My son is starting a new school. He has a lot of anxiety with any new things. So I got some tips from the professionals that really made a big difference, and I wanted to share. These tips can be used for any new experience your child will have. We use them for Scout Camp, family vacations, and even play dates sometimes. Just adapt the examples to your specific needs. Not all the things I list here will apply to every situation, but the stress reduction I’ve found is wonderful.
Nine Helpful Tips
1. We talked very positively about the new school.
As humans we are affected by the opinions of others. We made sure that we told him how excited we are, and we told him about all the great new things he will get to do there. His anxiety made it hard to consider a new school. But we calmed his fears and answered all his questions, as many times as he asked. (Which was a lot.) It was important for him to understand that we had confidence in the new school, and that he would be safe there.
2. We took a tour of the new school.
We went to his school when nobody was around so he could get used to the building and get a feeling for how it looks and feels. We met his teachers and his aid. Most importantly, because of his bullying trauma in his previous school, we made him a part of the decision to go there. He needed to feel safe and know his opinion matters.
3. We made sure to use his money chart a LOT.
I created an area for getting dressed, one for leaving the house, one for going to therapy, and one for going to school. That is on top of the other things we have been working on already. Click here for the whole money chart article. As part of the money chart motivator, we encouraged him to think of things he wanted to get with the money he earned. It’s not a vital step, but it makes the money chart that much more meaningful.
4. Bring a comfort item.
My son is really into smoke detectors right now. It helped him feel safe to bring one or two with him to school the first day. For your child, bringing something they love (or a comfort toy) can accomplish the same thing. His teacher was amazing and let him tell the whole class about them. And by the second day of school, he was bringing old smoke detectors from his collection to give to kids who wanted one.
He had a lot of old smoke detectors from when we replaced the ones in our house, so don’t think he ran out and got new ones or anything. He was just so thrilled that they were expressing interest in something he loves that he wanted to share. It was a great bonding experience for everyone.
5. Practice for the big day.
It can be hard for us to get out the door in the morning. My son hates to leave, and the whole process of getting dressed and remembering everything can be stressful. We did two things to help this process.
First, we set out most of the things he wanted to take the night before. Second, we started practicing leaving the house for anything about a week ahead of time. Getting dressed and leaving was hard at first. But that practice helped when it came time for school. He can still struggle, but he seems calmer.
6. Distraction, distraction, distraction!
The worst part of anticipating anything is the worry and overthinking that goes on in your mind. So, like anyone, distraction is a big help. For us, we found something he loves, and we jumped in with both feet. His newest love is tornadoes, and this is a great time of year for watching the NOAA radar feed.
We watch for tornadoes every day. We watch the movies Twister and Into the Storm and talk about tornadoes. Since we live in the mountains, there are no tornadoes here, but the weather channel keeps us aware of the things going on in the rest of the country. It helps him to pass the time and keep his focus off the new thing coming.
7. Stack as many highly preferred things into his school day as possible.
It will vary with each kid, but for us, my son loves Subway sandwiches. So I got him one for his lunch, along with his favorite drink. He wore his favorite shirt and I made sure he was dressed comfortably.
We scheduled a car wash for after school and made sure he knew that was the plan. I would pick him up and we would go get a car wash. Those things buffered the worry of school and made the day into something to really look forward to.
8. Keep reminding him about the good things coming.
My son has been really excited to make some good friends who “get” him. The new school we are going to is just for kids on the Autism spectrum. So, when he is bored or moping around that he doesn’t have anything to do, I remind him that this new school will open doors to the friends he has wanted. I hope that in pointing that out to him often, he will be able to keep the big picture in mind as he makes this big change in his life.
9. Give him a way to reach you.
And finally, once the new school starts, I help his anxiety by staying close enough that I can be there quickly if his teacher or aid calls me. That first day I sat for an hour in a café about five minutes from his new school. It was important to give him independence and keep tabs on him at the same time so that he wouldn’t worry so badly.
Keep trying. It’s worth it.
These new experiences are so important for our kid’s growth and development. But helping him transition is hard sometimes. Both the teacher and the aid have cell phones and my number, so I am confident he will be able to reach me if he needs me. His old school would not let him reach out when he needed to, and that was a huge stress for both of us. He soon started resisting going to school, thus the change.
Fast forward two weeks and his new school is going really well. My son loves going. I know that the school is responsible for his continued happiness and how he is thriving. I had so much anxiety leading up to this transition and I am so grateful that things have gone well. It is an answer to many prayers. I hope some of these tips will help you with any transition you and your child need to make.
This article was previously published on Abby’s page at Patheos.com
About Abby Christianson
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. Having completed training to be an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) for ABA therapy she is beginning to understand her son. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that the challenges can be overcome, and there are blessings in autism. You or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.