by Bev Borton~
Everyone knows school supplies are essential, but who is taking time for mental and emotional preparation as well? Here are some back to school tips for Special Needs Parents.
Having been a teacher of special students for 33 years, it’s natural for me to still be in sync with Back to School time, even though I am now retired from education. When I see the school buses roll, I think of the Clean Slate of September. Is it a clean slate for your family or is it back to struggling?
Each August, as I sat in meetings reviewing files of my new students, I purposely avoided any complaints or stories about limitation from last year’s teachers. I would read their documentation only with an eye towards modifications I was required to legally make. What I fully imagined and expected was the report I would write at the end of my year with each student- one that described a happier and more advanced child. I waited to see the live human beings-the presences in my classroom- not the sum of judgments and comparisons based on the conformities that the school (and parents) expected. I knew the year would call upon my compassion, patience, and loving wisdom to nurture and support them- and myself.
I ask parents to prepare this way as well. Make a plan to nurture and support your child and yourself. It felt better to me to think of a student as having gifts rather than being troublesome. As improving in his own time rather than struggling. As genuinely likable rather than the cause of anger or annoyance. Why would I want to get up in the morning and anticipate a day of struggle? I’d rather look forward to a measure of ease or advancement. Teachers (and parents) who chose other perspectives suffered predictably frustrating times and were the ones complaining about shortcomings.
Are you a parent who focuses on what you don’t want? The possibility of not measuring up, the social problems that may manifest, the behavior issues that may repeat themselves? Worries and fears about the future?
Or do you pay larger attention to your child’s potential- Do you say, “He’s not like the others, and it is going to be alright. We are moving through this and enjoying the increases and advancements without comparisons.” Do you focus on true learning, where your child is free, or where your child is constricted or lacking?
Do you recognize where their energy is directed? Do you back up their inclinations, support their curiosity, and encourage their creativity?
If we see a student as whole, meaning not having to be fixed, there is everything to work with to enhance talents, build on strengths, and celebrate more fullness of life as it emerges.
Here are six typical vocabulary terms to consider in new light:
1. School– School is not necessarily about knowledge retained and applied. Ask yourself as an adult: How important was the knowledge I learned in school? How often am I applying it?
It’s more about opportunities for socialization and cooperation with others. It presents chances to advance as a person, not a brain. There is great value in the gathering of so many different people and learning how to get along in that mix. How can we keep feeling good about who we are among all the people we could instead compare ourselves to? (Comparison is dangerous territory. Avoid it.)
2. Parental Support– Involvement in positive ways pays off big time. Volunteer. Show up. Recent US studies show that parental involvement is the most significant factor in how well a child does at school.
Back your student, but don’t defend them. Help them advocate for themselves to the greatest degree possible. When you encourage this, they become more aware of their wants and needs, and learn to appropriately express them. Allow your student to be part of the decision making about how best to accomplish what they feel is important about school. Let them know school is important to you, but for the most important reasons.
Expect and recognize good things: Positive influences, feelings of worthiness, wonderful adventure, excitement about what captures their attention, engagement. Build upon these.
3. Behavior– Rebellion is the result of feeling/ perceiving some sort of confinement, or being bossed. Lovingly help your child understand this. If their center is strong and they recognize that their power is inside, and not based on any outside conditions, social settings may become easier, and confidence may rise. Let your child understand where their true freedom lies. Allow your child to be part of the development of any behavior plan. A parent who can soothe themselves about their child’s true worth, can help soothe their child and even the teachers.
4. Grades– Grades are not an indicator of success in life. Let’s repeat that. Grades are not an indicator of success in life.
5. Homework– Homework is generally more about compliance and behavior than about academics. It’s also about independence. If there are” problems” here, see them for what they really are and address the relative value of compliance/behavior/ independence in the big picture of what matters about the school year to your family.
6. Engagement– Look for the indicators of what’s got your child’s most positive attention and build, build , build upon them!
Most importantly, as parents, please remember to nurture yourselves as well. Balance all the family “doings” with some plain old “being”. It’s really about growing happy, loving human beings.