The start of the school year can bring with it so many mixed feelings for parents. Having the kids home, without the structure of school can be challenging (to say the least), but heading back into the “school year spin” brings it’s own challenges as well. Parents often face the dread of phone calls home about their child’s behavior, IEP meetings, homework, social challenges, teacher challenges and so much more. There is no way to assure that all of those issues can be avoided, but there are some critical things you can do to start the school year strong!
You will see lots of back to school checklists that include “to-do’s” such as getting your paperwork organized, writing a letter to your child’s teacher, or requesting an IEP. All of those are really important (and should be included in every checklist) but even MORE important is what you do for YOU to get ready to navigate another school year.
1. Prepare your child for any upcoming changes in his/her school year
Starting a new school year can be very stressful for a child with special needs. One of the best ways to deal with the new school year nerves is to “over-prepare” children for the first day. This means let them know everything to expect that first day, even things that may not seem like a big deal to you.
I was working with a family who called me at the end of the first day upset and ready to pull their child from school because he had such a hard first day. I had them walk me through the day and “over-explain” how the day went. What we discovered was that their son’s class had alternative seating options for the first time and he just wasn’t prepared for that change. Once we worked that out and explained the seating, the next day was much better. No detail is too small!
2. Get your paperwork together and organized in a way that is helpful to you
Like I said, every good back to school list and blog includes getting your paperwork together. The advantage of getting your paperwork together before school starts is that you aren’t in “crisis mode” at that point. You can take the time you need to find your documents and organize them from a calm place, as opposed to desperately trying to find things the night before you need them or when your emotions are already elevated. I’ve included a FREE Back to School Checklist to help you through!
Remember, there is no one right way of organizing. Some people like to scan everything and keep a file of all documents online while others prefer a hard copy, binders and file folders. Do what works for you!
3. Contact teachers for a POSITIVE introduction
You notice the emphasis I placed on positive? It is so important it deserves all capital letters. Building a positive relationship with teachers not only helps with communication, but it also helps to build the relationship between your child and the teachers. Starting off positive builds a great deal of goodwill. Starting off the year complaining, being rude, telling them everything that has gone wrong in the past just does not earn you anything. Remember, the teachers are just starting the year off as well. They have a full caseload or classroom full of new students and are doing their very best to get the school year off to a strong start. Putting yourself in their shoes can be really really helpful in figuring out the best way to communicate. There will be plenty of time to share your concerns or complaints.
I was working with a wonderful family and the mom shared with me what she was going to send to the teacher the night before school began (just to say it was less than positive). After some feedback on the impact the communication may have had on her and her son, she changed her approach and sent a simple “thank you in advance” email. The email simply thanked the teachers for all that they do and let them know that even though there might be disagreements from time to time, she promised to stay respectful and would never take for granted everything they do to help her child.
4. Unroll your patience
Remember, even in the very best of cases, the beginning of the year can have some bumps. Be patient and trust that these bumps will work out. Sometimes it requires you to step in but mostly, it takes you being patient and letting things smooth out. I am not suggesting you let things slide that need to be dealt with. Rather, I am encouraging you to ask yourself, before you jump into a situation if there a way the situation will work itself out without you getting involved. Even if you can wait until the end of the first week, the situation might improve. Of course, if it’s a matter of safety, get right in there.
If the situation is something that truly cannot wait, then absolutely reach out, but the majority of concerns will work themselves out before the end of the first week. Often times, when you unroll your patience, you save yourself a great deal of stress and frustration and you keep building those positive relationships with your school teams! Start the school year strong by making this a priority.
5. Work through negative thoughts
So much failure in communication comes from negative thought patterns. We have negative thoughts and feelings before we even enter into a communication interaction and those negative thoughts and feelings drive what we say and do. One of the most powerful and change-making tasks you can do before the school year starts is to get a handle on those thoughts and feelings. The very best way to do this is to do a thought/feeling dump and then identify how that negativity is affecting your relationships with your school teams.
Grab my FREE Negative Dump Worksheet and take just a few minutes to dump all of your negative thoughts about school and special education in relation to your child, how these may impact the way you communicate with your child’s team and some ideas how to change those thoughts/feelings and actions.
Hint....Many people will skip over this because they either feel their negative thoughts are justified (which they may be) or they don’t think they have negative thoughts and feelings. I promise you, just 5 quick minutes and the change will be immediate!
So now you are ready to jump back into the school year; Take a deep breath: You’ve got this!