My sons’ school supply lists are sitting on the kitchen table flashing like neon signs Summer. Almost. Over. Although I love summer, I am practically giddy when I take the kids to buy their school “stuff.” I love returning from the store with backpacks, bright colored notebooks, mechanical pencils, calculators, and new-fangled Trapper Keepers. It helps me feel ready for the adventure ahead. But for my boys—each with unique learning challenges and needs—the transition back to school feels less like an adventure, and more like an invitation to run with the bulls. It’s a battle, and sometimes a painful one. Over the years I’ve learned that preparing them for the transition requires more than a costly trip to Target. It takes gearing up psychologically! Here are a few ways we’ve learned to deal with the whole knapsack of emotions that can come with the approaching school year:
· Have a family talk. Without bringing your own worries, anxieties, or frustrations to the table, help your kids revisit some of their experiences from the previous school year. What did they like and not like? What are good memories? Not so good memories? What do they wish could have been different? For younger kids, you might ask them to draw a picture of how things were last year, and then another picture for how they want things to be this year. Explain how much like drawing a picture, we can create new experiences for ourselves. Help your kids figure out what their job might be in bringing about positive changes, and what your job as a parent might be.
· Ask for needed accommodations. After one of those family meetings, my own kids identified back-to-school nights and orientation days as WAAAAY too overwhelming. From their perspective, all of the organized chaos only added to anxiety about whether their teacher “liked” them, whether they would find their way around the school, and what their seating assignments might be. As a result, we asked for a different date to meet the teacher, get acquainted with the classroom, and walk the school halls. There were no other kids and everything was peaceful! What a difference it made in helping them focus and feel ready. Other accommodations might include an early IEP meeting to meet your child’s teachers. Or, requesting a class list before school starts to set up a play date with a “back to school buddy.”
· Ease back into a school schedule. At least a week before school actually starts, change back to the school day routine. This might be obvious, but it’s hard to do! It’s the final week of summer, right? We want to maximize remaining chances to camp in the backyard or make late night Dairy Queen runs. However, renegotiating bed times, morning routines, and screen time to reflect habits that will be needed once school starts can make the whole transition that much more positive!
· Wake up their brains. We enjoy a “last” summer trip to the library. My boys are not big fans of reading alone, but they love when a parent reads. One summer we checked out Prince Caspian from the Narnia series and read it together before bed(a nice way to wake up the brain AND avoid earlier bedtimes being viewed as a negative.) Solicit ideas for waking up the brain from your kids! My kids encrypted their school supply list. I was challenged to decode it and (you guessed it) shop for supplies ALONE!