It’s that time of year! The back-to-school season is in full swing, being only days away from the start of the 2023-2024 school year. This time often brings about various emotions, thoughts, and feelings from both students and parents/caregivers. These thoughts and feelings might include excitement, nervousness, anxiety, sadness, and many more emotions. Moving to a new classroom, with new friends and teachers can be challenging for any student, but for those with an exceptionality, regulating emotions while working through those thoughts of uncertainty can be even more challenging. Remember to validate your child’s feelings and use positive behaviour supports to provide encouragement and support in order to set them up for success. As parents or caregivers, it is normal to have big feelings yourself - Will they transition back ok? Will their teachers understand their challenges? Will they make friends? The list of thoughts goes on and on. But planning ahead is the best way to help ease those anxieties and prepare your child for what is to come. Here are a few strategies and supports that may aid in this transition.
Parents/caregivers can use priming as a strategy to inform their child of what is coming up. Talk to your child frequently about how going back to school comes with many changes and check in with how that makes them feel. Some strategies to help prepare them can include reading social stories about the changes (e.g., to their routine, to their classroom, etc.), providing verbal reminders (e.g., there are 3 more days until the first day of school), or a visual (e.g., a calendar with a countdown). This may be the easiest yet most effective way to help ease feelings of anxiety!
Setting up a consistent routine for your child will also support and ease the transition back into the school year. Establishing clear and consistent routines for the morning and evening will increase predictability, which supports the development of positive behaviours. A familiar morning routine increases the likelihood of your child transitioning into school with success; beginning this routine prior to the first week of school will help them in working through the remaining changes to their day. Implementing an earlier bedtime with the transition to school is also key as it prepares their growing brains and bodies to learn and regulate their emotions better. The use of a routine or schedule is considered a Positive Behaviour Support that aligns with the values of inclusion, choice, and participation. Include your child in the process when creating these routines to increase the likelihood of their follow-through and motivation. If needed, you can incorporate a reward system to increase the rate of the desired positive behaviour’s (i.e., adhering to the schedule).
It is ok for your child to have big feelings about their return to school. Let them know this! It might be helpful to include an emotion check-in within your daily routine. This can be a simple “how are you feeling right now?” or the use of a visual that they may be familiar with at school, such as an emotion wheel. By making this a part of your routine, it will help your child in not only identifying what they are feeling, but opening up and communicating when they are having trouble and need some help to get through those big feelings. Use familiar ACT language and strategies to help your child work through those feelings - validate how they feel while providing them with strategies that will allow them to defuse from difficult thoughts, and be present to all the exciting things around them! Remember, modeling what we want to see is the best way to encourage our children in using these strategies. Let them know you feel nervous too, then work through those feelings out loud with strategies they are familiar with.
To help your child’s team set them up for success, it is also important to communicate and collaborate! Let your child’s team know how their summer was - this can include the fun things they did, any behavioural changes you noticed, any changes to medication, or any changes within the home that might impact them. By keeping open communication with your child’s team, it allows them to prepare positive supports to work through any difficult feelings they may be experiencing with their transition back to the classroom. For our families that are new to OBA, this transition to a new school may be even more difficult or anxiety provoking. Just know that our staff are ready and waiting to support your family for that first transition through the doors of OBA. When we work together, we can take steps together to support your child in a way that is guided by what we value as a team! We are always here to help, and so excited to see the hallways filled with laughter and happiness again as we return to OBA next week!
Stephanie & Tina