Returning to a school routine can be traumatic for children, especially those with emotional and developmental special needs.
Parents should get an early start on monitoring how their child is doing in school. Prevention and early intervention are the keys to success.
Children who have experienced great trauma in their lives view the world as a constant threat, and respond accordingly. When they are overwhelmed by stress, they can't focus on schoolwork, which leads them to fall behind in school, creating more stress. Anger, frustration, acting out, and withdrawal are some indicators that there is a problem.
If a child does not perform well academically or balks at completing homework, parents may need to re-think the questions they ask to identify the underlying problem. Work closely with your child's teachers to learn as much as you can about the circumstances leading to challenging behaviors. Then, talk with your child about how certain situations, people, or activities cause them anxiety.
Information and education are key in bringing about change. Share what you find with your child's teachers, school administration, and parents of his or her friends. Be firm and assertive about what your child needs. A few minor accommodations and strategies can make a big difference in your child's school performance.
Here are some simple suggestions that may ease your child's transition back-to-school:
1. Show interest in what your child is learning. Allow him or her to teach you what they learned each day. You can even hold the pencil and write the words or figures as he or she directs you.
2. Show your child how to relax when facing a difficult task. Breathing deeply, taking a short walk, or simply getting up and stretching are easy methods to allow him or her to regulate emotions and physically remove from any negative thought patterns ("I can't do this.")
3. Break assignments into smaller pieces. This will help your child feel as if they have more power over the task at hand and allow him or her a sense of success.
4. Allow your child to express his or her feelings about homework. Validate these feelings so that the child feels understood and "heard."
5. Consider what pressure you may be unknowingly placing on your child. Do you set aside time together for homework completion, or is your child left alone while you make dinner or answer work emails?
Remember that environments that are low in stress and anxiety keep our emotions regulated. And an emotionally regulated brain learns and grows in a healthy manner.