When a child has extra needs, as my oldest does, it creates challenges when preparing to go back to school. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that the techniques I have learned to keep the transition as smooth as possible actually help me with my younger two! My youngest just started going to daycare, and we did it without any issues. I call that a parenting win!
School is starting soon, and you probably know all the basics: supplies, new clothes and, if you can bribe, I mean, convince them, a haircut. But what else can you do to make sure that your child has an easy entry into school? Here are six tips -- tried, tested and true -- that will ease everyone's anxiety: extra needs, special needs or not!
1. Discuss what to expect. This is especially important if it's the first time going to school! Even for older kids, starting a new grade with new teachers and friends can cause a lot of nervousness. Allow your child to express what they're afraid of, and make sure to follow-up with validating statements such as, "I know that must feel so scary. When I was a kid, I felt that way, too." If they don't open up, try asking, "How are you feeling about going to school?" but avoid leading questions like, "Are you nervous about going to school?"
2. Do a dry run (with role playing). Acting out what's going to happen on the first day is my favorite tip. It's fun for everyone, and it helps eliminate some of the uneasiness about the unknown. Drive/walk the route you'll take in the morning, and once you're there, everyone can take a turn being the teacher, the child and even a new friend. My daughter's favorite is pretending to be a shy child in the corner, and we have to coax her to join the group with promises of being first in line for the slide, and singing her favorite song. This is a great tool to teach empathy, as well!
3. Organize playdates. Getting to know classmates beforehand takes a lot of pressure off for the first day, since there's already an established connection when they walk into school. A familiar face (or faces) is always comforting. The school often sends out contact information for new families, especially in younger grades. You don't need to host, either. Schedule a short get together at a frozen yogurt shop or the park.
Don't assume that because your child is a returning student, they won't feel concerned about making friends. Administration often moves kids around, and yours may not be in the same class with his/her best friend again.
4. Read the book The Kissing Hand. Written by Audrey Penn, this book has been a go-to for my family for over three years (an eternity when you have young children!). This sweet book helps kids deal with separation anxiety, and gives an adorable action for parents to act out with their children. Note: This book is best for kids under the age of 7.
5. Bring the teachers a gift. It's always nice to end the year with a thank you gift, but don't underestimate the power of a "We know this is a hard transition for you, too" gift. A gift card to Starbucks or Cost Plus is a great idea, and trust me when I tell you that you want to be on the good side with the person who is going to spend a huge chunk of time with your child.
6. Quick goodbye. Once school starts, it can be tempting to give a few extra hugs, or chat with the other moms in the class, but try to keep the goodbyes as quick as possible. Lingering can send mixed messages to your son/daughter, and you want them to feel your confidence, not your hesitation.
7. Expect rough patches. Things may not be as easy as you want them to be. Even after a successful first day, tension can create some unexpected behaviors. For example, there may irritability, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. In our house, we've had tears, tantrums and even refusing to go to school. It may happen leading up to the first day, or even continue a couple of weeks into school. If you feel like there isn't an improvement after two to three weeks, talk to the school counselor.
It's easy for us to forget how stressful it is to be a kid, and we often have "mother-in-law" glasses on when we look back on our childhood (we never had those problems!). Growing up is hard, but we can help make it easier. I hope these tips work for you and your family. Let me know which ones helped the most in the comments!
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