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5 Tips to Help With Back-to-School Stress

Back to School | First day of school and first day of kinder… | Flickr

Anxious feelings are normal and expected for children returning to, or starting school. We can help our kids manage their worries and stress with a few tips.

  1. Take Care of the Basics – Ensure your child is getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, has daily exercise, and practices healthy coping skills.
  2. Provide Empathy – Listen to your child. Allow them to share their fears and worries with you. This can help lessen their fears and reduce their worries.
  3. Problem Solve – Once you have listened to your child and know what’s bothering them, you can start to develop a coping plan. For example, you can tell your child “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation”. Anxious children are often unable to problem solve and may doubt their ability to cope. Addressing fears head on and creating an active plan with concrete solutions can significantly reduce worries and anxieties.
  4. Focus on the Positive Aspects – Once you have an understanding of what your child is afraid of, and you have a coping plan to address these fears, you can encourage your child to re-direct attention away from their worries and direct them towards the positive things in their life. For example, you can ask your child “Tell me 1 thing you liked about school today”.
  5. Pay Attention to your own Behavior – It is completely normal for parents to experience their own feelings of worry and anxiety. Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence you can model, the more your child will believe they can handle any challenge. Be supportive, yet firm. When saying good-bye, say it cheerfully, and only once. If they display any protests, you can say in a calm voice ” I can see that going to school is making you feel scared, it’s ok to be scared, you still have to go to school. Tell me what you are worried about, so we can talk about it”.

Building Friendships

Friendship Building Tips

Learning how to navigate social situations involves learning many new skills. We can help our kids at home using these tips:

  1. Greetings and Questions – Try to make a habit of practicing different greetings throughout the day, model good listening skills, and take turns asking and answering open-ended questions, for example, “How are you?”
  2. Respecting Personal Space – Learning about the personal space needs of others is a skill that will benefit your child throughout their life. Try using hula-hoops or your arms to demonstrate the concept of ‘personal bubbles’ and move around the room trying not to touch each-other’s ‘personal bubble’. If your child is overly affectionate, try teaching them to replace hugs with high-fives or fist bumps.
  3. Levels of Voice – Encourage your child to listen and match the level of your voice. Imagine your voice has a volume dial and practice turning the volume up and down
  4. Dealing with Rejection – Children who are learning new social skills and meeting new friends will inevitably experience rejection at some point. As a parent, we can be ready to support them when this happens. Remind them of all of their wonderful qualities that make them the amazing child they are, and encourage them to continue to practice their skills of meeting new people.
  5. Reading and Responding to Social Signals – Communication is so much more than just words. Body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and volume of voice are all used when we communicate. Social signals are the variety of ways in which we communicate using our body language and facial expressions. Help your child learn common social signals. Use visuals, pictures, social stories, books and your own face to teach different expressions.

Big Emotions When Making Friends

  1. Patience – Learning how to wait for a turn in play or a time to speak in conversation is an important social skill. Play board-games and use timers at home to practice taking turns.
  2. Flexibility – Help your child make compromises using “First/Then” statements. For example, “First we play my game, Then we play your game”.
  3. Communicating Strong Emotions – Practice acknowledging and accepting your child’s emotions and teach them healthy ways of expressing them. For example, “When we are mad, we can stomp our feet like dinosaurs”. Daily meditation and deep breathing practices are good ways to help our children regulate.

It is important to offer our children opportunities to practice their newly learned social skills.

  • Find a Parent Support Group – connecting with other parents in similar situations can provide opportunities to grow your child’s social circle, in a supportive and loving environment.
  • Schedule Play Dates – set up the environment by making a list of activities and have the children take turns selecting the activities out of a hat.
  • Look for Inclusive Clubs and Social Groups – check out local community organizations that foster inclusive environments.

Building Relationships with a New School

Fall registration is ongoing, and parents have many questions regarding how to advocate for their children in the school system. Parents Learning Together invited a Lead Early Learning Coordinator to help guide families through the process.

She recommended:

  • Check out the school’s website
  • Request a school tour – you can do this before the start of school in September
  • Know how the school supports communication and resolution between home and school
  • Attend the school’s Open House and attend Parent – Teacher conferences
  • Call, visit, and email the principal
  • Play on the school playground, maybe you’ll meet other parents or children
  • Attend school council meetings – you can go before your child starts attending the school

Communicating with the School

  1. Your child’s teacher, principal, etc. want to hear from you
  2. When teachers have a relationship with parents, they know the child better, teaching and learning is improved
  3. You are not bothering a teacher with your communications; you are facilitating easier and smoother communication, especially if there is a tricky situation
  4. Don’t worry about your own communication skills!

Why is Self-Regulation important?

Occupational Therapist guest speakers joined the group to discuss sensory regulation. How can we support children to understand and manage different sensory stimuli, which can affect their regulation needs?

Sensory regulation skills help support a child with processing and managing their tolerance to different stimuli, so that they can help regulate their body and get it ready for learning, sharing, and playing. Sensory regulation skills continue to change and develop throughout childhood and adulthood.

Key Terms:

  • Arousal – how awake or alert or how tired you are. For example, a child may have lots of energy and will run, jump, and bump into things, or they may not sleep well at night and are tired during the day.
  • Regulation – the ability to match arousal to the environment and the activity. For example, during circle time, a child can sit quietly in one spot to listen to their teacher as they read a story. Their bodies can process all of the different sensory stimuli that is happening around them, including the brightness of the lights, any noise around them, etc.
  • Dysregulation – this is the opposite of regulated, the individual is not in the optimal state. For example, a child may become upset and distressed when visiting public washrooms, where the loud flushing toilet is overwhelming for them, or the sound of the hand dryer scares them.
  • Optimal Arousal – the level of arousal matches the environment and activity, this is sometimes referred to as “just right”. For example, at night-time, optimal arousal is low enough to facilitate sleep
  • Co-Regulation – regulation develops over time and begins with co-regulation, this is when someone else helps another individual to regulate. For example, if a child is crying, an adult will lend them their calm by saying soothing words in a soft and gentle voice.
  • Self-Regulation – the ability to stay regulated without the help of others, using strategies to help achieve the optimal arousal. For example, as a child gets older, and with support and modelling from an adult, a child starts to recognize signs when they need to seek sensory regulation support. This could be knowing that if there is a loud noise, they can cover their ears with their hands, or wear noise-cancelling headphones, or if their body is feeling busy, they can go and jump on a trampoline for a short while, or if they need to calm their body, they can go to a quiet area and look at a book. Self-regulation takes time, patience, and a lot of practice.

Sibling Relationships

Sibling relationships can be warm and caring, but they can also be unique and challenging. Because they are an important source of support and connection here are some strategies for supporting sibling play and communication and developing strong bonds:

  1. Set Ground Rules – setting up clear schedules and family expectations can help prevent conflicts from starting
  2. Provide Positive Reinforcement – it’s more effective for us to avoid focusing on behaviors we don’t want to see and instead focus on and reinforce the behaviors we do want to see. Let them know when they are doing it right
  3. Clear up Roles & Responsibilities – define roles clearly and have open conversations about what is expected. Set age-appropriate boundaries and give age-appropriate tasks.
  4. Encourage Connection – taking turns, sharing, and problem solving are all skills that can be learned at home. Set them up with activities that encourage them to work together, have one child teach the other child a new skill and praise their effort. Do things together as a family, when you can, to deepen family ties. Get out in nature. Laugh and play together.

When dealing with sibling conflict…

  1. Keep your goal in mind – problem solve
  2. Look after your own needs – self care
  3. Have positive expectations – focus on the behaviors you want to see
  4. Avoid labelling or comparing children – we are all unique and special

Seeing each child as a unique individual, avoiding labelling, or comparing your children, having realistic expectations, and keeping your goals of problem solving in mind can help foster a more harmonious home environment.

Elements of Self Esteem

Belonging – It is a basic human need to feel connected, this need is met through relationships with others. There is great value in children feeling that they are connected to parents and caregivers that will protect and guide them.
Uniqueness – We are all unique and different, our role as parents and caregivers is to honor that uniqueness and help children discover who they are.
Power – Children need to feel that they have some influence on the world around them. Parents and caregivers can support children in learning how to make decisions and solve problems independently.
Freedom of Expression – Children who experience the freedom of saying what they think and feel will eventually learn what they need to do to get their needs met. Children should be encouraged to say what they think, openly express their feelings, ask for what they want and need, and ways to communicate effectively.

Tips to Promote Healthy Self-Esteem
Ensure children know you love them unconditionally. The way we see our children, or the way our children believe we see them, has a profound effect on the way they see themselves. Focus on supporting children with a calm and positive presence, even when they are experiencing challenges and big emotions.
Practice positive self-talk with them. We all engage in mind chatter, it is important to focus on sending ourselves positive messages of love and acceptance.
Give them age-appropriate tasks to help you out. Setting and achieving realistic tasks will help them feel useful, responsible, and competent.
Join their play. Research shows that child led play helps our children develop across all domains including cognitive, social, mental, emotional, and physical.

Sleep Strategies

Occupational Therapist guest speakers joined the group to share some amazing tips and tools to help our wee ones, and ourselves, get the sleep we all need to function optimally.

Five Sleep Tips:

  • Create a bedtime routine at the same time every night such as brush teeth, put on pjs, tell a story.
  • Relax before bedtime – keep activities calm and gentle like reading or listening to soft music.
  • Keep regular sleep & wake times – this helps keep your child’s internal sleep clock in a regular pattern.
  • Set up the environment – ensure proper lighting, temperature, noise, bedding materials.
  • Avoid using screens 1-2 hours before bedtime – the artificial light created by iPads, phones, and computers stimulates, rather than calms, our children’s brains, limiting the use of screens before bedtime can help our children relax and get ready for bed.

You may be interested in exploring the following resources…

Places to Seek Support:
Pediatric Sleep Clinic – Alberta Children’s Hospital
MyKidz Pediatric Sleep Clinic

Canadian Sleep Society
Sleep for kids: Teaching the importance of sleep
Sleep Habits 101

Coping With Big Emotions

5 Key Points with Feelings:

Feelings are Transitory – they don’t last forever
Feelings need to be Acknowledged
Feelings vary in Intensity
Everyone has Feelings
Parents have Feelings too

If you would like some extra support in coping with your child’s, or your own, big emotions, come and join Parents Learning Together to fill your tool box.

Here is a great resource to learn more about your child’s emotions from a developmental perspective: ‘The Whole Brain Child’ – Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

Toilet Training

How Do We Know Our Children Are Ready?

Some signs of readiness are:
1.   Your child can pull their pants on and off
2.   Your child can stay dry for periods of time throughout the day
3.   Your child shows interest in what goes on in the bathroom
4.   They can sit on the toilet without resistance
5.   They may start to hide to poop or pee
6.   They let you know they need to go to the bathroom

If your child is showing these signs, it might be time to start the training process. Toilet training is a new skill for children so it is important to be supportive and as consistent as possible.

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