Today is day two in our back to school series for sensory parents. If you missed yesterday you can read it here.
As tough as back to school can be for us as parents sometimes, it’s even harder on our kids. The change in routine, the new schedule, the new teacher, everything is different. Which, for some of our kids can almost be like the perfect storm. In our house it usually results in after school meltdowns. During the school day she’s able to hold it all together and she stores it up just for us when she gets home. The days that an epic meltdown doesn’t happen after school are few and far between.
We’ve learned a few things to help make it happen less often. But overall the game plan for afterschool goes something like, “Buckle up, let’s just get through it.” We also always say that, “It’s not a matter of if, it’s really just a matter of when.” Sometimes meltdowns happen right away when I get her in the car, sometimes it doesn’t happen until later in the evening. We still try to do everything we can to avoid or minimize a meltdown. All of these things throughout the day can affect her and it’s what we use to help her.
Go with what they will wear! CLOTHING: OH… clothing!! Who knew something so simple could be so challenging. Our goal with clothing is pretty simple. As long as she has CLOTHES on, we go with it! So, here’s what we do, I buy everything I KNOW she will wear and always make it so that I can return it. We test it out at home and if it doesn’t get worn in two weeks I know it can be returned! Here’s where we shop and a few of our favorite things over the past two years:
Shirts: Short sleeve t-shirts are a must!! I’ve had good luck with The Children’s Place, they usually have graphic T’s that she is excited about. Over the past year she has really preferred Nike dri-fit or Under Armour heat gear shirts (I usually find a few at the outlets and Amazon!) that are of the lighter weight fabric that breathes and helps her stay cool since she has challenges with temperature regulation.
Pants: This is another one of our biggest challenge. I usually buy about 10 pairs when I find something that works. We have had really good luck with C9 leggings from Target and C9 Dance pants. They have seams that are soft and not scratchy!!
Shoes or no shoes… SHOES: Don’t even get me started on shoes. They are like tiny torture devices in our house. I talked about this a little yesterday and what our plan for this year is. We have concluded that keeping it exciting buying new every 3-4 months will help. She’s also really tough on shoes anyways so she will need new ones. Also, I am not worried about her learning to tie her shoes, she hates shoes with laces so I’m in no hurry either, and these kind go up to very large sizes woo hoo! (Update: She’s now 8 and still hasn’t earned to tie shoes!)
Stride-rite has been our favorite place to find shoes. Our nearest one has a manager whom I’ve deemed the shoe whisperer since our daughter could walk. These are the shoes that we recently have bought in multiple sizes!!
Send something comforting with. A gift from us to wear: Necklace, bracelets and watches oh my! She loves to have something from us to remind her of us during the day.
To help in moments of distress and waiting. Fidget/Chewelry: this is our favorite product. I mentioned this yesterday as well, these bracelets (for added sensory impact, key ring removed) and they are great for something to chew on and fidget with during lines, transitions and circle times.
To make lunch time easy. Lunchbox items that aren’t too big of a challenge: here’s our favorites. Any of the Sistema lunch box containers work really well for kids that struggle with fine more skills! They are easy to open and kids (and parents) can feel confident that they can open them! This was something I was really worried about last year. Luckily I learned that if they can’t get something opened, the kids help each other or they can raise their hand and a lunch attendant will come.
Minimize the meltdowns. Transitions: In our car, by Miss Sensory’s choice we listen to the SAME song to and from school (comfort/calming). We also have a variety of thinking games we play on the way to school (I spy is a favorite, along with doing math problems and rhyming). After school, we do a snack in the car. We’ve had this same routine for… years! It’s kept us all calm, which is our main goal during transitions! Worst case scenario, she gets my phone for the quick few minutes and will play a game (distraction). Focus on what your child needs at the moment, ours needed very strict routine, so much so I often park in the same area!
If your school doesn’t do an open house, see if you can go in early and find where your child’s classroom is and practice everything. We are able to go to an open house night, practice using the locker, see where the nearest restroom is etc.
We also practice getting ready for school the week before school. So we will get up at school time and get ready (like we are going to school) and leave the house and drive to school, then we do something else. This helps prepare her for the first day.
Keep Calm. Anxiety: I don’t know about you but Miss Sensory has a lot of anxiety and all the typical tips for helping prep for school don’t seem to work. Our best response is actually to not tell her when something is coming up. I know that sounds horrible but I’m completely serious! This has worked really well for everything from surgery, celebrations, and trips. So we will actually be doing that for the first day of school, wish us luck ! (Update: This will be our 3rd year of not telling her when the first day of school is and it has gone really well!)
Social Skills Practice. We also prep for a lot of situations for school. We talk about what she needs to do if she doesn’t feel good, if she needs to go to the bathroom, if she needs help. What to say when you meet someone new. These seem like really basic things but I know that when she’s in the moment and her brain shuts off she isn’t able to communicate what she needs.
Visual Calendar is a necessity! We are lucky that we do get one from the school weekly so that helps me not have to do one every week. It will list out what days she has music versus gym. Otherwise, I would probably make one. Some teachers will do this and some will not. For breaks, I always make a schedule as well.
After-school Routine: Follow your child’s lead after school. We often have an agenda of our own as parents. We are ready to tackle, snack, homework, bath, dinner etc. But our child may have a different plan. We will often make a visual schedule after school. I will say that some things are non-negotiable like homework and bath time and let Miss Sensory choose when we will be doing them. This helps her feel in control and makes everything run smoothly. I think this is especially important after she’s just finished a day of having to be completely out of control, which is another challenge for her. Often afterschool she really wants a snack and needs some chill time. I giver her some space to do that.
What tips do you have for other parents for back to school?