building, let them play on the playground and try to arrange for them to meet the teacher and principal in a friendly, informal introduction.

Grade school students

Each grade brings new anxiety as children wonder about the style of the teacher and the children they know or don't know. Play dates before school starts can help prepare them to be with their classmates in an unpressured setting.

Knowing the bus route and who they may be able to sit with on the bus eases anxiety. If the child has had social conflicts or experienced bullying in the past, begin to troubleshoot with your child how to react when encountering those children again.

For children with behavior problems or those who lack impulse control, finding out the teacher's style of discipline and talking about specific behaviors to that are appropriate or inappropriate is one way to prepare the child. In integrated classrooms, children are exposed to many different temperaments, and tolerance for these differences can be discussed ahead of time. Most children are empathic toward others with disabilities or problematic behavior as long as they're not targeted themselves.

Unless the child has had problems in school before, it's best not to present any possible upsetting scenarios that could happen. Instead, be an available listener to the anxious child and soothe any concerns.

Separation anxiety can be most prevalent in early grades, but can reappear in older children with a change of school. Making sure your child knows where you'll be during the day and when you'll see each other again helps considerably. Try not to set a pattern of allowing your child to text you frequently. Children need to find their way on their own without anxiously checking in with parents. School is the child's place for work and play. Parents have their own lives, but are available to talk about the day's events each evening.

If your child has difficultly academically, keep up with learning during the summer to prevent regression. Do this playfully by reading frequently with children, doing math problems on computer programs, and engaging kids in house or yard activities that require some math skills.

Families who are moving to new communities are best off making the move early in the summer, so children can become familiar with their surroundings ahead of time.

Children with clear anxiety problems, such as panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, social anxiety and separation anxiety, should begin treatment before school starts so they have the resources of adults to depend on if they have difficulties.

If medications are required, make sure they're worked out long before school starts. These include psychotropic medications for ADHD, anxiety, depression and dysregulated emotions. Try to ensure nothing new arises as school begins other than new teachers and students. All else should be familiar.

Middle and high schoolers

Adolescents experience mostly social anxiety as the school year approaches. They tend to experiment with different social groups, learning the ins and outs of the importance—or lack of importance—of popularity, acceptance into a circle of friends or selection of a few loyal best friends. If peer pressure arises during the summer months, parents will want to use the opportunity to discuss topics such as sex, drugs and respecting the law.

If the school is in a difficult neighborhood where there is violence, or if the school has security measures in place, simply prepare the child about what may be encountered without going into frightening details. Play down watching the news about violent events in schools. Although the media focuses on them, they remain outside the norm.

Throughout the summer, look for opportunities when any problems arise to teach your teen how to problem solve. Praise them for their specific talents and aptitudes to help build self-confidence. General praise, like "good job" or "way to go," often go unheeded because they're not specific enough. Help teens to recognize their assets.

Be observant about what's on your teen's mind by listening attentively. Refrain from interrupting when your teen shares ideas, interests, intentions, feelings or beliefs. Don't offer ready solutions, but be a sounding board. Children and teens who feel understood gain confidence and are better prepared for school.

The most important factor for the anxious child is a strong parent-child bond that the child can rely on no matter what takes place during the school day. When such parent-child engagement becomes frequent and familiar, the child can trust that bond despite any challenges at school.

The key to helping your children and teens feel at ease about starting their new school year is to build their confidence by offering specific praise, noting their talents and -- most importantly -- being a great listener. When children know they can share their observations or challenges, and their parents will listen, they go to school with the parents' calm, steady voice in the back of their minds to keep them grounded throughout the day.

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14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

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Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

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Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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It’s science: Vacations make your kids happy long after they’re over

Whether you're planning a quick trip to the lake or flying the fam to a resort, the results are the same: A happier, more connected family.

Whether you're looking for hotels or a rental home for a safe family getaway, or just punching in your credit card number to reserve a spot in a campground a couple of states over, the cost of vacation plans can make a mom wince. And while price is definitely something to consider when planning a family vacation, science suggests we should consider these trips—and their benefits—priceless.

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@9_fingers_/Twenty20

As a mom, I say the phrase 'let me just…' to my kids more times a day than I can count.

Yes, I can help you log into your class, let me just send this email.
Yes, I can play with you, let me just make one more call.
Yes, I can get you a snack, let me just empty the dishwasher.

I say it a lot at work, too.

Yes, I can write that article, let me just clear my inbox.
Yes, I can clear my inbox, let me just finish this meeting.
Yes, I can attend that meeting, let me just get this project out the door.

The problem is that every 'let me just' is followed by another 'let me just'... and by the time they're all done, the day is over, and I didn't do most of the things I intended—and I feel pretty bad about myself because of it.

I wasn't present with my kids today.
I didn't meet that deadline.
I couldn't muster the energy to cook dinner.
The house is a mess. I am a mess. The world is a mess.

It's okay, I tell myself. Let me just try again tomorrow.

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