It’s happened to every parent. Your preschooler or kindergartner waited with baited breath the entire summer until school started. They spent hours debating the merits of various book bags, and whether or not a pencil case could do the same job as a pencil box.
That first day of school went beautifully, and then- reality hit. Suddenly the child who couldn’t wait for school to start is not only blasé, but downright uninterested in school. Asked what happened, they might answer, “That was yesterday. Not today.”
What happened? Was it something you or (gasp!) the teacher did wrong?
Probably not. There are a couple of reasons why kids often react this way to school – even if this isn’t their first year.
There are several reasons why children react negatively to school in the beginning of the year.
One reason is simply that the excitement of something new has worn off. It’s not so much different than getting gifts during holiday season: it’s hard for real life to stand up to your child’s often unrealistic expectations.
Another reason why your child’s enthusiasm wanes is because now the work part of school has hit. For some children with learning disabilities or other issues, hope springs eternal.
Although the evidence might seem to point otherwise, they’re hoping for a better year (can you blame them?), and it can be pretty disappointing when school is just as hard as it always was.
The third reason is practical: your child still needs to adjust physically and emotionally to being in school. If you’ve prepared your child for the new school year, then this is hopefully less of an issue.
Still, change is naturally harder for kids with special needs. They may be faced with situations that call on coping skills they just don’t have. Sometimes, even though it may not seem a major deal to grown-ups, even the most minor issues can leave a child worried and stressed.
Use these 3 tips to help your child feel good about school again.
Here are 3 tips you can follow to help your child make the adjustment:
1) Talk with your child about how he feels.
Some children will have a hard time doing this outright. Instead, you can read a book or make up your own story about a character in your child’s situation who was having a hard time in school.
Don’t worry about making the story resemble your child’s situation exactly; it’s unnecessary and would only make your child suspicious. Instead, change things around a little bit. When you tell the story, you can add in comments like, “Wow, I would be really embarrassed if that happened to me! Would that embarrass you?”
2) Use play to help your child problem-solve.
Very young children, children with weak language development, or children with special needs in general, are often unable to verbally problem-solve. They have a hard time finding a solution to what’s going on just by talking about it.
On the other hand, play offers an excellent opportunity to help your child learn to think logically and work on critical problem-solving skills. Floor time is an excellent tool for doing this, but if you’re not familiar with floor time (keep an eye out because I’ll be introducing some videos soon on how to do floor time properly), keep the following principle in mind: interact with your child as if you yourself were a same-aged playmate.
That means instead of commenting about your child’s play, you get involved. You gently challenge your child, just as a playmate would. By looking out for strong feelings during your child’s play, you can help them acknowledge those powerful feelings, leading the way for later problem solving.
3) Expect a certain amount of attention seeking or babyish behavior.
When a child is under stress, they often respond by acting out or behaving immaturely. That can often be annoying and frustrating for parents, who expect their “big” boy or girl to behave more maturely now that they’re in school.
Give your child attention before he acts out.
While you should not tolerate misbehavior, you can greatly minimize it by giving your child attention before he acts out. Cuddle him, play a special game together, or share a treat. For babyish behavior, it’s generally okay to baby your child a bit. They’ll get over it quick enough if you begin to praise them or a sibling when they display “big girl” behavior.
For example, you could call out “I need a big girl to help me make lunch. Is there a big girl around today?” Most children find it impossible to resist, but if your child is one of those that does resist, simply look for opportunities when they behave maturely, and give them specific praise, “Thanks for helping me with that Ethan. I saw how you figured out how to help me right away. It must be because you’re getting so big; last year you couldn’t have done that.”
Spend extra time together to help your child recharge her coping batteries.
Most importantly, don’t forget to make time to spend together doing something your child enjoys. It not only builds wonderful memories, but will give your child the emotional energy she needs to help her face the myriad difficulties that make up life – even for the pint-sized crowd.