What feelings did you have as summer vacation ended and the new school year began? You may have experienced a range of feelings that included disappointment, excitement, delight, hopefulness, fear, anxiety, worry and insecurity. A new school year is loaded with so many changes! It can bring with it meeting new teachers, learning new schedules, new expectations in the classroom, new peers, new buildings, new routines and mastering new subjects. All these changes and transitions can be very daunting for our foster and adopted children who find safety and security in predictability. It may trigger past issues of loss, grief and fear. Be mindful of ways that you can help your child be successful in navigating the new academic year and the changes they are about to face.
ADVOCATING: Be willing to educate your child’s teacher, bus driver and other school personnel on complex developmental trauma and the impact this has on a child’s brain and their ability to navigate the school day. Do not hesitate to meet with your child’s teacher to let them know the challenges your child faces. Share with school staff the strategies and tools you have used at home to help your child in regard to self-regulation. Your child may be eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) or a 504 Plan to help them with any accommodations they may need in the classroom. Don’t hesitate to ask your school about these services ; they are required by law to make this available to you. These plans offer formal help for students with learning and attention issues. It can include anything from having an aide to assist them during the day, or something simple like allowing them to have a snack and water bottle readily available to them, or having a designated calm place to go if they are overwhelmed. The following articles may help as you advocate for your child. http://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/2014/09/adoption-advocate-no-75 and http://fcsn.org/rtsc/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/11/Trauma-Sensitivity-During-the-IEP-Process.pdf.
BATTLE READY, PREPARING THE NIGHT BEFORE : School mornings are often hectic at best. An unexpected issue can throw a calm morning into chaos! The homework that can’t be found, the favorite shirt that is dirty, or the missing jacket can cause a child to spiral into a meltdown! Preparing as much as possible the night before won’t prevent all the unexpected drama but can go a long way to minimize it. Early to bed. Set an early bedtime. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children between the ages of 5-12 receive 11 to 13 hours of sleep and adolescents, 13-18, should have 8.5 to 9.5 hours of rest per night. Early to rise. If your child is well rested then waking up should not be a battle. Be sure to allow enough time in the morning for your child to not feel rushed. Develop and post a visual morning schedule for the younger children and a chart for older children to remind them of their morning routine. Choose outfits the night before, check and recheck backpacks for completed homework assignments and projects. Pack a separate bag with any uniforms or equipment for after school activities and put it in the car. Pack lunches and snacks the night before, fill water bottles and have them in a prominent place, ready to go. Make certain that you have planned for a good breakfast with a protein that will sustain your child until their morning snack (avoid the sugary and nutrition sparse breakfast items). Be flexible in what you think should be eaten for breakfast; if your child wants meatloaf or chicken noodle soup, bon appetite! As long as you get a protein in them then it is a win for all!
CONNECTING: LAUNCHING THE DAY. Before you leave the house each morning give your child a positive start to their day by giving them a verbal blessing, a hug or handshake. Make sure your child’s emotional tank is full! Let your child know they are precious to you. Verbally praise them for how they are uniquely created and for the strengths you see in them. For ideas on words that encourage check out this link http://www.speechtherapygames.com/freebies/waystopraiseachild.pdf . Develop a secret hand shake for saying good-bye. Work on it together. There are an amazing number of videos that show some really fun moves. This link http://redtri.com/follow-the-parent-traps-guide-to-secret-handshakes/ gives 5 simple things to keep in mind when developing your handshake. If your child enjoys this routine, then each week add a new move and by the end of the year you could have a really elaborate good-bye ritual! The goal of the handshake is to build connection and sense of belonging for your child. The side benefits are the fun you will have together, it improves coordination and eye contact, and hopefully your child will leave you with a smile knowing they are valued and loved.
WELCOMING HOME. Take 10 to 20 minutes to reconnect with your child before moving into afternoon errands, homework and activities. Greet your child at the end of the day with your special handshake or develop a different one for reconnecting. Make sure that you have some calming items in the car such as fidgets, lollipops or chewing gum to help them work out any frustrations they might bring home with them. Have a good protein snack readily available to make sure their blood sugar has not dipped too low; this will help avoid the end of the day blues and the misbehavior that could be triggered by hunger. Help your child discharge anxiety from the day or re-energize from feeling sluggish by providing time for good proprioceptive movement such as running, biking, swinging, and trampoline time. Follow this with calming activities and then take time to hear about your child’s day. Use the phrase “What would I see you doing at school today?” This phrase helps our concrete thinkers visualize their day and they will provide more detailed responses to your questions.
CONCLUSION: You play an important role in your child having a successful school year. With preparation and planning, staying connected and playful, and advocating on their behalf with teachers and school staff you will be communicating to your child that you are on their team. It will give your child the confidence and support they need to tackle another year of learning.
Developed by Lynn Beckett, LBSW