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Mama's Losin It: How to Soothe a Shy Child in Time for School

Morgan Kelly
Aug. 12, 2011

As part of the Care.com Interview Series, Mama Kat shares her experience with back-to-school anxiety

Kat Bouska is a former English teacher and sarcastic mother of three who runs her own home daycare. She stays sane by writing all about it in her humor blog, Mama's Losin' It.

As the back-to-school season approaches, Kat Bouska is on pins and needles for her oldest daughter Maile, who is a 7-year-old, painfully shy introvert. After her daughter's traumatic first grade year, Bouska talked to Care.com about what she's learned and how she's easing her kids into the new school year this time around.

Mama Kat's 5 Tips for fighting back to school anxiety:

    1. Retrain their internal clocks. One of the most common struggles for parents during the back-to-school season is getting out the door on time. Kat spends the last few weeks of the summer getting back on an early schedule to try and ease her kids' exhaustion once school rolls around.

    2. Don't rush them. For nervous kids in particular, giving your kids some leisure time in the morning can help ease them into the day. "They usually have about two hours to get themselves out of bed, dress, play, eat, pack up and they're out the door," Kat says.

    3. Empower them by listening. "I try to remind the kids that they control their choices and that if they don't feel comfortable with something it's okay to say so," Kat says. "They know I am here for them always and will do whatever I can to make school a great success."

    4. Get your act together. If your kids are already anxious about school, being unprepared for field trips, homework or projects will make their worries worse and make you look like an irresponsible parent. "I weed through their folders and mark the calendar for any upcoming important dates," Kat says. "I hate being the mom that forgets or misses things."

    5. Go to school with them (once in a while). Last year, Maile refused to go to school on Fridays out of fear that she couldn't keep up on the computers with the other kids. Kat's husband spent some of his day off every other Friday in the classroom helping her. Her confidence rose and she stopped putting up a fight.

Get more tips on how to help a shy child adjust to school in the full interview below. You can also Find Mama Kat on Twitter.

Can you tell us a little about your family?

My husband was my volleyball coach when I was 15. But it's not like that I swear. We didn't date until well after I graduated and we've been happily married for eight years. We have three kids. Maile is my painfully shy but very bright introvert, age 7. Laina is my free loving spirit, age 6. And Kainoa is my handful, age 4.

As a mother, how do you feel about the back-to-school transition? Is it stressful? Liberating? Do you feel anxiety?

I'm actually really looking forward to sending the kids back to school. I really like their teachers, and while summer has been fun with them, it has made me so busy. That being said, yes, I'm absolutely on pins and needles about it. My girls are very shy and I just want the world to be gentle with them. It's hard sending them off on their own, but so necessary.

How do you and your kids adjust from the fun of summer to the structure of school? Can you share any tips on how you get them (and yourself) prepared for the school year?

The biggest adjustment will be getting up and out the door early again. Thankfully they really love the structure of school so I'm not anticipating any problems getting refocused academically. I just know they're going to be exhausted!

What does a typical school day morning at your house look like?

I run a home daycare, so I'm able to stay pretty consistent with our morning routines! I get up before the kids to work on the computer and start breakfast. They usually have about two hours to get themselves out of bed, dress, play, eat, pack up and they're out the door. Watching the school bus thump past the house is my favorite part of the morning.

Do your children have anxiety about going to school? What are they worried most about and how do they express it?

Ugh. This is a really sensitive topic for me because yes, especially my oldest has shown some pretty serious anxiety issues and my heart just breaks for her as I watch her try to cope. She wants familiarity and kindness. She wants to master all subjects. And she doesn't want to be put on the spot. The first day is nerve racking for all kids, but I'm especially on eggshells for her.

How do you cope with their back-to-school worries? Could you share some of your triumphs and/or blunders with us?

A triumph for us came last year. Maile totally refused to go to school on Fridays. Fridays were days to work on computers and she couldn't keep up with the other kids. She didn't want any part of it. My husband happens to have every other Friday off of work and chose to spend that time in the classroom helping her. She loved having her dad there, and the battles to get her to go to school every Friday morning stopped!

What have been the most traumatic ages for back-to-school anxiety in your home thus far? Why were those years awful and how did you cope with it?

My kids are still very young, so for us, first grade has definitely been the most challenging. My heart broke when my daughter's teacher told me it was such a joy to see Maile smile because it was such a rare occurrence. I was so sad. [I thought,] she doesn't smile at school? I think this was a hard year for her because she's a creature of habit, and going into a full day of school like that was a huge shock to her system.

What tips do you have for first-time parents who may be anxious about sending their oldest child to school, or even daycare, for the first time?

The beautiful thing about kids is that they have amazing coping capabilities. This is a big scary world and someday they're going to have to meet it. If that means they're going to feel a little uneasy in a setting with a loving, responsible adult and class full of friends, then so be it. We need to empower our kids to survive in this world on their own for a few hours. That confidence is so important!! 

Morning drop-offs are rough for kids and parents. Can you share any tips, including mistakes you've seen or made, for parents dropping off a sad kid?

My advice to parents dropping off sad children is to be consistent. Say "I love you" and "goodbye" and then leave. Parents who carry on with "one more hug" again and again just prolong the agony and make it more difficult for all of us. Daycares and schools are filled with toys, projects, crafts, and friends just waiting to be explored. Everything will be okay!

What is your secret to staying sane?

I stay sane by reaching out to people who are going through similar stages in life with their kids. Blogging and telling my stories has been a great way for me to get invaluable feedback!

What advice do you wish you had received before having school-aged kids?

I wish I had known that school work was going to be something I need to stay on top of!  An after-school system where time is set aside everyday for homework is extremely important and it took me a long time to get the hang of that!

For more tips, read the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Back-to-School.

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