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By: Lauren McRae
Kids and teens are returning to school, while many young adults make their way back to college. After a summertime of rest and play, it can be hard to re-adjust to a structured routine outside of the home. Dr. Rebecca Nelson, NorthShore Child and Adolescent Psychologist, provides expertise for some of the situations parents may need to prepare for.
Younger children return to school after a break can have a hard adjusting – how can parents and teachers make this experience seem less stressful?Consistent preparation will help. Establish communication with the teacher prior to the start of school or early in the school year briefly outlining your child’s challenge with returning to school after breaks. This will help staff be aware of any unusual worries or behaviors that might not be typical for your child. During breaks, try to fit in time to play or picnic on the playground or nearby park to make a familiar and positive association. If possible during the summer, resume your regular schedule about a week before school starts, and several days before school over the holidays to facilitate a smooth adjustment. Disruption in sleep schedules can compound back-to-school difficulties, so ensure adequate and consistent sleep to set them up well for their school day (The AAP has provided helpful sleep guidelines). Talk positively with your child about the upcoming return to school with an emphasis on the familiar of their daily school and home routine. Some children feel comforted by being provided family photos or a small transitional object in their daypacks. Parents can shorten the first day of return for extra anxious children by being sure to pick them up on time. Lastly, when you pick up your child on the first day back at school, let them know how proud you are of them.
Sometimes, sending a child away to college can be just as difficult emotionally for parents as it can be for students. What are some coping tips (for both) on handling the separation and changes to their environments?It can be helpful to take the long perspective and remind ourselves the parent-child relationship is a lifelong relationship. Appreciating this is a transition can help ease the momentary emotional difficulty. Practically, to stay connected plan essential time together. Sync holiday and vacation times over the year, and schedule regular times to catch up by phone or video for conversations. Video chat apps are good tools because of the personal quality of the exchange. Texting is convenient for practical and immediate matters. General social media apps are fun for surface connection. If parents are aware of their child’s current class and exam schedule they can gain a sense of weekly rhythms, activities, and when their child might be feeling increased pressure and might need some extra attention. It is common for families to re-utilize home spaces or down-size when children leave for college. However, because the transition to college is a significant developmental milestone and period of adjustment, it’s best for parents not to make any hasty or impulsive changes to their child’s bedroom or belongings. Major changes to a child’s environment can be discussed proactively with distinction and balance made between familial needs and wants with the child prioritizing their belongings.
For children who have attention issues, they might have extra energy after spending less time sitting at a desk – what are some ways to help them get back into a more focused-mode? There different types of attention disorders. Individuals with problematic levels of inattention and extraneous physical activity for their age comprise the Combined Type of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD-CT). Expecting a child with ADHD-CT to remain seated like their non-ADHD-CT peers is unrealistic. They get out of their seat at unexpected times, are more physically restless, and engage in extraneous motor behaviors, such as body rocking, leg swinging, feet tapping, etc.
This may seem paradoxical, but for children identified with ADHD-CT movement has been shown to facilitate focus for cognitively challenging tasks. A child may benefit from standing and moving a bit while problem-solving. Also, active movement breaks in between focused task periods help to sustain attention. Teachers can help physically active students by enlisting their help to pass out papers and supplies, running errands, and so on to keep them moving. By keeping these students relatively active their arousal levels and amenability to attend is better regulated. Also, because children with ADHD-CT can have difficulty with physical boundaries resulting from their increased motor activity, they may benefit from a little more physical space when seated or standing next to peers if their self-monitoring skills are not yet developed. Children with any type of identified attentional challenge benefit from preferential seating. They should be seated close to the teacher for ongoing monitoring of attention, and discrete positive redirection as needed.
Additionally, to help with sustaining attention multisensorial instruction is beneficial: tactile-sensory, verbal, visual, and auditory. Tactile manipulatives or objects children can touch and feel when learning is especially appealing for sensory seekers. They simultaneously keep busy hands and minds engaged while minimizing boredom and distractibility. To facilitate task completion it is helpful to vary uninteresting items with novel and fun ones and break down tasks into briefer segments.
School accommodations typically require a formal Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan through the child’s school district following a warranted clinical diagnosis. For further information or evaluation or consult with Dr. Nelson regarding your child, please contact the Developmental Follow-Up Clinic at 847.570.2208.