Updated: Oct 6, 2019
There is nothing quite like the time of year where the nights start to get a little cooler and the morning brings yellow buses and slightly rushed breakfasts. The start of school seems to mark a shift in the air that wipes clean the slate of the last school year and offers new opportunities to connect with teachers and fellow students. While many parents feel the relief of getting their kids back to the structure and routine of school, parents raising a child with a social, emotional, behavioral or mental health difficulties often feel anxious. Worries about whether or not their child's new teacher is equipped to give their child the kind of attention and accommodations they need, how their child will do socially, especially if a new school is involved, and how their child will cope with new stressors flood the heads of these parents. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance sat down with some of these concerned parents to gain some insights on how they prepare their children for the new school year, and what they want teachers to know about teaching a child with a social, emotional, behavioral or mental health difficulties.
Preparing your child with a social, emotional, behavioral or mental health difficulty for school takes patience and some planning. One mother told us that she starts the beginning of every school year by sitting down and talking with her children. "I check in with them and spend time making sure they know that they have the support they need whenever they want to just reach out and grab it." This mother has a daughter who is transitioning into the ever so daunting world of high school and she said her biggest tip for a parent who is anxious about the start of school is to keep communication open and show your child that you are someone they can always turn to when things get overwhelming for them.
Another mother utilizes this idea of open communication but also likes to get the school involved in the conversation before the year even gets started. "Develop a good support system for your children ahead of time. Do a tour with the team so your child knows if they are anxious there are people to turn to, rather than hiding in the bathroom alone." This mother realizes that she cannot always be there during the school day and says that giving her child access to a safety net when they are at school gives both herself and her child some peace of mind.
Her second tip is to get her children ready and used to the transition in routine. "I like to allow them time to get their minds and bodies used to the difference of schedules and wake up times." She shared that the week before school begins she wakes her children up at the time she will have to for school and gets them used to an increase in structure. This allows them to ease into the change and it helps to eliminate exhaustion as a stressor for the anxiety associated with a new school year. Above all she was in agreement with others that open communication is step one in preparing your child for a new school year. "Let them know you are there for them and they can discuss any and every problem that faces them with this new transition.".
No matter how much you prepare your child for the beginning of the year, a huge factor in whether or not they have a productive year is how their child's teacher interacts with and teaches their children. We asked these mothers what they would tell teachers who are about to start teaching a child or children with social, emotional, behavioral or mental health difficulties.
One mother suggests teachers put an emphasis on educating themselves, and realizing that each child is an individual. She stressed how important it is that teachers take a look at every single student they have, especially students with social, emotional, behavioral or mental health difficulties and treat them as individuals. Despite some bad experiences with teachers one mother remembers a year where her son was understood and was an respected and beloved part of the class. "My son's teacher was very good at knowing my sons triggers and addressed it in a way that didn't make him feel like he was different.".
Her son's teacher was able to make her son feel comfortable and heard because she took the time to learn about her son's diagnosis and figure out the most productive way to teach him. The second mother is in complete agreement that teachers should try and get as much training as they possibly can. "Listen, I know these teachers went to school to teach children, not figure out why a child is crying in the corner, but that is and should be a part of the job and we need to make sure they are prepared to handle situations like that." This mother also sees the importance of of being mindful of everybody's differences. "I have seen in even a professional setting that everybody has a different learning style and everything runs smoother if you are aware of that.".
As the dog days of summer come to an end and your kiddos start labeling which folder is for math and which folder is going to contain tales of ancient cities, just take a breath. Your anxiety is natural, and you are not alone in this but things can be done to help relieve it for both you and your child. Keep communication pathways open and always let your child know that if they are feeling overwhelmed, or stressed about their transition into the new school year. Continue this open communication with your child's school district and teacher to ensure that when you send them off on the bus they are in an environment that can prosper a safe, productive, and enjoyable environment. If you are a teacher, or in any aspect of the educational field, make sure that you treat each and every student as an individual and take every single opportunity to educate yourself to best serve all of your students.
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Want to share information with your school team about your child's diagnosis? Visit the Behavior and Mental Health section of our Learning Lab for short professionally developed overviews.