Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
– John Dewey
It isn’t only your child who may have back to school jitters/nerves. The start of any new school year can bring both excitement and worry for any parent, particularly for parents of children with special needs. Will the new teacher understand my child’s special needs and be a “good fit”? Will new classmates offer friendship or teasing and bullying? If changes are hard for your child with special needs, as is often the case, what behaviors or emotions may spill out?
Back-to-school jitters are especially potent if your child with special needs is headed to a new school. New physical space, new teacher and staff, new route to school, new IEP team.
What might be behind some of our parent jitters? If as children we struggled in school or were teased ourselves, those memories can be rekindled as our children head through the school door. If you loved school and your child doesn’t, that also can bring disappointment. As parents of children with special needs, we can become very protective and have anticipatory worry.
Unfortunately, worry can be contagious. Our children sense it if we feel confident and positive or worried and negative. If you find yourself with too many jitters or worries:
- Find a trusted person with whom you can let those worries out so they don’t spill over on your child.
- Try to ensure you and your child are rested for the big day.
- Exercise and meditation can relieve worry and stress.
- Use language that communicates positive ways to approach new situations.
- Focus on positive features about the new school year.
- Write a one-page summary about your child for their new teacher. Include your child’s strengths, interests and challenges and some techniques or strategies that address them.
- Take a “test run” and visit the school with your child before the first day to familiarize both of you with the new environment.
- Reach out and identify people in the new school year who feel warm, positive and accepting about your child and you. Besides the educators, this might be the school secretary, custodians, bus driver or cafeteria workers.
For more tips on reducing transition anxiety:
- Matrix HELP! sheet: How can I manage my worry and stress?
- LD Online: Back-to-School: Tips for Parents of Children with Special Needs