New classes, new classmates, new teachers — it can be pretty scary for many students, whether they're starting second grade like my son did today, or starting a new high school. There are ways you can help take some of the stress out of this situation and help the student in your life focus on learning and having fun. Parents can make all the difference in calming their child's anxiety and nervousness.

1. Accentuate the Positive

Talk to your child and validate his feelings. Never discount his fears or minimize them. Instead, try to emphasize the good things about returning to school, such as seeing old friends, making new friends, learning new subjects, or trying new activities. A new school year is a new opportunity to excel, have fun or simply start over. Your excitement and enthusiasm may become contagious.

2. Communicate Consistently

If your high school student responds with hardly more than a grunt when asked about school, don't get discouraged. Keep asking and be consistent. Pick a time of day or evening when your child is most likely to open up and try to make a connection. Perhaps it's during their after-school snack, just before bed, or when you're driving her to school. Talk, ask questions, show her that you're interested and be consistent.

Much like getting a kid to try a new vegetable, it can take more than one attempt, but it's important to let her know that the lines of communication are always open. This will make it that much easier for her to open up and talk.

3. Get Involved

Get involved at the school if you can. At my son's school, his first grade teacher had volunteer activities that could be done outside of the classroom, such as helping cut out figures, gluing projects, etc. I did them on my own time and returned completed projects to school via my son. Volunteering is a great way to see what's happening. It's also a good way to keep an eye on your child's academic progress and possibly keep small problems from turning into grade-dropping big problems.

Join the PTA, go to the parent-teacher conferences, or at the very least contact the teacher to see if the class has a web page. If the teacher sends email alerts to parents, make sure she has all of your contact information. If you take education seriously, there is a better chance your child will as well.

4. Create a School-Friendly Environment

Make sure your child has a place at home to study and do school work that's well-lit, comfortable, quiet, and well organized. This will encourage your young scholar to get organized, too. Additionally, in the days before school begins, re-start their usual back-to-school routines: going to bed earlier, getting up earlier and perhaps getting them to pick out their clothes the night before (dare to dream, I know).

Basically, try to get their schedule as in-sync as possible with their school routine. Even shopping for school supplies can turn into a fun outing and leave your kids looking forward to the new school year. Let them pick out their new clothes, backpacks, pencil cases, etc. Even kids who hate shopping still enjoy getting new things.

As always, you're the expert on your own child. If you think her back-to-school anxiety has turned into something more, such as depression or self-destructive behaviors, and it's affecting her overall mood and grades, ask for help. Talk to her teacher, a guidance counselor, school nurse, or a vice principal. Alert someone in the school's administration that your son or daughter needs a little extra help, and keep asking until you find someone who can help.