A Mindful September

Written by Jessica Addeo

Back to school time elicits the age old question “How was school today” that often gets parents an answer such as “okay”. This year we would like to encourage parents to find ways to connect more with their children and school routines to foster more open lines of communication and connectedness. For starters, if asking your child about his or her school day feels like your pulling information out then try asking them to tell you 1 or 2 things about their day or a specific part of their day. Instead of “how was school today” you can try “What book did you read in circle time” or “What topic did you discuss in social studies”. You may get less information about the overall day but more information about a specific part of the day. From these questions you can branch out and ask your child more questions on the topic (“Oh that sounds like a funny book, what was your favorite part?”). Pay attention to your child’s social cues, when they are done sharing information it is best to drop it versus continuing to question them. This will help them feel comfortable to share with you without feeling like they are being interviewed.

Even though your child is the one going back to school, it can often feel like it is happening to you. Earlier mornings, hectic afternoons, homework, sports practice….the list goes on and on. Your child is watching you; how you handle these stressors and what the appropriate way to respond is. No one can do this perfectly all of the time, but showing your child ways that you regulate yourself and keep yourself calm amongst the chaos is a wonderful model for improved self-regulation. For example, you can make a list after school of what you need to do and what you want to do first, show this to your child. You can say out loud “I am feeling overwhelmed (my engine is running high or I’m in the yellow zone)” and then show them a coping strategy such as making your list or taking some deep breaths. For those moments when you don’t keep your composure or when the afternoon (or morning) goes completely belly up show them how to recover. This will happen to everyone and it is okay. At a later point in time you can point out to your child that you got really upset or had a really hard time, but that you are feeling better now. This will show your child that everyone goes through these ups and downs, it doesn’t make someone “bad” and that we all can recover and try better next time. Your own personal self-care can feel like the bottom of  the list; however, when your child sees you care for yourself they learn that taking care of themselves is okay. This taking care of themselves can be something like doing their OT exercises or taking a break. As a parent you can normalize this type of behavior with some modeling (and give yourself a much needed break!!)

It can be challenging to take this modeling and help your child integrate it into the way they think about and view themselves. Once practice you can try it asking them to tell you one “good” or “positive” thing about their day and one thing that happened that didn’t feel good or go well. By asking them about both ends of the spectrum you let your child know that it is okay to make less than stellar choices and that you are open to hearing about these moments too. It also begins to foster a process of insight into ones day which in turn can be used to encourage better choices going forward. This is a wonderful practice to do in the evening as reflection and then maybe bring up the next morning to facilitate a different outcome. For example, “Yesterday you said you had a hard time calming down after recess, maybe today you can do some chair pushups when you get back to class and see if that helps”.

For younger children reach out to your treating therapist and inquire about a social story. If there is a certain behavior or difficulty your child is having we can construct a social story around it as a way for you to discuss this with your child. Some examples include listening, interrupting, personal space, or circle time (this is not an all-inclusive list, we can write a social story for almost anything!). A social story about circle time might go something like this (with pictures included):

Circle time:

In circle time I listen to the teacher.
If I talk to the other kids, the teacher will be upset because I’m not paying attention to her.
The other kids might also get upset because I am not listening to the rules.
When I listen to the teacher, I learn.
Learning is fun; I can remember to listen to the teacher.

Many of our clients have been coming to see us for some time and have solid home programs and sensory strategies in place. September is the time to put these strategies into practice, don’t wait until October or November when maybe things are not going so well to try and troubleshoot. If you know a picture schedule helps organize your morning or evening routine, have one going in September. If you know your child needs sensory breaks in the morning, throughout the school day or afterschool, put that in play the first week of school (and reach out to your child’s teacher early on in the month). Summertime often allows for a lot of sensory input, build on that solid foundation by continuing to give your child as much input as possible as they shift over to more sitting and focus during the school day.  If you are not sure how to support your child’s transition to the school year talk to your treating occupational therapist during the first or second week of school. We can help you come up with strategies for home and reach out to your child’s teacher to get support in place before things potentially escalate.

We hope everyone has a wonderful back to school and Positive Steps is here for you throughout the 2017-2018 school year with any questions or concerns!

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