Talking about school with your children

It has been about  5 weeks since the new school year started.  You as the parents may start to wonder how things have been at school for your children.  “How was school?”, you might hear yourselves asking your children this question over the past few weeks.   Most articulate primary school children are happy to tell you about their day at school.   However, if you have teenage children, this is a different story.

I notice that my teenage son has not been as eager to share with me about his school days as when he was in primary school.  ” How was school?” , I would ask.   “OK”, he would answer.  ” What did you do?”, I ask again.  ” Not much.”, or sometimes “stuff”, he would answer, and again with no further detail.  “what kind of stuff?”, ” You know, boring stuff!”, he would answer.  So we seem to go round and round in our topic of conversation but get nowhere far.

It is hard talking about school with your teenagers.  However, it is important that we talk with our children about the school day for the following reason.

Talking about school shows you are interested of what is going on  in your child’s life.  It shows that your value school and education and encourage them to value it too.  Such interest helps  improve your child’s mental health and happiness and well being.  It can have a positive effect on their behaviour and achievement.  Often, teenagers feel their school experiences are private and don’t want to share with their parents.  This is a normal development for children at this age as they try to shape their own identities separate from their parents’.  Despite this, your child needs to know you are there when they want to talk.  Talking is also a way of connecting with your child and be in touch with their feelings about school.  This is the time when you are more likely to feel that something is not going well at school and find the way to work on overcoming challenges together with your child.

Strategies to help with talking with your child about school:

  1. Give your child time to wind down after school first by greeting him/her to let him/her know you are glad to see him/her home.
  2. Don’t talk about school topic for a while.  Allow this transition time without your interference.  When you notice he/she relaxes a bit and is ready to be social enough, then you may pick a good moment and open the conversation simply by asking the following specific questions:    ” What was the fun thing you did today?”; ” what did you like best today?; ” Who did you play/talk to at school?”; ” What subject did you do today?”; “What did you buy or take for lunch?”

3. Remember to  ask open-ended questions and listen attentively without judgement and keep the conversation neutral.  Some days your teenager may not want to share or may be the moment is not right for him/her.  That’s OK too.

Looking out for signs of problems:

Your child may not always want to let you know he/she is having a tough time (no matter how good your relationship with your child is).  If you feel this out of  your child’s character, you might be right.  There might be a bigger problem.  If you are worried, try talking to other adults who know your child well.  Contact the school or other professionals to get help if needed.

Back to my teenage son.  At the end of last year, I received a letter from the school with a brief message asking me to be at the school on the certain time of the certain day for him. I started to get worried.  In the end my anxiety became too much for me. I picked up the phone and called the school asking about why I was required to be there.  ” Oh, we have the award ceremony on that day and your son is one of the winners and we would like the parents of the award recipients to be there.  The reason we did not mention this in the letter because we want this to be a surprise to your son”.  Much to my relief!

Transition to school for young children with Autism

Going to school is a BIG challenge for children with Autism.  This causes the children to feel enormous anxiety and stress, which in turn can lead to behaviour.  This anxiety and behaviour can be managed by effective planning and transition strategies.

Many children with Autism have a script in their minds about everything that happens in their day.  As such, explaining changes in advance help pre-warn them of any changes and which will help them manage their anxiety and stress better.  Following are some strategies to help your children manage their anxiety associated with starting school.  These include:

  • Getting to school: Practice the routine (walk, bus, car) and discuss what to do with your  child if something is out of routine ( e.g. if it rains, if you have to take a detour to school because of the road works).  Be aware of the best timing when dropping off your child at the school.  Some children likes to arrive at the school right on the bell, while others like to arrive after everyone has already been in the classroom). Whatever routine you and your child have agreed upon,  try to  be consistent and stick with it as much as possible.  Do the same for after school pick up.
  • Manage sensory and the new environment: Too many people, too many new sounds, too much movements, new people can all be too overwhelming for the children.  Try to avoid these by working with the school to manage the environment and cater for your child’s individual sensory needs.
  • Have a person/or persons who your child know and who he/she can go to for help.
  • Use visuals to help your child navigate their way around the school (e.g. to the classroom, toilet, bags, sensory room etc.).  Visual timetable for class routines are highly recommended (talk to your child’s teacher about creating one of these for your child). Photos can also be used to give information about places and people (e.g. drinking tap, class teachers, toilet).
  • Use social stories to create scripts to give important information to the child such as classroom rules, school  rules, making new friends, playground rules etc.  You can create social scripts to explain these and your child can refer back to.
  • Lunch routine: practice using lunch box, container, drink bottle etc ( some young children still have difficulties managing their lunch box and drink bottle, glad wrap, zipping and unzipping lunch bag).
  • Calming strategies:  Ensure that your child knows where in the new environment they can go to calm or  access their sensory tools.  If they have their own sensory tools that they need from home, speak with their teacher who to best support your child and accommodate this during class time.

Next week, I will share with you some strategies on talking to your children about school as a way to stay connect with older school children.

 

Tips for parents: How to make the start of school less stressful?

School holiday is almost over!  For many children and their parents this means getting back into the routine.  Given summer school holiday is a long break period, getting back into  routine can be difficult for many children and their parents and it will take some time.  Here are a few tips to help make going back to school easier for you and your children.

  • Resume a School Sleep Schedule at least a week before their first day back to school.   Gradually get the children to go to bed and get up as if they were going to school a few days prior to the first day back to school.  Get them up in the morning to do fun activities physically such as going for a walk, having a few laps of swimming in the pool (if you have one), making breakfast together or bike riding etc.   These activities help get the children ready for that first day back to school and make the transition easier.  The first few days may be difficult, but in the long run the children will get used to getting up in the morning.  By the time the first day of school comes around, you will be surprised how ready they are!
  •  For younger children,  prepare them for a familiar environment (which they may have forgotten)  or re-introduce the new one.  If you have information sent to you from the school about starting the new school year, new class, new teacher etc, the information can be made into a story book for your children to remind them about their teachers, classmates, school rules, classroom rules, which bus to catch etc.  This can help remind them of the routine(s) and may also help reduce their anxiety.
  • Visit or drive by the school with your children,when and if you have an opportunity to do so.  By seeing the classroom and their  teachers, their anxiety may be lessened.
  • Involve your children in getting ready for school through planning it with them.  For example, when you go shopping for books, new school uniforms, shoes and other school supplies, help your children write a list they need for school and let they pick their own supplies. Give older children to do their own simple budgeting – to practise their maths skills.
  • Plan well ahead.  To reduce your own stress, make a checklist of things that you need to do and check each item off as you complete them.  Don’t let your stress become your children’s.
  • Encourage your children create momentos of fun summer holiday to remind them of the summer.  For many children, the end of fun summer holiday can be a sad time.  Help them create something meaningful (e.g. scrap book, photo album, drawing, collage etc) of their memories.  Encourage them to make something for someone special that they will miss.  Cherish good memories, they will stay with your children indefinitely!

Next week I will share a few tips on how to help children with Autism transition back to school as well as tips on how to talk to your children and adolescents about school.

Cheers

Pratin

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From February 2016, Psychology On Keen offers the gold standard assessment for diagnosis of Autism using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2) and Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R) and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).