By the end of the summer, parents either look forward to or dread their children going back to school. The change of pace brings new challenges for families, especially if their children have sensory issues. With a little preparation, however, you can make this the best school year ever for you and your children.
Keep Things Structured— All children, whether they have developmental challenges or not, feel safer around a firm structure. There is an innate feeling of safety around predictability, understanding the rules and knowing what comes next. Speak to your children about their daily routines. Explain things in terms of: “first this, then that”. Keep it simple, but predictable: “First, we will go home and eat a snack, then we will do homework. When we’re all done with homework, you can play in your room.”
Make Your Kids Part of the Decision Process—We all need to feel a sense of control, and children are no different. A great way to give them a sense of control and to help them develop critical thinking skills, is to involve them in the planning process for a smooth school year. Ask questions like: “how can we make breakfast time easier?”, “how will you deal with homework?”, “what are someways we can all relax before bedtime?” or “what activities help you concentrate?” If your child cannot answer these questions try guiding her by saying things like: “I noticed that when you jump on the trampoline for ten minutes, you seem to concentrate much better afterwards. Do you think we should do that before or after doing your homework?”
Allow for Down Time—Experts agree that children these days are too scheduled. Going from one activity to the next stresses a child’s nervous system and impedes healthy development. After a day at school, children need time to be inside their own heads, to pretend play, to explore their world, and to be creative on their own terms. Keep after school activities to a minimum and instead encourage your child to play with friends, to play alone, and to enjoy quiet time. One caveat, though, is that screen time should not count as down time. Studies show that the benefits of down time are negated by too much time in front of a TV, computer, or handheld device screens.
Choose When Your Child Does Homework Strategically—If you want your child to do her homework without a fuss, you’ll want to prepare her for it. Make sure that you provide water and snacks after school. Then allow her to wiggle and move her body before you try to sit her down for homework. After a whole day sitting down at a desk, children’s brains need movement. Activities that allow them to push and pull on their joints are particularly beneficial. Jumping on a trampoline, climbing playground equipment, doing an obstacle course, or rock climbing will do wonders to prepare her for homework time. Only when her needs for movement have been met, should you attempt to sit her down to finish her schoolwork.
Prepare for the Next Day the Night Before—Nothing ever goes as we expect. Prepare lunches, backpacks and clothing the night before. This way, you’ll increase the odds that you’ll leave the house on time and get the kids to school before the first bell. Enlist your children in this effort: With some guidance, they can help pack lunches and backpacks, and choose their clothes for the next day.
Have a Firm Bedtime Routine—We talk a lot about the importance of sleep at CDI. More and more studies are coming out everyday showing how crucial sleep is to our development. Sleep helps solidify our memories, create new connections, integrate newly learned skills, and recalibrate our nervous system. It is needed at all levels of cognitive function, and physical rewiring and healing. Researchers recommend that a bedtime routine start with an early dinner (at least 3 hours prior to bedtime), no screen time (at least two hours prior to bedtime), as well as activities that help wind the body down, such as bath time, reading books, cuddling, gentle massage with lavender oil (if tolerated), or listening to soothing music. Once you find the nighttime routine that works best for your family, commit to it.
Three Things that Went Well—when kids are tired they tend to focus on the negative. At the end of each day, always ask your child to list three things that went well. Of course this does not mean that your child cannot talk with you about things that might be bothering her at school, after all children need to know they can count on their parents for support. It’s just a technique used to help reroute our human tendency to get stuck on the negative at the cost of the positive. Make it a family event, where everyone in the family has to share their three things that went well.
With these tips, your family should be off to a great start this new school year! CDI is always here to help you address any concerns you may have about your child’s development and wellbeing.