What back-to-school worries are in your child’s backpack?

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. 
– John Dewey 

Kids running towards busIt 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:

Take care of yourself

imgIt should come as no surprise to parents of children with special needs that holidays can add to the stresses already present in our lives. In a survey done by the authors speaking at our Author Luncheon Benefit this coming April  in their book Married With Special Needs Children, some common causes of stress in couples raising children with special needs include:

  • lack of a diagnosis
  • information overload
  • financial issues
  • time constraints
  • mental and physical fatigue
  • dealing with the reactions of others

Give yourself a gift (or two) this holiday season: Take care of yourself! Put on your own “oxygen mask” so you are able to take care of your child and your family. What might this look like?

  • write in a journal
  • exercise
  • take a walk — enjoy nature
  • practice mindfulness…slow down…breathe…have quiet time
  • vent to a friend
  • carve out special moments with your partner, even if only a few moments in the morning over coffee
  • share appreciations and moments of joy
  • give yourself a pep talk if feeling overwhelmed
  • give yourself a “time out” if feeling frazzled (this also models for your children that everyone needs time to regroup)
  • use sayings to focus: “one day at a time,” “first things first,” “this too will pass,” “don’t sweat the small stuff,” “progress not perfection”
  • decide what things are most important and focus on those
  • laugh
  • learn how to ask for help and accept it
  • create informal networks of other parents of kids with special needs to rotate respite times and help each other
  • share the positives about your child, his or her interests and strengths
  • seek out others who understand

The Matrix Yahoo! group can help connect you with other parents (click here to sign up), and our Parent Advisors on the Helpline, 800.578.2592, are great resources for respite referrals and emotional support.