Back-to-School Tips for Special Needs Kids and Caregivers

back to school pencils 2It’s back to school time! For some kids this is an exciting time – seeing former school friends, getting new clothes and prepping for an exciting school year. But for special needs kids and their caregivers, transitions can be challenging. Kids with social issues may dread going back to a room full of people. Other special needs kids, as well as typical ones, may not be looking forward to ending the summer days of play and going back to long days of work – and homework.

To help the child transition:

  • Get kids involved in school supply shopping. Let them choose notebook colors, lunchbox characters, eraser shapes and juice box flavors. This may help them get excited about returning to school. Even if you are annoyed by Annoying Orange, that silly face may make your kid smile. Also, check in with your child about food preferences – last year’s favorites may be considered yucky today.
  • Brainstorm lunch and dinner ideas. Some kids like looking forward to a special treat in their lunches. It also may help some kids get through the week by counting off until Taco Night, Spaghetti night or whatever food fits into your child’s special diet.
  • If safe, set up playdates with school friends your child hasn’t seen in a while so they can reconnect outside of campus. If that’s not possible, review pictures or yearbooks to see last previous year’s classmates.
  • If school hasn’t started yet, visit the school to refresh your child’s memory. If you can’t get on campus, just drive by. If your child is visual, make a map of the route to school or of the campus. Try letting your child “drive” to school on Google Earth.
  • Meet the child’s new teacher ahead of time. Or look up your school’s website and find a picture of the them. Some sites even have little bios of teachers. Help your child send an email or write a letter to the teacher.
  • Start school bedtimes and mealtimes a week before the first day if possible. Start earlier if your child takes longer to adjust.
  • Print out some worksheets or let your child play online educational games to get those brain gears engaged. If you can get a copy of this year’s reading list, visit the library and browse the books to get your child interested in the stories.
  • Play school. Let the child have a turn as the teacher.
  • Start a rewards system for homework, daily behavior, reading time or any other issues specific to your child. Get suggestions for rewards from the child for extra motivation. There are a number of sites that offer printable rewards charts for everything from doing homework to not picking their nose. You can also make your own as a craft project or print personalized ones with your computer. Or do the marble method (add marbles to a glass or jar, when a certain mark is reached the reward has been earned), paperclip chain or anything else that appeals to your child.

For caregivers:

  • Watch your language. Be sure you are talking up school in a positive way.
  • Be sure all medications, permissions and arrangements have been set up with the school.
  • Do as much as you can the night before. Here are some suggestions:
    • Prep ingredients for lunch and/or dinner. Dust off the crockpot if needed.
    • Set up the coffee pot. This is a big one for me!!
    • back to school bus 2Pre-pack lunchboxes with non-perishables.
    • Lay out clothes. Cut off tags or prewash with fabric softener if your child has sensory issues.
    • Check for signed forms, paperwork and homework.
  • No matter how much your child fusses, stay calm. Save your tears and frustration for when you get back into the car alone, or meet up with other moms for coffee after drop off so you can vent.

Remembering 911: Creating a New Future For Our Children

This past weekend was the twentieth anniversary of the worst attack against America and our way of life and is a day a national remembrance. The 911 attacks attacked differences. Differences of religion, differences in appearance. The attacks said we are worthy to live, you are not. The attacks said we are better.

Love - 9-11.final2Taking a moment to remember, reminds us to embrace our differences, to embrace other religions, different governments and different appearances. Taking a moment to remember says we all deserve to live. Doing so builds a better life and better future for our children, for all children, for many generations to come. Only we can teach hate and only we can erase hate in the future for our children with love.

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Editor’s Note: This post first ran on 9-11, 12 years ago. It is the author’s hope – and ours – that by remembering and telling our children, we create a better world for them. They deserve it. We all do!!
With heavy hearts…and with love…from Pediatric Safety.

5 Steps That Teach Your Kids to Stress Less

Being a kid means being carefree, right? Not necessarily. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association of 1,206 kids ages 8 to 17, one-third say they worry a help take away the stressgreat deal or a lot — and more than one-third report that they’re stressing more this year than last.

Why are kids so stressed? Dr. Caron Goode, author of Help Kids Cope with Stress and Trauma, says that the onslaught of media (television, radio, the Internet and mobile devices) in kids’ lives is a very real source of increased stress. Parents can shield kids from some adult stressors, like the evening news and violent TV programs, and should avoid over-scheduling their activities.

However, we can’t protect our children from every stressful situation that life throws at them.

No-one could have predicted a year of COVID, and just when we thought we were out of the woods and heading for a “normal” back-to-school, the Delta variant turned our kids’ worlds upside down again. Unpredictable and stressful – yes it has been, but debilitating – it doesn’t have to be. We can get our kids through this!! (editor’s note)

To do this, it’s important to teach them to recognize the signs of stress and learn how to react in a positive, healthy way — especially now, when they are starting a new school year and coping with the additional stresses of meeting teachers and fitting in with classmates. Goode offers these practical tips for helping your kids stress less:

1. Identify the root fear.

The first thing parents need to do is to sit down and listen to what kids are worrying about. Maybe it’s the fact that Dad is unemployed or that the latest fire on the West Coast or hurricane in the Gulf has hurt the environment.

  • Goode says that when kids express a general anxiety, it’s important for parents to help them identify it more specifically by rephrasing their concerns. Example: “It sounds like you’re worried that Dad lost his job.”
  • Then Goode suggests probing further to get to the root source of the fear. Example: “What worries you about Dad not working?” (Perhaps it’s not having enough money for those new jeans.)
  • Lastly, channel the child’s concerns into a positive, affirmative action to help dissipate their feelings of helplessness. Example: “Let’s come up with a plan for you to earn some money doing chores, so you can save up for those jeans.”

2. Recognize the signs of stress.

Parents can help kids recognize the signs of stress in their own bodies so they can take steps to calm down. Signs of stress include:

  • Shortened breathing
  • Pounding heart
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling that “the walls are closing in”

3. Practice self-soothing techniques.

Goode suggests practicing the following techniques with your kids, so they’ll know how to do them on their own:

  • Hand on the heart. “Research shows that when placing a hand on the heart and imagining something calming like a beach, the heart will be calmer within five minutes,” says Goode. “Kids can easily bring down their anxiety levels using this technique.”
  • Deep breathing. This lowers blood pressure and heart rate, helping the body to relax. Goode says even just five deep breaths can help alleviate stress.
  • Blow away stress. Goode suggests telling children to close their eyes and imagine that their worry is a dark cloud hanging overhead. Tell the child to name the cloud, see the cloud, describe it, and then blow it away with a few deep breaths. This helps the child clear his mind.
  • Positive imagery. Tell your child to imagine sunshine in her heart. Describe a bright light that feels calm and peaceful. The child can hold onto the light and use it to zap worries later. This technique is especially helpful for children dealing with bullying or an illness, because it gives them a sense of control.

3. Blow off steam.

Getting regular exercise — even for just 15 minutes — can seriously reduce stress because it releases energy and endorphins. “When the body is in movement, there’s less inclination to focus on a negative mental stream,” says Goode.

4. Walk the dog.

Goode says that walking the family dog together can be one of the best ways to help a child stress less. “Children who walk a dog will usually talk things out with a parent if they walk together.” In addition, says Goode, stroking a pet has been shown to release oxytocin, the chemical responsible for bonding, which has a calming effect and reinforces closeness between a parent and child.

5. Connect with your kids.

Above all, Goode says, the antidote to stress is connection. “I believe this technology-driven generation is missing the face-to-face conversations and the family dinners where we talk things out,” she says. Make connecting with your kids a priority. Turn off the technology. Schedule a family game night or a Sunday outing. That’s the kind of connection that keeps kids grounded, even in the face of stress.