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Adjusting to a New School Year
Tips for Families

The beginning of a new school year can be a very exciting and stressful time for families and children, especially those with disabilities. Getting off to a great start requires planning and patience. Children and even teens may not be able to verbalize their worries or concerns. However, parents and caregivers can play a proactive role in preparing children to have a positive school experience. 

While some children may find the anticipation leading up to a new school year exciting, others may find it to be stressful (or most likely a combination of both).  Here are some tips on how to help children manage this heightened sense of emotions.

arrow icon Get organized. Focus on steps you can take to help them plan with a purpose.

  • Create a calendar with your child and allow them to use stickers or other decorations to celebrate the big events such as back-to-school orientation, the first day of school, etc. A “countdown” may increase anxiety and stress. 
  • Let your child help shop for the back-to-school supplies. Giving them some power to choose the characters and colors will help them feel invested. 

arrow icon Visit school before the first day. 

  • Visit the playground.
  • Walk the halls. 
  • Introduce them to the principal, secretaries, and even janitorial staff.

arrow icon Practice stress-reduction techniques

  • 4-7-8 breathing – breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and slowly release for 8 seconds). With young children, you can tell them to breathe in and watch their belly expand and then breathe slowly out and watch their belly move down.   
  • Visualization (also known as guided imagery or guided meditation) – Choosing your child’s favorite place, ask them to close their eyes and think of what they see, hear, feel, smell and taste. This is also a great activity before bedtime. 
  • Stress balls (homemade or purchased -- just make sure they are safe and durable).

arrow icon Have your child help create a menu of healthy options for snacks and lunch. 

  • Create a drawer in the refrigerator where they can select items on their own. 

arrow icon Listen to your children.

  • If they seem tearful or concerned, take the time to sit with them and reassure them that many other children are feeling the same way. Don’t promise them it will all be “okay.” Remind them that it’s important for them to be able to just talk or sit with a trusted adult.

arrow icon Create a clear and simple morning routine. 

  • Have clothes laid out the night before. 
  • Create a visual schedule for brushing teeth, brushing hair, remembering hygiene, etc.

arrow icon Make sure they get plenty of rest. 

  • At least several weeks before school, move up your children’s bedtime and wake them in the morning. Don’t wait until the night before school starts to send them to bed early. Their bodies need time to adjust to falling asleep and waking at earlier times. 

Written by Meg Lovera, SSD Social Work Effective Practice Specialist

Published August 2016

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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