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The new school year is almost upon us, and for many of us, it may have already begun. It marks the return to reality and for so many of our kids (and ourselves) a wave of emotions begins to arise at the thought of returning. Some of you may be ready to celebrate the return to quieter days, and others may feel sadness at the thought of summer coming to an end. Whether we have children through adoption, foster care, or whom simply have special needs (and I use the term “simply” lightly), navigating back to school brings with it many added challenges for our children. Walking them through encountering new teachers, friends, and even new schools/campuses can bring so much stress to our kids. It is important to come equipped with a tool belt of resources to make this transition just a tiny bit smoother. Many of our children struggle with trauma, attachment, special needs and mental health challenges; often in a myriad of combinations. Below I will outline just a few ways you can make the transition back to school easier, and hopefully start the year off strong!
For many of us, transition meetings are already in place due to IEP’s or our previous history with the school. For those who many not have a transition meeting set up, it is a great idea to request one. Transition meetings usually include your child’s teacher, the resource teacher, their educational assistant (if they have one) and often professionals that may be involved in their life (social worker, development worker, speech therapist etc.). It is an opportunity for the new teacher and those involved to hear all about your child, their strengths and areas that require support, before the year begins. You can discuss any concerns, set up care plans, and ensure your child’s needs are going to be met. For example, many of our children take stimulant medications which often suppress the appetite. Ensuring their lunches are eaten or extra time is provided to finish snacks, will help ensure proper weight gain. Other kids may need specific devices, drop-off plans, or calm-down techniques. Issues surrounding anxiety, peer relationships, sounds/smells, and academics may all need to be addressed.
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Meet the Teacher
For many of us, a transition meeting may not be possible. Often, schools only provide them for funded children or those with an IEP and (particularly with children through foster care or adoption) many children may not fall within those parameters. If this is the case, the next best route is to set up a meeting with your child’s teacher, preferably as close to or before the beginning of the year as possible. My favorite way to approach these meetings is with an attitude of grace, bearing gifts when appropriate (a plate of baked cookies, or some fabulous school supplies or books) to start the year off right. Let’s face it, we are often the squeaky wheel throughout the year, advocating for our child. We have all experienced how poorly advocacy can be received and starting the year off from a kind and collaborative approach will put everyone at ease and in the right frame of mind. I also recommend bringing along a printed sheet “All About Me” detailing the ins and outs of your child. There are many examples on Pinterest, but I will post a few of my favorites below. This provides a tangible reference sheet for the teacher to see what your child loves, what they struggle with, and what your family make-up may bring with it. For example, knowing your child is adopted or in foster care can be important when the teacher plans certain projects that may be sensitive. Reading that your child loves rabbits make provide a bridge to forming a strong connection, and understanding your child struggles with making friends may provide insight into supporting your child throughout the year. When meeting the teacher, be sure to ask any questions you may have, share both the positives and needs of your child, and provide tips on what works well for your child.
Provide Educational Resources
This step is vital in ensuring the best possible year for your child, and can help support future children. The fact is, most teachers do not graduate school knowing all about the “hot topics” associated with adoption and foster care. They likely don’t know about trauma, attachment, grief and loss, transracial issues or more. They also may not be trained in specific diagnoses such as FASD, ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder or more. Rather than waiting for challenges to emerge throughout the year, providing educational materials for them in the beginning will help educate them on the various topics relevant to your child, and ensure everyone is operating with the same knowledge. You can either create some of your own handouts, or use some of the great resources below. Suggesting relevant workshops to both the teacher or resource workers can also be beneficial, and I have seen many parents advocate for specific topics to be presented during professional development days.
Present to Your Child’s Class
Depending on your child’s needs, sometimes early intervention may be required. Often, kids with trauma related challenges or special needs such as ADHD, FASD, RAD or Autism, find themselves struggling with social relationships with their peers. As they age, many children may perceive your child as rude, mean or someone to avoid. In order to be proactive and prevent this, I have found huge success in presenting to the class in the beginning of the year on Invisible Disabilities. Below is a link to my downloadable presentation which can easily be tailored to your child’s specific needs and includes an instructional guide. I have used this guide for years and have found an incredible improvement in peers understanding my children and accepting them and approaching them with grace, which ultimately leads to improved friendships!
Discuss the Importance of Race in the Classroom
Many parents through adoption or foster care find themselves in the uncharted territory of transracial parenting. This brings an entirely new set of challenges for your child and the world they face. Many times teachers are unaware of the complexities and sensitivities that come alongside race related issues. School projects can easily take a turn for the worse towards racially insensitive topics or triggering language. Educating teachers on these topics is important! An easy place to start is by ensuring your child’s classroom is equipped with books that highlight a diverse selection of characters and authors. You can find some great book selections at Wenze Boutique, and would be an excellent item to bring to your meet the teacher meeting! Many other resources can be found at the following sites, as well as tips and information on how to be a racially informed classroom:
One-On-One Time With Your Child
An important but often missed step, is spending one-to-one time with your child as you prepare for a new year at school. Talking to your child and asking questions is a great way to find out what they may be nervous about or other concerns they may be feeling. If your child is struggling with any anxiety related challenges, I also recommend working through Taming Worry Dragons children’s workbook with them. It is an excellent tool in finding the root cause of some of their anxieties and helping them navigate how to manage those big feelings. It can usually be found at your local pharmacy, along with parent manuals. Special outings to a favorite ice cream shop, or an activity they love, are other great opportunities to get them to open up about their concerns or what they perceive as important for a successful year. Finding a special comfort item or fidget toy is also useful in equipping them to feel in control of their feelings or connected to home.
Be sure to check out why siblings need extra attention here!
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