With summer in full swing, that ominous time of year is rapidly approaching…back to school season! In preparation for the often-challenging transition from summer back to school, we have provided some tips and strategies to help ease the stress during this big change.
Before the New School Year
Although the new school year has not yet begun, there are a variety of strategies that can help maximize the likelihood of a successful transition into the upcoming school year.
- Reintroduce routines that you used during the last school year that was successful. Use a visual schedule to reinforce the school day, the changes in the morning routine, after school routine, etc.
- Spend time going over anything new: classrooms, lockers, switching classes, new school/teacher, etc. Go to the new campus, meet the teacher ahead of time, walk your child’s class schedule. Where will your child go during recess and lunch? Plan that out for them.
- Help your child create a plan. At home your child is much more comfortable with the company and environment but at school everything will be different. Help your child create a plan for how they’ll cope if they get upset or overwhelmed in their new environment. Some options may be asking for a break and removing themselves from the crowded room for 2 minutes, breathing exercises, asking to go see their previous teacher, etc. You can also help your student by using social stories (a social learning tool to help with the understanding of social situations), emailing the teachers/school, etc.
- Determine the snack and meal schedule. During the school year schedules are different and there is less time for snacks and meals. Help your student by having a similar snack and meal schedule in the weeks leading up to the start of the school year. You can also help ease this transition by introducing a lunch box, thermos, water bottle, or any other items they will be using during mealtime at school. This will help familiarize them with these new tools.
- Toileting routines may also change. You can help your child with this change by teaching the expectations at school of raising their hand and asking to use the bathroom. Discuss the lunch and recess schedule, switching classes and other appropriate times to use the bathroom. Practice by using a variety of toilets and bathrooms throughout the community.
During the School Year
Transitioning back to school can be difficult, but once the school year begins, there is a multitude of other things to focus on to help in the growth and success of your child. There are a variety of ways in which you and your child’s school can work together to target skills deficits across a variety of domains, including receptive and expressive communication, social skills, self-help (gross and fine motor challenges included), attention, and sensory processing.
- Specifically, identify the behaviors your child is expected to exhibit
- Reinforce what you want to see happen and don’t reinforce behaviors you want to minimize
- Operationally define each behavior that your child is expected to display
- Use social stories for social challenges
- Discuss the nuances of cliques, groups, and clubs at school
- Review emotions, including how to read the emotions of others and appropriate ways to communicate one’s own emotions
- Create checklists and practice
- Use task analyses for complex skills such as accessing a locker, class routine, etc.
- Always respond to behaviors immediately and consistently
- Practice new and existing skills across people, environments, settings, etc.
Before School and After School Routines
- Start with the school wake-up and sleep schedule
- Set alarms to wake up and make bedtimes earlier
- Start practicing the visual schedules with their appropriate times
- Include any siblings in your practice and involve them when you can
- Take data on the end goal and/or the behaviors you would like to see change, even while you are practicing
- Put limits on the amount of time for TV, video games, etc.
- Have your child do practice homework or include less preferred tasks “after school”
Ensuring Continued Success Throughout the School Year
- Know what your child can do — know your starting point
- Have their attention before giving an instruction
- Make sure instructions are clear and concise
- Prompt when necessary
- Make sure the skills needed are in your child’s repertoire
- Make sure the skill is relevant across environments
- Be aware of your child’s preferences
- Be aware of the environmental/community limitations and restrictions
- Praise the behaviors you want to see repeated
- Correct the behaviors you don’t want to see
- Set up token systems and/or a self-management program
- Help reward steps along the way to a bigger end goal
- Offer choices
- Offer options between tasks or reinforcers that you can realistically provide to give your child self-sufficiency and choice
- Use 1st/then — “First do this, then you can do that.”
- Prime for clear and consistent expectations
- Let your child know what is expected before the opportunity occurs and catch your child being “good”
- Use start directions
- Example: “Feet on the floor” rather than “Don’t stand on your chair.”
- Remove distractions from the environment when teaching and providing instructions
- Break up larger tasks into smaller ones
- Alternate easy tasks with difficult tasks
- Reduce unnecessary demands
Using these strategies in combination leading up to and throughout the school year can help ensure a successful transition to this new time of year while helping to foster new skills and expected behaviors. This can help to ease the stress of this hectic time of year for both you and your child, setting the stage for a fun and rewarding school year!