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New Math for a New School Year
Proactive Parents + Prayer = Less Stress for Kids
By Jolene Philo
One of the most important lessons I learned as a parent and teacher was this: change stresses out kids. They don’t like changes in routines, expectations, or environment. So when a new school year begins, complete with a host of changes, all kids experience anxiety. But, stress levels are often greater for kids who find school challenging due to special intellectual, physical, emotional, or behavioral needs.
Thankfully, parents can help ease their kids’ stress by implementing a few proactive strategies before school begins. They can also use other strategies to diffuse or reduce other stressors that arise throughout the year. These strategies can transform potentially stressful changes into accepted, ordinary events for kids who have special needs and for those who don’t.
Prepare the Teacher
You can inform the teacher of your child’s needs before school begins. Cassandra does this each year for her son and daughter with special emotional and behavioral needs. Every summer, she updates the All About Me books she created before they started kindergarten. Each book contains an introduction written from the child’s point of view, emergency numbers, contact numbers for doctors and therapists, descriptions of medications, information about specific special needs, a synopsis of their educational experience thus far, and a resource list.
Cassandra personally delivers the books to her children’s teachers two weeks before school begins. Doing so allows the teacher time to read the information and call with questions.
Visit the School
Cassandra also recommends taking children to visit school a week before classes begin. She and her elementary-aged children walk around the building, find their classrooms, and meet their new teachers.
You should also tour other areas your child will visit each day: the lunch room, gym, bathrooms, library, art and music rooms, computer lab, and the office. Parents of a child with physical needs like juvenile diabetes should meet the nurse in her office. If a child receives special education services such as speech or physical therapy or differentiated instruction, they should visit those classrooms, too.
Parents of middle or high schoolers can use the early visit to encourage independence. Show your child how to obtain their class schedule and locker assignments from the office. Practice the locker combination, follow the class schedule from room to room, and trouble shoot problems.
Allow your adolescent to take the lead whenever possible. Doing so builds confidence and teaches your child to be proactive, a necessary skill as adulthood approaches.
When school begins, most teachers inform parents about how to contact them. If that doesn’t happen, ask teachers how and when to contact them when the need arises.
Remember, while you communicate with the teacher about your child, the teacher converses with many, many parents about many, many children. So be considerate of the teacher’s time when you communicate with them.
Patricia accomplished this in two creative ways. Because her son’s autism makes communication challenging, she created an easy-to-read, weekly parent/teacher email for his teachers and therapists. She also tucks a note about the family’s weekend activities in his backpack each Monday. The information allows his teachers to initiate casual conversation, something her son finds difficult.
Another proactive strategy is to get involved at school. At PTA or PTO meetings you’ll learn what’s happening at school. Volunteering in your child’s classroom, serving as room parent, or chaperoning field trips allows you to observe both your child’s behavior and classroom dynamics. By assisting with school wide events like carnivals or book fairs, you develop relationships with faculty and staff members. When you’re involved at school, your child is more likely to see it as a safe and friendly place, and teachers and staff members will see you as a caring, supportive parent.
To parents, sending lunch money or returning a field trip permission a day late is a minor thing, but those little things can send a child’s stress level soaring. You can eliminate this source of stress by being organized.
When school begins, create a system for dealing with papers. Train all your kids to empty their book bags in the same place after school. Train yourself to look through everything at approximately the same time each afternoon. Mark important dates on your calendar or in your planner. Set alerts on your cell phone. These organizational techniques will lower your children’s stress levels while teaching them organizational skills.
If your child has identified special needs, the school may have created an individualized educational plan (IEP) or 504 plan to address those needs. In that case, create a file or three ring binder for special education paperwork. Take the file or binder with you to parent-teacher conferences and IEP annual reviews.
Be a Prayer Warrior
As a Christian, you have one more powerful strategy available. You can be a prayer warrior for your child and the adults who work with him at school. If you aren’t sure how to pray for your child, use a monthly prayer guide. They can be found at the Navigator’s website (www.navpress.com) or at the end of Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs. (DifferentDream.com) You can also make a list of your child’s classmates and the school personnel who impact his days, then pray for one classmate and one adult each day.
Prayer is vitally important as you employ these proactive strategies. Their success depends upon it. Cassandra puts it this way. “Without prayer and God’s intervention, things don’t work.”
You can help your child adjust to the changes that accompany a new school year by being proactive while lifting up your child to God. Throughout the year, claim in His promises to watch over His children. As you pray without ceasing, you will experience the ultimate stress relief available to parents and kids: confidence in an unchanging God in an ever-changing world.
Jolene Philo has published numerous articles on parenting a special needs child and preparing children for a hospital stay and is the author of “A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children.” She also blogs about special needs at www.DifferentDream.com . Jolene and her husband have two children and live in Boone, Iowa.