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Here we go again.  Next week our children our heading back to school.  Some are so excited.  Some are…. not so excited.  However, parents of children with special educational needs know that an additional layer of stress comes with starting back to school…the dreaded transition stress. 

For many of our neuro-divergent children, the need for structure and routine is like the need for air.  The world feels hostile most of the time.  They find comfort in predictability.  Covid-19 has robbed the world of this.  We can understand and cope as adults.  But, for our more vulnerable kiddos who are already coping with so much, one more change may feel like too much.

Don’t worry.  There are a few things we can do to ease them into this change.  Monday morning may still be stressful for everyone, but here are a few ways we can let the steam out of the kettle so it can run as smoothly as possible.

Start Talking About the Process Now

Preparation is the key here.  After letting them know that school is going back, slowly bring this into the conversation whenever you can.  Think out loud about the walk to school and whether there might be a shorter way.  Ask what type of after school snacks they might like to have for when they get home.  Wonder and be curious about the art on the walls.  Now is the time to use your ninja parenting skills to make this feel normal.

Start Shifting Routine

Is bedtime about a million hours later than it should be?  Have they been having school in pyjamas?  That’s ok!  We all did what we needed to so we could get work and school done.  Start moving back to school timings and routine now.  Get dressed every morning…even if it is in new pyjamas.  Follow your morning and evening rituals.  Get their internal body clocks and natural rhythms ready for that 7 am start.

Get Them Involved

I don’t know about you, but with 4 kids in my house, the search for school shoes is real right now!  Make a scavenger hunt to get everything ready.  This is as simple as writing down everything down to the last glue stick and making a check list.  They can have a prize at the end.  This gets them thinking about school and feeling prepared.  Plus, they might find that right shoe when you have a pile of lefts!

Get School Involved

Remember that it is in the school’s best interests for things to move smoothly next week.  Does your child have a favourite teacher or staff member?  See if they are able to write an email or make a phone call letting them know how excited they are to be reunited.  If your child is demand avoidant, keep it to the email as the phone call could be overwhelming. 

Be Prepared for Big Feelings

Even those looking forward to returning are going to have big feelings.  They may come out in different ways like refusing to engage with online learning or even picking fights here and there.  Our children have had to manage so much this year.  They will undoubtedly be worried about how long this will last.  Give them space when they need it and don’t take anything personally.    Use your emotion coaching skills to help them find their resources to thrive.  Monday afternoon needs to be a time to decompress.  Expect that they will need this and be prepared with whatever home comforts they need. 

We know that transitions are a place of stress for many families.  If we plan for the stress, we can reduce the impact.  Move with intention and allow the time and space you need to make this as easy on you and your family as possible.

Parents and carers, you have done an amazing job.  Be proud of yourselves and be proud of your children.  We have developed a level of resilience that will serve us all for a lifetime.  Make sure you take time to reflect.  You deserve it.