It may be hard to believe, but it’s time to start thinking about heading back to school. While ‘back to school’ means that the joys and lazy days of summer are coming to an end, some children may be excited to see what is in store for the upcoming school year. And, children with special needs may even thrive on the structure that the school year brings.
While the additional structure of school is positive, many children and their parents often feel anxious as back to school time approaches. Back to school brings new classes, teachers, IEP and 504 meetings, and phone calls from the school, none of which is easy to tackle. Here are a few tips for getting through all of this as the summer winds down, the school buses start to drive through the neighborhoods, high school football begins, and the days get cooler (well, maybe not yet!).
- Meet with your child’s teachers and other personnel. As a parent, you are your child’s best advocate. Before the school year starts, call the school and ask to have a meeting with your child’s teacher. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher(s), aides, and other school personnel to establish a positive and friendly relationship with them. Provide them with information about your child that you think will be helpful starting the school year. Some teachers like to know what has worked well in the past, while other teachers may want to make their own connections with each child.
- Review the IEP or 504 plan. It is always a good idea to review your child’s IEP or 504 plan at the start of each year. Establish communication with your child’s school and monitor your child’s progress on a regular basis. If you have any questions or concerns about the IEP, you should address these as soon as possible. While there are set times for the annual review of an IEP and 504, you can ask for a periodic review meeting at any time if you think it is necessary.
- Create a routine and prepare ahead of time. Everyone thrives on structure and routine. A few days (or even a week or two) before the school year starts, set the night time and morning routines for the school day and practice it. Some children may even benefit from a written schedule that they can refer to that helps them become comfortable with the routine. This will help alleviate any first day of school stress, avoid the shock of waking up early that first day, and help prepare your child (and you) for the school year.
- Give yourself plenty of time. Even if you prepare ahead of time, give yourself plenty of time that first day of school (and each day thereafter) for any unforeseen emergencies or difficulties. You never know if your child will decide they want something special for breakfast, decide they don’t like what they chose to wear, or may just get upset and take a long time to get dressed. You want to make sure they are ready when the bus arrives or it is time to walk out the door.
- Remember that you matter. Take time for yourself. Once your child leaves for school or walks through the door, do something for yourself – even if it’s just relaxing with a cup of coffee. You deserve it. You have worked hard. Remember – you matter, and you are doing the best you can, even if some days that best is just getting up in the morning!
Tracy Greenberg is a mental health writer and advocate; in addition to her work for Sheppard Pratt, she volunteers for NAMI and the Crisis Text Line. Tracy is also a swim mom, mother, and wife, and is passionate about yoga, nature, and the Florida Gators.
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