Year-Round “Back to School” Support Strategies for Special Needs Parents
Support Strategies for Special Needs Parents
Our students have had more than the usual dose of blows to their self-concept. This leads them to develop learned helplessness, a belief that they can’t be successful. Most often, when a child believes he can’t do well in school, he doesn’t play full out; doesn’t give it his best effort. He’s not being willful or disobedient; he’s protecting and defending himself from failure and more ego blows.
Some children settle into the school routine more easily than others. Children who’ve had more difficulty with the social or academic aspects of school can have more difficulty acclimating to the educational environment. If your child takes time to adjust and relax with the new school year, he may be experiencing an unconscious anticipation of negative events. Naturally, the antidote to expecting the worst is learning how to expect the best!
Teach your child how to focus on the positive!
When kids have unpleasant experiences making friends or in academic areas of their lives, they get into an unconscious “habit” of expecting things to go badly. Unfortunately, our expectations are the main determinants of our outcomes, so, without knowing it, our kids recreate the cycle of difficulty and failure they most fear. This connection between expectations and results has been demonstrated many times in areas of academic success and social interactions (including being the victim of bullying).
One of the greatest gifts a parent can bestow on their child is to teach him how to anticipate enjoyable things in life rather than expect disagreeable and unpleasant results.
Throughout their lives, children who learn how to stay focused on the best results that an experience has to offer “get out of their own way” and are inspired to be more persistent, to achieve more, and make choices that lead to greater happiness.
Help your child stay focused on and excitedly anticipate the people, places and activities she enjoys at school, such as sharing experiences with a good friend, participating in a club, or getting to wear a new outfit!
Chat with your child and vividly paint a picture of the best things about school, encouraging expectation for excellent outcomes! Talk about lunch buddies, how nice the new teacher is, and all the cool things to learn in a favorite class. Spend some time every day chatting about the fun to come. Being in school will seem more comfortable, and even exciting, the more your child focuses on pleasurable results!
Using the calendar is a great way to help kids with special needs positively anticipate upcoming events. Simply put up drawings or pictures of things that symbolize fun to your child on the date of the upcoming event. Every day count down the days that are left, and animatedly discuss all the fun to come!
Another great tip is to connect the return to school with your child’s favorite fall activities such as football games, apple picking, Halloween, etc.
It is vital to find a few moments everyday to give each of your children your undivided special attention. Treat yourself and your child to exclusive, one-on-one time together each day. Develop joint interests and pursue them passionately. If your child expresses an interest in an activity, eagerly embrace the chance to learn it and share the experience with your child.
It’s also critical for parents to make extra efforts to help their special needs child find what Dr. Robert Brooks refers to as islands of competence, or a child’s own unique talents, passions, and abilities. Help your child find his or her islands of competence through these channels:
- school electives
- after school activities sponsored by the school
- community based activities such as acting, singing, art, and music
- volunteer experiences, or mentoring younger children or seniors
- part time jobs in areas of interest
Talk with your child about her talents. Express confidence in her skills. Look beyond the traditional definitions of skill, talent and achievement to find the areas in which your child truly excels. Give her every opportunity to develop and admire these abilities. Teach your child to value everything she does well, and she will grow the seeds of self-confidence that guide her to tackle whatever life has to offer.
Stay focused on the positive aspects of your own life!
One of the most significant ways a parent can help their child defeat the tendency to anticipate unpleasant results is to stay focused on good things in your own life. Every time a negative thought crosses your mind, make a commitment to reorder it into a positive, better-feeling thought. This focus can be a powerful example for your child.
Let’s try an example. Suppose I can’t stop feeling badly about not getting an invitation to a party from one of my friends. I have the choice to view this as rejection and to stir up anger, resentment, and of course a bit of self-doubt, or I can choose to focus on the better-feeling (and much more likely) alternative explanations; my invitation got lost in the mail, or my friend just assumed I’d know to show up without a formal invitation, or that my friend didn’t invite me because she knew there was going to be someone at the party I didn’t want to see, and was just sparing me the unpleasant experience.
The reason I didn’t receive an invitation is not important. The important aspect of this process is making a decision to view life in a positive way. When we dwell on negatives we set ourselves up to be victims; rather we should focus on the positive and point our lives forward toward the achievement our goals. Teaching children who experience repeated failure the technique of expecting positive outcomes is one of the most empowering life-lessons a parent can ever give their child.
Children with special needs can be fearful and uncomfortable with transitions, making it important for parents to give special consideration and care to the “back to school” season! By learning how to plan for the positive, our kids can begin to handle those inevitable transitions with calm security.
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2010 Magazine