There are so many ways to prepare your child to head back to school! Parents know their child best so individual methods of preparation should always be considered. However, in general, there are some basic suggestions:
Discuss the child with their teacher. Explain the challenges he/she often has, behaviors, stage of development, special needs, preferences, behavioral triggers, and suggested activities to help him/her with crisis prevention and de-escalation. It is CRUCIAL to have a strong relationship with your child’s teacher and with others at the school such as the administrator, special education coordinator, counselor, bus driver, and any others who will directly interact with your child. Prepare a handout for the teacher listing some of the positives and special challenges of your child.
Form an alliance with the teacher to help your child succeed and help to avoid any triangulation and manipulation your child may attempt to do. Communicate well and often. Stay informed.
Prepare your child by discussing the school routine, rules, and expectations. Role play or pretend play what school will be like to help him/her understand. Read books about school, watch movies about a day at school and discuss his/her concerns. Be sure to ask what he/she thinks it will be like. You may find that there are some misconceptions or fantasies that need to be addressed.
Begin new household routines a few weeks early to help your child ease into the new schedule. Transitions are typically difficult for traumatized children. Set a bedtime and wake up time. Establish morning/afternoon/evening routines, regular mealtimes, and homework time. Build in some afterschool playtime too. Use timers to help an older child adjust which will allow him to have some control.
Take your child to tour the school, find his locker, try the combination, show him where his desk or cubby will be. Talk about roles each person at the school will play. Help your child find the office/nurse’s office/ cafeteria/school counselor/etc. Walk the cafeteria line so your child can anticipate what that will be like. Locate the bathrooms. Show your child where he/she will catch the bus in the afternoon and be delivered each morning. Helping your child develop some familiarity will also help greatly with any fears he/she may have.
Invite your child’s participation. Let your child go with you to pick out his/her school supplies and new clothes. Avoid last minute shopping and the crowds by doing this a bit earlier than normal. The availability of items will be better then too! Help your child organize his/her things for his first day. They will enjoy being invested in this preparation process.
If your child does not have an IEP (Individual Education Plan for Special Needs) and you suspect he/she will need one, request this from the school early. The wait can be long for scheduling assessments within some school systems and getting necessary services in place early is so important.
Help your child identify friends and neighbors who he will see at school or on the bus to help him with any fears of isolation and developing peer relationships. Offer this as a support system and something for him/her to look forward to each day.
Each of the above tips can be customized to meet your child’s needs, and best prepare him for the start of school.
We’ve previously written on this topic, Preparing Your Anxious Child for the Start of School and Back-to-School Tips for Adoptive Parents.