There’s a bit of suspense for the whole family as we mark each day off our August calendar to the first day of school. It’s a family ritual that goes back generations, but every year somehow feels new. There’s a thrill to finding that perfect backpack or getting the extra pair of blue jeans because they’re on sale with no worries that the Texas heat will be in the high 90’s for months to come.
And while most parents joyously anticipate the return to structure, the transition from summer freedoms to school-year responsibilities can be a crescendo of anxiety for our kiddos. Here’s some expert advice to avoid unnecessary anxiety while building back-to-school confidence.
Practice morning and evening routines.
A few weeks before school begins, start the transition to your school-year schedule, including times for waking up, going to bed and having meals. Incrementally adjust bedtimes and wake-up times. Also allow some additional morning-time that first week of school to deal with tantrums or other avoidance tactics without risking your child being late or embarrassed in front of friends.
Empower your child with investment.
For younger kids, allow him to choose what clothes to wear or an “off-the-list” binder or backpack to help provide your child with a sense of control. Allow them to plan the morning breakfast or lunch box items. Do what it takes to allow your child to take some ownership in this experience.
For older kids, doing everything yourself may seem like a time-saver but empowerment builds confidence. Let them know your budget and ask them to plan their school supplies, clothes, shoes, and anything they can see online in advance of your shopping trips. Before the first day, offer to go to school together and scout the locker and classrooms on their schedule.
Practice a private goodbye.
For younger children, now is the time to create and practice a private goodbye like a special handshake or hug. You can also give your child a note or a toy to keep in his pocket and explain that you’ll think of him every time he touches it. Your child picks up on your cues, so stay positive and calm. Don’t linger- that only builds anxiety for you both.
Project a sense of confidence and help problem-solve.
You are the best advocate for your child. Let him know you realize he’s anxious about the school year, but that you believe in him. Talk with him about what worked and what didn’t work well the previous school year and help problem-solve. Communication is key.
Remember how you felt at their age. Empathize. Our children’s anxiety is just as crippling to them as adult problems are to us. Never discount them and try your best to keep an open mind.
WHAT IF YOUR CHILD NEEDS EXTRA HELP?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates one in five children have some degree of attention disorders or learning disabilities, like dyslexia and ADHD, yet most children go undiagnosed. From bad grades to behavioral issues, there may be an underlying reason your child feels extra-anxious about going back to school.
Don’t be shy. Ask for help.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that entitles ALL children a free and appropriate education. Children who qualify for special resources must be provided an education that meets their unique needs. It’s a law, and it’s your right to ask for help.
Request an evaluation, resources or a specific plan for success.
Gather any documents or notes from former teachers which might shed some light on the issues your child faces. Request a meeting and/or evaluation. This is not a quick process. Know your options, advocate for your child, and stick with it until you find a solution.
504 Plan: These are additional and free educational services crafted by teachers and school administrators for a student to be able to function in a regular learning environment- but with accommodations. Ask for one.
IEP (Individualized Education Program): This is a written document and plan reviewed annually for a student who is eligible for free special education services and may need additional attention and resources outside a regular classroom. This document will have measurable goals to meet state requirements.
For more on this information and other learning disability issues, visit www.understood.org. This non-profit group provides free online resources and support to families so that children can unlock their strengths and full potential in the classroom.