For children with mental health issues and for those at risk of them, back to school time marks a difficult transition. Now is a great time to begin preparing your child for the transition to back to school. Here’s what you need to know.
Transitions Are Hard—Especially for Kids With Special Needs
Log onto Facebook at the beginning and end of the summer, and you’ll notice two distinct phenomena: Parents dread their children’s return to school, and they also dread the summer. This isn’t just a weird parenting trend. It has everything to do with the challenges of transition. Children thrive on routine, and they do especially well when other children follow that routine with them—like at home with siblings, or in the classroom with peers.
So when children transition out of one routine and into another, it often spells disaster for them and their parents. It’s normal to witness some upheaval as your child goes back to school. What’s not normal is for back to school to wreck your family’s life and leave you wondering why you became a parent in the first place.
You can prepare your child for the transition back to school by slowly getting him or her used to the new routine. Begin now. If there were issues during the previous school year, now is the time to talk about them, and to potentially even consult an expert such as a family therapist.
The School Year May Be When You First Notice Mental Health Issues
Has your mild-mannered child suddenly become a complete terror? Is your once aggressive child suddenly afraid of everything? Many children struggle with the transition back to school, and begin displaying mental health issues for the first time. The structure of the school environment can further exacerbate mental health issues—by, for example, requiring a hyper child to sit still rather than run through the woods as she did all summer.
Parents should watch their kids for signs of trouble as they return to school. Some signs your child might need additional help include:
-The teacher has expressed concern about your child’s behavior.
-Your child has seen a significant change in behavior at school. For example, a once well-behaved child begins getting into trouble at school.
-Your child regresses by, for example, beginning to wet the bed.
-Your child is angry or depressed after school.
-Your child does not want to go to school.
-Your child’s behavior feels unmanageable to you, or looks unmanageable to them.
-The stress of the transition back to school doesn’t subside after a few weeks.
-Your child is being bullied, particularly if the bullying is for your child’s weight, appearance, or identity.
-Your child begins acting out at home, setting fires, or abusing siblings.
Kids Can’t Control Learning Disabilities
Every kid makes mistakes. It’s normal to leave behind a few homework assignments or fail a test every once in a blue moon. Parents are right to treat these issues as parenting concerns, and to use whatever tactics they think are appropriate to help their child make better choices going forward.
But kids who keep making the same mistake over and over may have a learning disability or mental health disorder. Parents should know that no amount of discipline will “cure” this problem. They should not listen to people who try to convince them otherwise. If your child is struggling at school or continually makes the same mistakes, it’s time to get them evaluated. You wouldn’t punish your wheelchair-bound child for being unable to walk. So don’t punish a child with ADHD for doing exactly what kids with ADHD do—struggle with attention and memory.
Parents Must Be Proactive
The school system is designed to protect children and recognize difficulties before those difficulties escalate out of control. That doesn’t mean you can put all of your faith in the school system. Parents must be willing to be proactive when their children struggle with learning disabilities and mental health difficulties. What might that mean? The answer is as unique as your child.
Some questions to ask yourself include:
Has my child gotten a full and fair evaluation?
Is this teacher right for my child?
Is this school doing everything it can to support my child?
What does the ideal environment for my child look like?
Is there anything that would reduce the amount of stress my child and I experience? Is there needless stress coming from the school?
Your Child Has Legal Rights
No parent wants to get into a legal battle with a school. In most cases, you don’t have to. But it’s important to know your child’s legal rights. Those include a right to be free from discrimination for learning or mental health disabilities. Your child also has a right to an individualized education plan crafted in conjunction with their teacher and the school. Don’t shy away from asking for these things. And if your child’s needs go unanswered, consider consulting with a legal expert in the field of educational law. Your child’s future is worth it.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (2015, October 15). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq9805.html
Stanberry, K. (n.d.). Understanding Individualized Education Programs. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/understanding-individualized-education-programs