Managing your child's anxiety and setting routines are top concerns according to a back-to-school survey conducted by Fun and Function. The 200 respondents included parents, teachers and clinicians, many of whom asked questions about their specific situations. We turned to our Fun and Function occupational therapists, Adina Steinberg and Danielle Lake, for expert guidance based on their experience in school, at home and in the clinic.
What activities can my child do in the classroom to increase attention to task?
Providing movement opportunities within the classroom environment is one method for increased focus. Allow a student to sit on a therapy ball or seat cushion, read while standing on a balance board, or use a chair fidget for feet to maximize movement.
Fidgets are a tool for students to use to keep their hands busy while paying attention to the teacher. Using putty, desk fidgets, or finger fidgets can allow students to move their hands without disturbing their neighbor.
Activities that provide heavy work help students renew their focus throughout the day. Use a mini trampoline, therapy ball, weighted box bins, or cozy canoe in the classroom. Encourage students to carry weighted bins/baskets to different areas within the classroom during transitions.
What weighted products would help my child throughout the school day?
Weighted vests are a terrific tool to calm, organize and focus students. A weighted vest can help a student be more at ease and stay on task in the classroom. Weighted lap pads are effective when seated during circle time on the rug as well as at the desk. A calming deep pressure shirt can be worn alone, under a vest, or under a school uniform. The compression provides sensory input to a child throughout the day, calming and supporting attention.
When shopping in a store or online, allow your child to make choices when possible. Try on clothing and backpacks at home so children can identify any comfort issues in advance.
When anxious, my child will chew on his clothes, and place things in his mouth. What do you suggest as an alternative?
Chewing is one of our favorite filters for reducing anxiety and sensory overload. A chew tool can work wonders to help kids self-regulate and self-soothe, improving productivity in class. Sensory chews come in a variety of textures, shapes, materials, and densities. There are wearable options, such as chew necklaces and bracelets, or pencil toppers which can be added to the end of a pencil. In addition, pack some crunchy foods and snacks, such as pretzels, apple slices and carrots. Use bubble gum if the school will allow it. Remember to make the time for movement breaks, which can mitigate the need to chew.
How should we adjust sleep times?
Be consistent with bedtimes during the school week and weekends to allow your child to adjust to new wake up times. Having consistent bed time and breakfast routines will help your child feel a sense of stability as others things are changing.
How can I prepare my child for recess and the playground?Recess is hard for some children because they have trouble managing unstructured time. For others, delayed social skills can lead to exclusion or even bullying. Help your child plan for recess by discussing it in advance, or even create a social story to anticipate the challenges. Discuss who they can play with and what structured activities your child can participate in during that time. Teachers can help by reviewing the day's schedule and providing special cues for children who need them.
Next year, my child will start a new school. How should I prepare him?
Preparation can be key in transitioning to a new school. Schedule a visit with the school and spend a few minutes walking around the building with your child, pointing out places which will be important to him or her during school routines, like the library, the cafeteria, the gym, the classroom and the playground. Locate your child's locker and practice the combination. Also include your child in the back to school planning and shopping for clothing and supplies.
Work Collaboratively to Manage Child's Anxiety
As you ease into the routine of back to school, the jitters should start to subside for you and your child. Keep the communication open with your child and school team to work collaboratively to support your child and make it a successful year ahead.