Late January can be a trying time for many families and the lead up to the current school year will be no different. Although many children will be eagerly anticipating seeing their school friends again, others will be experiencing heightened stress at the prospect of starting a new school year.
Most parents will be thrilled by the idea of their kids attending what will hopefully be an uninterrupted year but for children with learning difficulties, going back to school might mean giving up the individualised support and attention that they have come to rely on at home. Resuming and transitioning into a new school also represents another major shift in routine after a year of unpredictable upheaval, which is enough to induce heightened stress even in mentally healthy, resilient children.
Below are some parenting strategies you can use to get your child mentally and emotionally ready for a new year of school.
Safely expand your child’s social circle
Increasing your child’s social interactions in the weeks leading up to school will act to increase their confidence and feelings of safety during face-to-face socialisation. Additionally, it will give them a chance to brush up on some of the social development they have missed during their extended break. This is vital for school aged children as it teaches them skills like sharing, cooperation, and empathy.
If possible, start by increasing family outings, like visiting the park, going to the cinema, or eating out at restaurants. This will allow your child to observe other people comfortably interacting in groups and get them used to going out in public more often. Organise weekly playdates with your child’s closest friends. During these interactions suggest activities that strengthen social skills like sharing and cooperation. This is where boardgames come in handy.
Incrementally reduce your child’s screen time
Last year’s closure of schools meant that an increase in screen time became a necessary evil. Virtual lessons and a need for distractions while working from home meant that pre-Covid attempts to reduce screen time went out the window. Although devices have been a helpful resource during lockdowns and even holidays, it is important to remember that the negative effects of screen time have not gone away.
Although devices have been a helpful resource during lockdowns and even holidays, it is important to remember that the negative effects of screen time have not gone away.
Too much screen time has been linked to attentional issues and sleeping disorders, which in turn further affects the ability to stay on task. Parents should therefore incrementally reduce their child’s screen time each day and replace this time with activities which have been shown to help with attention, like exercise and outdoor play.
In addition to limiting screen time and promoting physical activity, you can try playing games that promote concentration, planning, and the use of working memory. For older kids, crossword and jigsaw puzzles are a good choice, while younger children often benefit from playing with building blocks and solving picture puzzles. Memory and attention training exercises are especially important during these few weeks before your child goes back to school.
Consider additional support, if needed
Kids with additional needs find the transition from the holidays to the structured setting of a classroom particularly difficult. If your child finds transitions challenging, you could talk to their teacher ahead of time about implementing supports that will help them transition comfortably back into the classroom routine. For instance, they may benefit from trying half-days initially, being able to take more frequent breaks or being exempt from homework.
Working closely with an experienced therapist is another important step in preparing your special needs child for school. Specific interventions, like speech and behavioural therapy, may be needed to prevent social skill loss and help your child cope with the changes that the new school year will bring.
Spend some extra time
Finally, even kids without special needs may need a bit of extra care as they get used to attending school again. Your child has become accustomed to being with you during the holidays, so you should plan to spend extra time with them at the end of the day after they resume school. Make a point of discussing the day, and perhaps even ask if they need assistance with homework.