Monday, August 7, 2023

Back to School for Highly Sensitive Kids

As the summer comes to a close, we all have one thing on our minds - it’s time to go back to school! For many families, transitioning back into the school routine can be stressful, and it’s especially true for Highly Sensitive kiddos and their parents. Think about it, even if they are returning to the same school, they are faced with new routines and schedules, a different classroom, and a new teacher and their expectations. Highly Sensitive Kids need time to get reacquainted with the sights, smells, sounds, and textures of school and all of this newness can cause anxiety, behavior problems, and disorganization. An increase in frustration, sadness, and other big feelings are to be completely expected. It’s important to take all of these factors into consideration and be mindful of the significant impact these changes can have on our children and teens. Be extra patient, recognize and empathize with their fears and worries, offer help when needed, and don’t take any negative reactions personally.


Here are some tips to make Back to School a breeze:

Plan to talk to your child’s/young teen’s teacher: By discussing your child’s/teen’s specific sensitivities and how they feel about school, you can give them a better idea of what to expect. The teacher may not be familiar with all the factors that need to be considered (seating arrangements, constant changing of activities, noise level in the classroom, pressure to perform, classroom politics, etc.). We know how important it is to get to know and understand your Highly Sensitive Child, so the more information they have, the better. For older teens, you can help them figure out how to talk with their teachers themselves and share some of their needs and preferences that promote learning.


Open dialogue: Make sure to give your kiddo the time and space to discuss their anxieties and worries regarding school (before starting) and then their school day once they have started. This helps them to feel heard and provides them the opportunity to wind down.


Playdates for younger kids and social time for older ones: It can be helpful to set up playdates for younger kids with classmates prior to the start of the school year. If your child has experienced issues socializing at school, this can help them to develop good social skills. One-on-one playdates at your home, or somewhere they feel comfortable, can help them to start to form friendships before returning and make them more confident about transitioning back to school. For older kids and teens, allowing them ample opportunities to hang out with their friends and friends of friends will help widen their acquaintance network so when they head back to school, there are more faces they recognize, which can feel comforting.


Earlier bedtime and maintaining sleep routines: It can be helpful to start to get back into the school bedtime routine in the weeks before the first day. Gradually shifting to an earlier time will make adjusting to the new schedule easier.  


Plans and preparation: By getting as much as you can done the night before, both you and your child or teen can have a calm morning and not have to rush. (For example, picking out an outfit and trying it on beforehand, preparing lunch/snack, gathering backpacks, etc.). As you know, Highly Sensitive Children and Teens  like to know what to expect. It gives them a sense of control. Talk with them about what their day is going to look like (who will drop them off and pick them up, how they’re going to get to school, what activities are happening after school, etc.). While going over everything with them, ask them if they have any specific fears or worries and talk through them.


Create a weekly schedule: Some Highly Sensitive Children and Teens find transitions from one activity to another difficult. At least a week ahead of time, try doing “practice runs” to give you time to make any adjustments necessary. As always, it’s important to stick to the routines as much as possible so that your kiddo feels in control and knows what to expect. 


Don’t forget about play: All kids need to be active and have time to play and relax, and Highly Sensitive Kids benefit even more from playful experiences. They can have calming effects and help them to develop spontaneity, imagination, and other important abilities. These are things that increase flexibility, therefore lowering stress levels. Don’t forget to find and make opportunities for your child and your teen to play!


And finally..

Pick your battles: Understanding that this can be a stressful time for your child or teen is fundamental. It’s important to keep in mind that they are forced to deal with change and newness both in and outside of school (homework, after school activities, etc.), so it can be helpful to cut them some slack and not take negative reactions personally.

Welcome back to school!