There is so much advice out there for transitioning back to school and how to make it easier for children with or without sensory challenges, I thought I’d simplify in hopes I can make this time (and your transition) easier:
For families living with a child who has sensory challenges, sleep may be easier said than done. If sleep is not a challenge in your home, then wrap your arms around yourself tightly and say a mental prayer of gratitude, that you can focus on other priorities of daily life. That said, back to school, often means changing of sleep patterns, bedtime and morning routines, and overall quality of sleep for everyone; even when sleep typically goes well. If you prioritize one thing during this transition time with children, sleep would be a good one to choose. If you feel you’ve got many issues to address and you don’t know where to start, I encourage starting with sleep, because it supports the physical and mental capacity to manage our everyday lives. Here are some tips from Angie Voss, OTR/L for making sleep easier!
- Eat Together
Instead of suggesting you eat a healthy diet and encourage your children to do the same, the one tip I encourage in this category during back to school time, is prioritizing mealtime as an opportunity to connect as a family; even if it lasts for only 5 min’s; even if it ends in chaos and upset, even if children don’t end up eating anything, and even if it means starting it at 8:00 pm. Making family mealtime a priority (without screens!) and making it part of your family routine, no matter what it looks like, will set the stage for building positive relationships with food and each other. It will also anchor other activities that take place in a day, which ultimately begins to create the predictability that children with sensory differences need. In An Interview with Melanie Potock, Amy Morin LCSW writes about ways to avoid power struggles over food, that may be helpful if mealtime is a “tricky” part of your day. In our feeding therapy program for picky eaters, we work with parents to structure mealtime because it can be a very stressful time for everyone involved. It’s often easier to avoid. However, if you do it, even though it’s stressful you are leading your children by example and teaching them not to avoid the things that are hard. By using mealtime as the cornerstone of connection no matter what mealtime looks like, amidst busy schedules, stressful days, and many unknowns children feel a part of something bigger than themselves which reaps benefits way beyond what they might put in their mouth.
Back to school may mean increased anxiety and for families living with sensory challenges, anxiety comes with the territory…for parents and for kids. Sometimes no matter what sensory strategy you use, your child will be anxious. I say this not to be negative, but to take the pressure off of trying to get it “right” every time. Sensory strategies don’t work “every” time. Sensory strategies only give us things to “try” every time, and when it’s “one of those days” and nothing is working, the best thing you can do and model for your child is “breathing”. You may be amazed, that if you take a pause to breathe, they might too. It allows you (and your nervous system) a brief window to stop expecting results or a different outcome and thus time for you to reconnect with what that next right step might be for supporting your child. Children with sensory differences, co-regulate off of their parents, so if breathing can help you calm, it may help your child calm too.
Welcome back to school! You’ve got this!