As we prepare to begin another school year, the mix of excitement and anxiety is in the air. Parents can help reduce anxiety by following these tips to support a positive learning experience from the first day of school.
Involve the student in selecting school supplies.
Some of the most important tools, like a calendar or planner, aren't useful at all if they don't get used. Help combat this by ensuring the student has some ownership over his or her school supplies, particularly things like backpack, notebook, and organizers as this will help them have a sense of ownership over the system.
Arguing about whether or not the student will use an agenda to record homework assignments can be a particularly painful conversation when the student has attention deficits or has historically struggled with turning in homework in previous years, yet wants to be independent in the upcoming year. Parents can instead shift the conversation to choosing which calendar instead of a yes/no conversation about using an agenda or planner.
Many students want calendars geared toward professional adults, so shopping at an office supply store will provide those options. Others gravitate towards more whimsical items, such as a green pen for recording assignments. This can be particularly motivating when only blue and black pens are allowed for assignments. By allowing the student to select materials of interest to them personally, you make the tool novel and also highlight its importance which can help incentivize the student to use them daily, the piece that truly matters.
Introduce yourself to your child's teachers.
Parents instinctively do this at the elementary stage where they are often dropping students off at school. This step is just as important at middle and high school years. Teachers aren't aware of the expectations in your home and may hesitate to bother you with small indicators that a student is slipping, which can be frustrating for parents to learn of problems only when the student has failed an exam or failed to turn in so many assignments that the grade is significantly compromised.
Help open up communication with a quick email to let the teacher know the best ways to contact you and to assure them that you are interested to partner with them. Often, teachers maintain web portals or use other tools to help you stay informed about your child's progress, and you don't need to wait until the curriculum night to express your eagerness to take advantage of such tools.
Visit the school before the first day of school.
A student doesn't need an anxiety disorder to be nervous about where to store materials, how to get from first period to second period, where to park or catch the bus, etc. It only takes a few minutes to do a practice walk-through of the schedule, and can be tremendous time-saver during the first week of school when the student is trying to navigate halls while also meeting new friends and being reunited with peers from previous years.
Teachers and counselors are often in the building at least a week before school starts, and this can also be a time to schedule a brief orientation meeting if you have particular concerns about any scheduled classes. If your school has social events scheduled to help orient new students, attend these if at all possible!
Have a plan for what to do when the student feels overwhelmed.
The first week of school also brings many changes. Sometimes the student is in the wrong class or there is another error that can be fixed with a schedule change, so have this conversation with your child in advance to reassure them that if they are placed in a class at the wrong level, you will work with the counselor to find a better option. Discuss what to do when feeling overwhelmed, which might range from texting their parent over lunchtime or visiting the counselor's office, so that the student doesn't get frustrated.
For students with anxiety issues, 504 plans and Individualized Education Plans (IEP's), it's worthwhile to talk with school administration ahead of time and designate a teacher or counselor who the student can go to with questions. The seemingly small assurance of having a name of the person to contact can do a lot to reduce stress and anxiety if anything unexpected happens.
Know when to get help.
Settling into a new school year can take some time. If you observe that your child is having a hard time getting up in the morning or keeping on top of homework, reach out to the teacher to discuss what supports can help. Beginning tutoring even before the school year starts provides another professional who can help the student stay organized, reinforce instruction delivered in the classroom, and provide additional feedback on the student's growth and performance.