Have you ever really thought about all that goes on during your child’s day in school? Each time they switch classes, it can literally feel like stepping into another country. Each teacher has different rules, expectations and customs.
Do you raise your hand to go to the bathroom, or just go? Are you penalized for handing in an assignment late? Can you call out an answer, or do you need to raise your hand? Can you eat in class? Imagine how much more overwhelming this can be for students with executive functioning and organizational issues. Here are a few strategies that parents and teachers can implement to help ease back-to-school anxiety and navigate the academic jungle.
1. Before the start of the school year, visit the school and walk around, find the restrooms and other important places. Also let your child check out the playground and play.
2. Butterflies can be anxiety, but it can also be excitement. Help your child articulate what s/he is feeling by asking open-ended questions: What do you think will be different this year? What are you curious about? What have you heard about ______ grade?
3. You know your child–use her/him as a gauge as to how much information to provide. Some children need to know exactly what to expect and don’t like the unknown; some children become overwhelmed by too much information.
4. Current research is telling us that there are positive correlations between movement/physical activity and learning and achievement. Encourage some form of physical activity before school. This gets the blood pumping and aids in concentration at school.
5. Establish a routine bedtime prior to school starting.
6. Most children need down time after school before doing homework. Let them take a breather.
7. Establish a predictable homework routine. Give them a snack before they begin homework. Have a quiet place to study/do homework. Your child will need to take breaks–expect them to take short breaks every 20 minutes to move around (10 jumping jacks is a great tool to get out energy and refocus them). When they complete their homework, have them put it in their backpack and pack anything else they need for the next day. That way, in the morning, they only thing left to put in the backpack is lunch.
8. Create a morning routine (e.g. wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and hair, make lunch, put it in backpack, go to school). Remember to eat protein at breakfast and pack healthy snacks to help boost learning and concentration.
9. For older students with longer term assignments, consider hanging a whiteboard calendar in an obvious spot with any appointments/sorts/activities so they can plan accordingly.
10. Be aware of how many/what types of after-school activities are appropriate for your child. Again, you know your child best.
11. If you point out that fact that each class/teacher is different, it will help students focus on figuring out the “customs” of each class. Making them aware will help them pay closer attention to these rules that some students figure out easily but others need to be explicitly told. Encourage students to feel free to ask the teacher about his/her rules and expectations, if they are not sure.
Using these strategies will cut down on typical back-to-school anxieties and help ease your child back into the daily grind. We wish you a happy, successful year!
Sharon Goldstein is the Director of Day School Programs for Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. Gateways is Greater Boston’s central agency for special needs education across Jewish institutions. Additional tips were provided by Sharon’s team of therapists. Learn more about Gateways atwww.jgateways.org.