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We often have conversations with our children about the first day of school, but we don’t always take the time to discuss the first school bus ride. Having to board the bus can induce feelings of fear and anxiety, whether it’s the first day of school ever or just the first day of a new school year. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s loud and it’s full of strangers. Preparation can help ease negative feelings children might experience. Here are a few tips to make the first school bus adventure less of an issue for your foster child.

Leading up to The Big Day, be excited when you see school buses during your daily car rides. Children often take cues from their caregivers. Pointing to a bus and exclaiming, “That’s a bus like the one you’ll be taking to school! That is so cool!” might direct your child’s emotions towards excitement and anticipation, instead of fear. Say positive things about bus drivers when you encounter them. Try something such as, “That bus driver looks so friendly. I bet she’s really nice.”

In your resource (foster) home, discuss and role-play bus safety. Set up a few chairs one behind the other and pretend you are on the bus. Say “The bus is moving! What do we do?” Then have the child demonstrate sitting face-forward on their bottom instead of facing backwards to chat with another child. You can also demonstrate things not to do. Try dialogue like “I found this piece of paper on the floor. Should I just throw it out the window?” or “Oh, look! I see my friend Maria on the sidewalk. Can I lean out of the window and wave to her?” Then discuss why or why not.

Familiarize the child with the bus stop and the means of getting there by practicing the morning routine. If the child will walk to the bus stop, have the child put on their backpack and walk as if they were truly going to meet the bus. If you’ll be driving the child to the bus stop, make the drive, park nearby, and take the child to where they will wait and board the bus. Practicing several times familiarizes the child with the routine and helps them know what to expect.

If you have a neighborhood group chat or social media page, ask if there are other same-age children nearby who will be boarding the bus at that stop and arrange a meeting. This gives your foster child a familiar face in a sea of strangers.

Be sure the foster child knows the plan for after school. Will they attend a Safe Key program or will the child take the afternoon bus? Who will meet them at the bus stop - the resource (foster) parent? A child-care provider? Reassuring them often that someone will be there for them provides a sense of security.

Introduce school bus-related books into the child’s reading rotation. Here are a few titles to look for at your local library, book store or online retailer:

  • The Bus Ride to School by Millie Donofrio

  • Little Yellow Bus: A Back to School Bravery Adventure by Erin Guendelsberger

  • School Buses on the Go by Beth Bence Reinke

  • Happy Hazel's and Jolly Jim's School Bus Adventures by Stephen R Adamson

  • My First School Bus Ride: Activity Book by Cheryl Addison

  • The Bus for Us By Suzanne Bloom

Discomfort and fear usually stem from unfamiliarity and the unknown. Foster children are already dealing with so many uncertainties, don’t let the bus ride be one of them. Letting children know what to expect ahead of time can make a big difference in their level of understanding and comfort. Further, hearing a caregiver speak excitedly and positively about an upcoming bus ride may significantly shape the child’s perception and invoke excitement and readiness. Resource (foster) parents have a great opportunity to empower the child and build their confidence by exploring and familiarizing the child with the situation. As always, as a resource (foster) parent it’s imperative to take into consideration the child’s age, maturity and developmental level when having these discussions or implementing new routines.

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This is important and it is also useful for school bus drivers to have some basic information about being trauma-responsive. It might interest you to know that I worked with to develop a training course (offered as a webinar) for school bus drivers that has been very well received. Let me know if you want further info. Some of my own kids worst school related traumas took place on the school buses

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