The many demands of school can be very overwhelming for both parents and children. School stress is unavoidable and every child that attends school experiences school stress to some degree. For children with special needs, every aspect of a school day can present a challenge; and while school stress cannot be completely eliminated, parents can help their children reduce and manage the stress in a healthy way. Whether your child is diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD, ADHD, Down syndrome, or your child is a typical child overwhelmed by the demands of school; the Tips, Tools and Strategies listed below can help your child turn their school stress into school success.
Tips, Tools, and Strategies:
- The #1 and most important school de-stressor is implementing a simplified morning routine with no rushing allowed. The key to a simple morning routine very much relies on a consistent evening routine.
- Everything that can be done the night before must be done. Set out clothes, pack lunches, backpacks, and prep breakfast the night before.
- Implement a visual morning/evening checklist. Having a routine is important for many children with special needs. A healthy routine of checking and following the visual checklists will not only help the child efficiently sequence morning and evening tasks, the checklists also prepare the child mentally for what is expected of them. Routines are important, but being able to accept change is also important. Making minor periodic changes to the checklists is recommended to help your child accept and tolerate a change in routine.
- Play upbeat positive music to help your child’s auditory system wake up
- Prepare a healthy low sugar breakfast
- Set a visual and auditory timer for departure time
- For school bus anxiety, provide your child with a buss buddy. Allow your child to choose a simple and safe fidget they can hold while on the school bus.
- Do not allow your child to play with the buss buddy any other time. This tool is solely for riding on the bus.
- Keep 3-4 different buss buddy options on hand and switch out your child’s buss buddy options so your child does not become attached to only one buss buddy.
- Set up a bus buddy storage routine with the teacher so that the object does not interfere with school participation
- Provide your child with an easy way to stay organized (use a color coded system with designated folders or accordion style folder with colored tabs indicating papers to turn in, papers going home, homework to complete, etc.
- Designate a due date recorder (a small notebook or a calendar book for your child to record project due dates and requirements)
- Oral seeking behaviors: Provide your child with chewelry or pack a crunchy, chewy, or thick snack to provide your child with the oral input they need [apples, carrots, pretzels, almonds, bagels, all natural fruit snacks, gum (if approved by the teacher, or have them use a straw to eat applesauce or pudding].
- Auditory processing issues: Provide your child with noise cancelling earmuffs, or a ski headband.
- Provide your child with a 30-minute break before completing homework or household chores. Every child is unique and the type of break each child requires is also unique. Use a timer to indicate when it is time to do homework or a required task.
- Movement break: Yoga, ball, biking, etc
- Quiet corner break: create a safe place with items your child finds relaxing (books, Lego’s, music, coloring, ipad time, etc)
- Homework time: It is suggested that children should complete mo more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level (1st grade = 10 minutes, 2nd =20 minutes, etc). If your child has homework that takes more than the suggested amount of time, take small breaks between tasks, or talk with the child’s teacher.
- Provide your child with an organized area to complete homework
- Provide your child with a small snack and a cold drink and set a timer to indicate completion/break time
- Fill a tube sock full of rice and tie a knot at the open end to create a weighted lap or shoulder snake. Freeze to provide calming cryotherpy during times of anxiety. (Calming vanilla, lavender, peppermint, or jasmine scent can be added to the rice if desired)
- Turn on non-distracting background music
- Difficulty sitting still to do homework: Have your child sit at a table or desk on a therapy/yoga ball stabilized in a box. This will provide your child with some safe dynamic movement.
- Implement an evening routine that includes preparing for the morning. Set out clothing, prep lunches and breakfast.
- Have a “Slow down time” 1 hour before bedtime
- Bathe before bed, turn on soothing white noise or soft relaxing nature music, and dim the lights in the house
- Provide your child with a calming steamroll massage by rolling a therapy ball on their back, arms, and legs while they lay on their stomach, rub lotion on their skin with a calming scent, or burrito wraps your child in a blanket to provide calming proprioceptive input.
- Allow your child to rock in a rocking chair or swing in a therapy swing for calming vestibular input.
The most important tip, tool, and strategy above is providing your child with a daily routine. Starting a new routine will not be an easy task, and at first it may create more stress, but in the end, the pay off will be well worth a short-lived struggle.
~ Melissa, Occupational Therapy Team