We hope that you are one of the lucky parents whose kids can’t wait to go back to school. Unfortunately, millions of kids have a hard time going back–for many different reasons.

Some are starting kindergarten and just plain scared of the unknown. Others (over 6.5 million kids in America) are heading off to a new school where they lack friends or familiarity.

Even larger numbers already know what they don’t like about school. They’ve been there, done that. They have to get up early, sit in classrooms and do what the teacher tells them to do all day long–including homework when they get out.

Although we all agree that getting a good education is essential, that doesn’t mean that many kids don’t hate the loss of freedom that goes with it.

To make things worse, public schools in America have been profoundly impacted by both the troubled economy and by the mandates of the No Child Left Behind legislation. Many schools doubled their math and reading instruction but, in order to do so, eliminated music and arts education, the very classes that many kids looked forward to the most.

The other program that has taken a deep cut is physical education. Although health organizations and pediatricians recommend that kids exercise for at least an hour every day, only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools and 2.1 percent of high schools currently provide daily PE. If you have one of those kids who needs to be in motion, this makes school even more challenging.

Given all of these factors, how can parents prepare kids?

First, ask how your child is feeling about going back to school. Some parents make the mistake of either filling their child with their own fears, or telling them not to be scared or upset. First, simply listen to your child’s unique thoughts and feelings. Ask questions and keep listening.

Let them know you can empathize and then offer reassurance. If your child seems upset, suggest that “Lots of children feel sad or scared. Are you feeling something like that? I can understand how this might feel like a big step.” Once feelings are on the table and normalized, your child can more easily hear your words of encouragement and reassurance that everything’s going to be okay.

Help your children view change as an opportunity. Even though it’s normal to have uncomfortable feelings of anticipation, the butterflies in their tummies can also playfully be viewed as “excitement” instead of just anxiety.

Program positive thinking. As much as possible, scout out the school, teacher or classmates ahead of time so your child can mentally rehearse what things will be like. Have them close their eyes at bedtime and imagine how their experience will be fun and positive.

Re-establish routines. Providing a sense of security gives children a firm foundation for tackling the unknown. Keep things loving and positive, but with a return to the predictable routine. Sleep is essential to reducing fears and irritability. Spend a few days before the first day of school getting your child back on the new sleep schedule.

Create a ritual of planning. Create a checklist of things to do ahead of time, including purchases, and make it a fun adventure around decision-making. You can also avoid last-minute panic by packing the backpack and laying out the first day’s “special” clothes the night before.

Talk about your own experiences around transitions. It’s helpful for parents to teach by example. Share not only our childhood triumphs, but also times that, even as an adult, you overcame your butterflies of anxiety and are happy you confronted a necessary change.

Coach them to reach out. Children often wait for other kids to initiate contact with them rather than making the first move themselves. Encourage them to smile, say “Hi” to those they know, and reach out and introduce themselves to new kids. Remind them that many other kids are also feeling anxious and insecure.

Deal with your own feelings. Facing and constructively expressing your own feelings about your child’s transition provides them with a great model for letting go, and also helps to clear some family tension that could otherwise affect them adversely.

Celebrate the day! How about a special healthy breakfast and end of the day celebration for their accomplishment? Give yourself a pat on the back as well. Given that the only thing constant in life is change, realize that you are helping your kids build muscles to survive challenges and to thrive in the future.