Back to School Time – Tips For Parents of Children With Disabilities
It is that time of year again – back to school time!
If you are like me, this time can bring a range of emotions.
You are ready for your child to get back to the routine, structure, and excitement school provides. However, you are also worried about the struggles school can bring. Will they turn in homework on time? How will they do in their classes? Will they have a caring and compassionate teacher? What about their peers – will they show kindness? If your child has a disability, these concerns increase.
Along the way, I have found some things that have helped with the back-to-school transition. These things have benefited my children, their teachers, and me. I hope some of these may help you too!
One of the most difficult for me personally, this is also one of the most important. Sending my kids back to school always brings on a lot of anxiety and worry within me. I have found that when I can calm those nerves, it creates a better experience for both my kids and myself.
Children can pick up when others are feeling upset, anxious, or nervous, just like they can pick up when others are happy, excited, and confident. Do things for yourself to get in a positive headspace. These ideas will be unique and personal to you but could include things such as: praying, taking a walk, relaxing in a hot bath, spending time enjoying a hobby, and treating yourself to a spa day.
Plan a Special Time Before School Starts
This time could be as elaborate or as simple as you would like. I know some people that plan a getaway right before school starts each year. We have done this as well; however, I have found that having a day or evening devoted to the kids at home is just as beneficial. Make a special dinner, have a family movie night, play games – whatever is meaningful for you.
The point is not how much money you spend or how much “stuff” you cram in during that night, day, weekend, or week. It is the quality of time you spend and the feeling of happiness while celebrating that time together.
Before school starts is the perfect time to organize all that paperwork related to your child’s education. This paperwork could include notes, teacher reports, IEPs and 504 plans. Speaking of IEPs and 504 plans – take time to review those by yourself and with your child. In doing so, you help them to know and understand additional supports available to them. This process also encourages them to become an advocate for themselves.
Tour and Create a Communication Plan
Before school begins, there is often an Open House. Attend this event so that you and your child can meet their teachers and peers. This time also allows your child to see the layout of their school, including their classroom. Are you unable to attend the Open House, or is it better for your child to do tours one-on-one? Schedule a private time to visit the teacher and classroom.
It may be a good idea to begin discussing having a communication plan with your child’s teachers at this time as well. How will you communicate with one another – via email, calls, texts, through an app, or a daily paper log? How often will communication take place? Every day, once a week, or on an as-needed basis? In my experience, I have found that having a plan in place is beneficial for everyone, and starting this process as early as possible helps the school year run more smoothly.
Create a Routine
Summer is often a time where routines become more relaxed. Beginning one to two weeks before school begins is a great time to start typical school routines again. I usually create a daily schedule of tasks for my children to see visually. These tasks include things such as; brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, completing their homework, and a chore. I will frame this schedule in an old picture frame, which allows them to check off completed tasks as they go with a dry erase marker.
Send Love with Them to School
Growing up, my mom would put special notes in my book bag or lunchbox. I remember how excited I would get when I received a note, in my mom’s handwriting, as to why I was special to her. I have continued this tradition with my children. This small gesture can ease anxiety and bring peace.
My friend recently shared that she writes messages with a Sharpie on all of her daughters’ pencils. Little sayings such as “You’ve Got This,” “You Are Brave,” and “You Are Loved.” I love this idea – not only for the happiness it can bring to my children but for their peers too! Think of your child lending a pencil to someone who forgot his or hers. Your message now has the chance to impact your child and their friend!
Look For the Positive
No matter what happens during the school year, always look for the positive. Did your child not do well on a test? Point out something they did great on that same test. Did they get a question right that they previously struggled to learn? Tell them that! By focusing on the good, you increase confidence, encouraging them to continue working hard to achieve their goals.