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How to prepare your child for a milestone grade

I am a retired TV journalist, all-media writer and blogger. My focus is on personal finance, saving money and parenting.

Use these tips to help your child adjust to a milestone year: the first day of elementary, middle and high school

The first day of school is never without some stomach butterflies. And nowhere is this more apparent than a milestone year: the first day of elementary, middle and high school. While there's no way to erase the tension your child feels, you, the parent, can lessen it by anticipating problems and being prepared in ways that are sensitive to kids in each age range.

The first day of kindergarten

It’s a big and scary world out there. Even if your child has participated in playgroups before, school is structured and full of new people. It's important to send your child the right message; keep your own fears to yourself and project confidence in your child’s ability to handle the change. Frame this brave new world as a place to have fun, make new friends and learn new skills.

Help your child feel more comfortable by driving the car (or bus) route to school, walking the grounds, and, if possible, visiting the actual classroom. Meeting the teacher is even better. It can also be helpful to arrange playdates with some classmates if they are new to your child.

You can also prepare your child by reading books together. One popular pick is the Charlie and Lola title, I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child.

Despite your best efforts, separation anxiety is a real possibility. As impossible as it sounds, let go. Healthychildren.org recommends a reassuring hug and then leaving the classroom promptly. Remember that the clingiest kid in the morning is often the same one who doesn’t want to go home at the end of the day.

The first day of middle school

For tweens accustomed to being at the top of the elementary school pecking order, junior high is a shock. Many will have to change classes multiple times a day, expected to be much more organized and take a much greater share of responsibility. Because most kids will have a built-in support system of friends, the best you can do is lend a sympathetic ear and help them be prepared. Check the classroom list and head to your local office supply store with your child. That way, you eliminate the heartbreak of buying the wrong color binder. Buy in bulk — and don’t forget extras to donate to the classroom; paper, hand sanitizer and highlighters are welcomed by most teachers.

Shopping for fickle tween clothing tastes can get pricey. Buy basics like jeans and graphic tees online from merchants that invite coupon stacking, such as Kohl's and Target, and shop the back-to-school sales as early as possible.

Finally, help middle schoolers with organization: it's a skill they will use for the rest of their academic life. It can be helpful to color-code binders and spirals by class, or number classroom materials to correspond with class period. These tips help less organized kids manage quick locker trips between classes and assemble study materials.

The first day of high school

Even though freshmen return to the bottom of the pecking order, high school is a fresh start. Kids start to find their niche, explore new interests and make new friends. Having the right look — however it's defined — is critical at this age, so it's a good idea to get take your incoming freshman shopping with you. Compromise on what you and your teen are comfortable with. For many girls, having a properly decorated locker is equally important. Look online for cool adornments like stickers, magnetic mirrors, liner paper — even mini chandelier-style lights. The Container Store and LockerLookz are popular destinations.

Academically, high school kids require structure and good habits. Find a study skills group, tutor or an older student who is willing to share organization tips.

Attitude is everything

Your first lesson as a parent: think back to your first day of a new grade, a new school, a new transition. Each milestone is an end and a new beginning. You can help your child make the best of each by being prepared with the right supplies, the right attitude and the right amount of help.

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