Well it is nearly that time of year again. The time when our children have to take off their pyjamas, put down their iPads and face the outside world again. At least that’s what going back to school means in my house. This transition can be riddled with anxiety and fear, but enough about us parents, it’s not easy for our kids either. So what can we do to make the transition easier?
Some of the things I have tried I’m sure you guys are trying too. In the two weeks leading up to school I start to adjust bedtime and wake time bit by bit until it resembles the school year schedule. We schedule things like haircuts, outing to pick out a new book bag and the like to make it feel celebratory. For some of my really reluctant little students I have even recommended a “next grade” party. Something that celebrates the move to a higher grade complete with a present and of course cake. Social stories are a staple in this house and going back to school requires a good one. Last year’s story focused on the idea that going to school was Hayley’s job just like my job was to look after her and work so I could buy her treats. This year’s will focus on the move to high school and the importance of working hard to learn about the various subjects. My social story this year will be about not drinking martinis in the school parking lot and then storming the office shouting “I’m not ready for high school”. I am thinking I may need a more intense intervention.
For the people who know me they know there is one word that comes up often in program planning. That word is advent calendar. That’s right, they are not just for Christmas anymore. I use advent calendars for everything. Potty training? Make an advent calendar. Going on a trip? You need an advent calendar for sure. For those who don’t know me so well you may be thinking "what kind of foolishness is this, has this woman spent too much time with the Christmas Wishbook" (for the record … yes!). The advent calendar idea is simply a way to count down to an event, especially an event that may have associated anxiety. For school I usually start about 5 days before but you know your own children best and may choose to have more days or less in the countdown. I have little gifts that will prepare the child for the event. In this case school, so school supplies (fun ones) are a good choice. You can use numbered gift bags or little boxes, some families go all in and make little doors in a cardboard box that their child can open each day. No matter what way you do it the idea is that your child will open a small gift each day as a way to count down to the first day of school. This pairs a positive feeling with the idea of returning to school and helps your child slowly adjust to the idea of the transition. For those parents who feel they need an advent calendar too may I suggest you get your inspiration from the inside of a mini bar. But that is a whole other blog post.
These are just some of the ideas I have tried. I’d love to hear yours. Write me quick, first day of school is coming.
Paulette Moore is a mother of two, wife of one, and autism consultant of many.