By Theresa Venticinque, LCSW
An advertisement several years ago showed the following: a blissful scene, parents running through the aisles of their local office supply store, gathering items such as books, pencils, folders, and notebooks. They throw items into the shopping cart with huge smiles on their faces while “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays in the background. It can only mean one thing… Back to School!
While this may be the case for many parents and caregivers readying their young ones to go back to school, it is not the case for everybody. For many families, particularly those with children with special needs, back to school can be a time of stress and concerns about what the new school year will bring. The thoughts of early morning wake-ups, runs to make the bus in time, and evenings and weekends full of power struggles over homework are enough to strike a sense of horror and dread in even the calmest and collected individuals.
Back to school does not have to mean doom and gloom to all. There are many different things that families can do to help make the transition smoother.
Here are some tips that may help:
- Prep for school the night before. Arrange your children’s clothing, pack their school bags, and prepare lunch ahead of time. Doing all of these things in advance can help avoid some of the early morning hustle and bustle of trying to get ready and out the door in time.
- Establish a bedtime and stick to it. This can be quite a challenge especially after a break from school in the summer when bedtimes can extend several hours later. Try starting about a week or two before school starts. Gradually make your children’s bedtime 10-15 minutes earlier each night until you reach the desired bedtime.
- End “Screen Time,” the time spent on tablets, phones, and computers, at least an hour and two before bedtime. Spending too much time on these devices right before bed can make it more challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Establish an organized morning routine that works for you and your children. Only you know your children. Are they slow to wake? Do they need some TV time or even some play time before they leave? No matter what their preferences are, try to work even a few minutes of these into your morning routine. Have your children help you create the routine and write it up together with words for children who can read and pictures for younger children. Post the routine somewhere your children can see and follow it each morning. For children who have a hard time sticking to time frames, use a phone timer to count down each part of the routine.
- Concerned about how your children are doing during the day in school? Create a communication log between you and your children’s teachers. This can be done digitally through daily emails or in an old-fashioned notebook that you provide to your children’s teachers where they can write a sentence or two each day about your children’s progress.
- Start a Daily Review with your children. Communication is a key to success. Be sure to ask your children about their day, paying attention to what they talk about as their favorite and least favorite parts of the day. You may want to make it into a game where each person shares one “high” and one “low” point. It’s a good way to begin seeing possible problems such as bullying or difficulty learning certain subject matter early. It’s also a good place to find out what areas to help your children continue to develop and foster. Is there a particular hobby they like? Do they always talk about a certain friend? Do they love Science, Art; are they interested in Social Studies? All of these things are good to know.
- Finally, the most dreaded of topics: Homework. Establish a routine for completing homework. Find what works best for your children. Some children want to do it right away when they get home to get it over with so they can move on to other things, and some need some time to wind down after school. First, a snack and some play time before they get started. No matter what their preference avoid power struggles. Remember that homework is there to be a review of the subject matter learned during the day.
It is NOT meant to be perfectly done. It is a way for your children’s teachers to assess what they have learned from the lessons taught. What do they need more help with? If your children give you an especially hard time, don’t be afraid to speak to your children’s teachers.
Find out what you can do to alleviate some of the stress. Some battles are just not worth the fight. Many teachers will offer that if children have too much difficulty at home, parents may contact the teacher via the communication log discussed above, and children will have to complete it in school.
You may want to try to use a Behavior chart for one of the previously-mentioned routines, bedtime, morning routine, and homework. Use stickers and small prizes to help increase compliance. For older children, help them to work towards larger prizes that they can save up for with daily points earned.
Back to school does not have to equate to doom and gloom. With a little planning and organization, you can make what can be a very stressful time more relaxed and successful for you and your children.