Just when you finally got used to your summer schedule, the new school year is almost here, and that means many changes are about to enter your special needs child’s lives. Getting prepared now is the key to alleviating anxiety and allowing a smooth start to the new school year. When you take the initiative to develop and plan, your child will reap the rewards of feeling less uncertain of new teachers, new studies, new friends and all of the unexpected deviations that might take place. With all of that said, each child is different and has varying abilities; therefore, these suggestions may be applicable to many, but not all children and families. If you believe your child needs more assistance with transitioning to a new school year, reach out to qualified professional to aide in this transition.
Talk to your child
If your child has the verbal ability, you can reduce some of their fears by talking to them about their classmates, teacher, classes, activities, programs and special events that they can participate in or attend this year. If your child is going to a new school, it is helpful to schedule a tour of the school before the new year starts, so that they know where their classrooms are, where the cafeteria is, restrooms, etc. It’s also helpful to have them meet their teacher or other faculty members if possible.
Start the conversation! Talk to your child about your expectations as well as his/her expectations for the upcoming school year. Take time to listen to your child and discuss aspects of the new school year that he or she is worried about. If your child will be taking the bus, describe and draw out the bus route, including where the bus goes and how long it takes to get to school, and about bus safety. It may be helpful to drive the bus route a few times with your child so that they can get acclimated to the new sites that they will see for the next 9 months.
Develop a Routine
If you are able to get your child some new school supplies, having them pick out items that they like will start to get them encouraged and excited about the new year. Begin establishing a “back to school” routine at least two weeks prior to school starting to minimize stress and help with the transition.
Ask your child to help plan school lunches for the first week or month, so that they feel involved. Let your child help choose the outfits for the first week of school. Allow them to wear his or her favorite outfit on the first day.
Remember to let your child know that it’s normal to feel nervous about the start of school. For parents of younger children, suggest that your child take a family photo or special object (with permission from school) to school to make his or her surroundings more comfortable.
Review and update your child’s IEP
The Individualized Education Program, also called the IEP, is a document that is created for each special education child attending public school. It’s important to review this with the school and your child’s teacher before school starts to make sure all are aware of your child’s needs and accommodations and, if necessary, amend the IEP to make any necessary changes to your child’s goals, deficiencies and developmental status.
Write the teacher a letter
Writing a concise but kind letter to the teacher explaining your child’s specific sensory processing challenges, type of learning disability, strengths, and weaknesses, will give the teacher a better understanding of what to expect and how to help navigate your child throughout the learning process.
Encourage your child to share his or her fears
Ask your child what is making him or her worried. Tell your child that it is normal to have concerns. Before and during the first few weeks of school, set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention (such as right before bed, or during mealtime). Teens often welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of their worries and feelings (such as driving in the car or taking a walk).
Encourage your child to re-direct attention away from the worries, and towards the positives. Ask your child, “What are three things that you are most excited about on your first day of school?” Most kids can think of something good, even if it’s just eating a special snack or going home at the end of the day.
Pay attention to your own behavior. Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and comfort you can model, the more your child will understand there is no reason to be afraid. Chances are, your child is anxious about something that requires a little problem-solving, role-playing, planning, and/or involvement from the teacher.
When to seek help
Anxiety and stress about starting school is normal for a child and usually passes within the first few days or weeks. If your child continues to seem anxious or stressed, it may be time to seek help. Talk to your child’s teacher, other classroom-based staff as well as your pediatrician about what you can do as a parent. If problems persist, consider getting a referral to a trained and qualified mental health professional or behavior analyst. If you have questions or need assistance please reach out to Invo Behavior and Therapy Services at 800-356-4049.
2701 N. Rocky Point Drive, Suite 650
Tampa, FL 33607
Toll Free: 800-892-0640