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Getting school off to a good start

The familiar yellow buses are ready to roll as another school year is about to begin. The emotions of many school kids _ and their parents _ are bound to be running high. In a number of small ways, parents can help their children get ready. There is a lot to get used to, socially and academically, when school starts. The right preparation will go a long way in lessening anxiety and building enthusiasm for learning.

Here are some back-to-school tips from your pediatrician and the American Academy of Pediatrics:

+ Before the first day of school, walk or ride the route to school with your child.

+ Tour the school building and classroom before the first day, and set up play dates with classmates.

+ If your child will be walking to school, assess the route for safety. Find out about crossing guards and traffic patterns.

+ Instruct your children to stay on sidewalks and main roads; do not allow them to cut through alleys, woods or other deserted areas.

+ Have siblings walk together so that younger children are accompanied, or ask an older neighbor child to walk with your young child.

+ For bus riders, review basic safety rules: Wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb. Do not move around on the bus. Wait until the bus is fully stopped before exiting. Check to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing.

+ Let the school know whenever your child is absent.

+ Give your child some strategies for coping with bullies. He should not give in to a bully's demands but should simply walk away or tell the bully to stop.

+ Talk with the teacher about a persistent bully. If appropriate, the teacher and principal may take steps to mediate the situation.

+ Encourage your child to talk about fears of violence, and reassure her. Explain how she can avoid dangerous situations and discuss steps that have been taken to ensure her safety.

+ Provide a positive homework atmosphere for your child that is free of clutter and distractions, including television.

+ Show your child you are interested in her work. Re-explain assignments if necessary, and check to see that homework is completed.

+ Having trouble fitting homework into your child's schedule? You may need to cut back on his activities or see that his after-school care includes supervised homework time.

+ If your child is struggling with a particular subject and you aren't able to help her, a tutor can be a good solution. Talk it over with your child's teacher first.

+ Remember to allow time for free play in your child's schedule.

+ Make sure your child's immunizations are up to date. Schools have been instructed to turn away youngsters entering kindergarten and children who are new to the system if they cannot show proof of the required immunizations.

Bruce A. Epstein practiced pediatrics in St. Petersburg for 26 years. He is director of parent education for the Pediatric Health Alliance and edits the Web site