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What to say when your child doesn’t want to go back to school

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As a mom of three wonderfully frustrating kids of varying ages, all of whom have very different ways of approaching learning, I’ve heard “I don’t want to go to school” more than a few times as summer vacation comes to its inevitable end.

Two of my kids have learning and attention issues like ADHD and sensory processing issues. These issues create unique challenges for my kids this time of year. But going back to school can be stressful for all kids.

As an expert for Understood.org, a free online resource for parents of the 1 in 5 children with learning and attention issues, as a former early childhood educator, and—most importantly—as a parent, I’ve learned a few things about actionable, empathetic ways to reduce the stress of a new school year.

Three Ways to Respond to “I Don’t Want to Go to School!”

1. “How about we try to meet your teacher and check out the school?”

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s new teacher and ask to meet. Many teachers will find the time to meet with you and your child before the school year begins. After all, it benefits everyone for the teacher to connect with your child. Understanding your child’s strengths will help the teacher start the year off more smoothly.

For instance, one of my sons has a very wry sense of humor. Knowing that ahead of time has always been helpful for teachers who want to connect with him right off the bat. Reading a file isn’t the same as meeting in person to learn about a child’s personality.

While you’re at the school, take the time to help your child get familiar with the layout of the school itself. This can reduce stress and confusion on the first day, so your child will feel more confident walking into the building.

It may also be a good time to establish the best mode of communication between you and your child’s teachers. Is calling best, or does e-mail work better? How often do you need check-ins, and what’s reasonable for everybody to manage?

2. “How can we get organized for school to make it easier?”

My kids have sensory processing issues, which means we have to find clothes that feel just right to be comfortable. Getting their clothes and supplies organized for the school year gives them a sense of relief.

For many kids, buying new things can be fun, but for others it can cause more stress. If that’s the case, don’t underestimate the power of helping your child organize existing clothes so they know where to find comfortable outfits.

Having your child label notebooks, color-coordinate school supplies, and find a place to store pens, pencils, and other items is helpful, too. Anything that empowers your child to get into “prep mode” is a good way to ease into the school routine.

2-Minute Tutorial: How to Organize Your Child’s Backpack

3. “Let’s talk about an after-school activity.”

Encouraging kids to explore their strengths and passions and to take healthy risks can help boost their interest in returning to school.The beginning of the school year is a great time to sign up for extracurricular activities such as soccer, marching band, and chess club. What activities might play on your child’s strengths and interests? Here are some activities to consider:

  • Does your child like to draw, paint, or sculpt? Art classes can be a good way for kids to explore the beauty of the world and express themselves creatively.
  • Does your child enjoy storytelling and love being the center of attention? Drama club can be a good outlet. It sneaks in learning by helping kids understand how plot, characters, and setting work together to make a story powerful. And for kids who aren’t comfortable in the limelight, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes production roles.
  • Does your child know a lot of information and enjoy sharing it with other people?Debate club can help kids build friendships with others who have common interests.
  • Does your child love to sing and make music? Music classes may be something to explore. Music uses many different parts of the brain to process rhythm, emotion, and movement. All of the elements of music—including tempo, pitch, and beat—are key pieces of learning to read, too.
  • Does your child love to move and groove? Dance classes give kids a social way to learn rhythm, coordination, and motor skills, as well as how to follow directions.
  • Does your child get excited about science and building things? LEGO robotics is a great activity for logical thinkers. Kids learn how to come up with a plan, organize it, and carry it out.
  • Is your child curious, full of energy, and happiest when outdoors? Biking, hiking and climbing allow kids to be athletic without the pressure of being part of a team.

Of course, activities vary from season to season. The most important thing is to start with something your child is interested in and go from there.

More About Understood

Developed in collaboration with 14 nonprofit partners, Understood.org, is a free resource and community to parents of the 1 in 5 kids who have learning and attention issues. Understood recommends participating in its Start School Strong customized online experience. Here, parents answer three simple questions to get personalized guidance on managing their child’s transition back to school. The website offers free customized tips, resources, and tools (in both English and Spanish) to ensure that students are unlocking their full potential.

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