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Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to school... and staying sane

For families of children who have special needs, indeed for any family, the beginning of the school year can be exciting... but it can also bring its own set of challenges.

It is exciting... see children re-connect with peers and teachers.

... (and a little frightening) to see children go and become more independent.

... to start seeing children adding to their skills.

... maybe... just a little... to have some "me" time again.

The emotional challenge

However, there may be one particular thing that can cause the return to school to be an emotional time. Parents discover that hard-fought-for skills their child developed and were proficiently using in the previous school year seem to have "disappeared" over the break. Literacy skills, maths skills, language skills and behaviour or social skills ... some of these may need to be re-learnt.

As mentioned in the previous post, this is usually due the fact that certain skills have not been used during the holidays. This, in turn, is due to the significant difference between the home and school environment.

This can be a very difficult thing to deal with as it probably feels like having to "start all over again". Things that parents thought were over, such as behaviour issues in the playground or classroom and the subsequent disciplinary procedures, may happen again at the start of the year.

It may also have a very practical consequence if parents are asked to attend meetings or spend time at school helping to deal with these issues.

And then there is the tiredness to deal with. Difficulties over homework, meal-times, sibling squabbles, and other behaviours may temporarily increase.

The home routines will also be changing as the holiday routines are replaced by the home-school-home routine. This can be an added challenge as the whole family adapts to the return to school.

So what can we do?

Be prepared

Without discouraging yourself or your child :), expect some regression. You might get a great, positive surprise and see your child slip back into the school routine with very few problems!

I have also known some parents who take the first week off work if possible so they can help their child in the adjustments phase.

You may also want to prepare your child. Treat the return to school as you would the initial transition to school. A few weeks before school, start talking about school and its routines. .. But I talked about that in my last post.

Find support

Talk to the teacher about your child and any concerns you have so they are hopefully more equipped to support you and your child. A new teacher will not know as much as you do about the circumstances, strengths and difficulties your child will bring to the new year.

You might also want to set up some informal supports for your child... like a family friend, sibling, or peer buddy who will be at school with them if they need a familiar face. Make sure it is someone the child has seen during the holidays.


Having routines set out for what will happen when your child comes home from school is important and helpful. Getting children to design this routine, and a visual chart of each activity will help to decrease after-school "debates". Combining this visual chart with rewards can help get the essentials like eating, homework, baths and so on done even when everybody is exhausted. But there may be "those days"...

On "those days" you might cut a few steps out of the routine. Maintaining the mental and physical health of your family is more important than getting those last few Maths homework questions done. But make sure you send a note or maintain a communication book with the teacher to let them know the circumstances of this decision so your child does not feel the consequences of this the next day at school.

Reward yourself as well as your child

In my last post I suggested designing a rewards system for your child for their completion of each day at school. It's also good to reward yourself...

One parent I know has a half-hour of "me time" with a book, a cuppa and a bar of chocolate scheduled as often as possible - at least once a week. I hope you get the opportunity to do something similar. You deserve it!


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