"Back to School" is a uniquely different experience for every family - particularly amid a pandemic. Maybe you're looking forward to the return of the school year and welcome the routine, or perhaps you're feeling totally overwhelmed. Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "What day is it? How did we get here? How is time going by so fast!?" A mixture of emotions may be surfacing in your household, and, like most parents, you are just trying to keep your head above water. To help you navigate the challenges a new school year brings, here are a few reminders:
1. Preparation pays.
Providing your child with clear expectations, and visual supports (calendar, planner, visual schedule, social narrative) are helpful ways to reduce uncertainty and get your family back in the swing of things. It need not be a time-consuming, Pinterest-worthy project unless that's your cup of tea. If the likelihood is low that anyone will look at the calendar on the kitchen fridge, move it to a more realistic point of reference. If a weekly calendar spread is daunting, focus on a daily schedule - taking it one day or event at a time. Didn't get a chance to prepare before the first week of school? That's okay! Now that you're a week or two into the new school year, you may have a better idea of the specific stressors your child or family is experiencing. In addition, it will allow you to build strategies around those stressors (homework, morning routine, mealtimes).
2. Flexibility is your friend.
Consider the time it takes to learn a new habit - it doesn't happen overnight. It may take a few weeks for your child (and you!) to acclimate to the new schedule. And you're a parent, so you know the drill... just as things start to get into a rhythm, life may throw you a curveball. There will likely be unexpected disruptions, and when they come along, you'll do what you've had to do time and time again: take a deep breath and reset. You may need to go back to the drawing board (literally) to create a new schedule or weekly plan. Adapting to change is a skill, like any other, and it's natural for family members to handle unpredictable circumstances differently. Give yourself permission to recalibrate expectations and re-prioritize based on the needs of your family.
3. Sleep is essential.
A good night's sleep will help everyone better manage the stress or excitement of getting back into the school routine. Establish a predictable bedtime routine that includes a period of "wind-down" (brush teeth, dim lights, story time, calming music) and aim for it to occur around the same time every evening. Adequate sleep may support learning, improve behavior, and keep your family's immune systems strong (Suni, 2021; Zee, 2006).
4. There's a reason "it takes a village."
It is okay to ask for help! Communicate regularly with your child's school and therapy team. Inquire about additional resources that may be available to you or your family (telehealth counseling services, parent support groups, afterschool programs, social skills groups). Just as your child's schedule has changed, so has yours. Prepare yourself right along with your child by prioritizing self-care and connecting with friends, family, or colleagues. In the chaos of "back to school," it's easy to feel "too busy" or energy-zapped to reach out to your support system. Thankfully, technology has made connecting easier, whether it be a Livestream workout, a quick lunchtime phone call, or a zoom coffee date!
Sara Bollman, MA, BCBA, LBA
Territory Account Executive
Sara is a BCBA with a background in counseling who has been practicing in the field for over 15 years. Having worked across a variety of clinical settings, she saw the positive impact technology had on the day-to-day workflow of clinicians. This led to a passion for helping fellow providers reduce administrative burden through her role at CentralReach.