Most of our children are now on winter break, and during this time of year, many parents often ask me questions such as: How can I help my child transition back to school? I feel like we will be starting the school year all over again after winter break! What should I do? Will my child be okay after taking so many weeks off of therapy and school? Well, parents, I am here to curb the back-to-school blues!
Our kids need a break- sometimes as much as we do! The Winter Holidays come around every year, and they should be enjoyed. Allow your child to relax, enjoy screen time, have some sweet indulgences, and whatever other holiday fun comes their way! While the transition back to school may be rocky, children are resilient and will find their grove in time. They will be okay.
That said, the weeks during winter break can make for a tough transition back to school; the transition can be especially tough for students with special needs. As a therapist, I am also quite empathetic to the fear of a child possibly losing important skills and thus having difficulty transitioning back to school.
I always suggest to parents concerned with this inevitable transition to simply choose 1 or 2 skills to focus on. Choose a skill(s) that you feel will positively impact your child’s transition back to school and feel confident and excited about helping your child practice. Practicing just one skill can make a world of difference upon the return to school! In some ways practicing just 1 or 2 skills is preferred as it helps a child to master a skill they are otherwise too busy or overwhelmed to focus on while in school.
Perhaps most importantly, remember that winter break should be fun and enjoyable for all; choose a skill that you and your child can practice in a fun way! It is my opinion, that learning sticks best when a person is enjoying the process and trusts that their teacher (in this case, the parent) is also enthusiastic about the task.
Below are a few fun and important skills to practice over winter break!
Reading & Writing
Choose a book to read and finish with your child and then use that book for all kinds of fun. For shorter books, put on a live show of the book with puppets, dolls, or stuffed animals, write a new story using the same characters, find other people reading the story on YouTube and, pick your favorite storyteller, draw new illustrations for the book, make copies of the pictures and print them out for your child to sequence or make new stories with; the possibilities are endless. For longer books, write a new prequel or epilogue and compare that to the real thing, draw illustrations for the book, help your child to develop an alternative plot they may have liked better, and talk to them about their favorite and least favorite parts; Winter Break is a great time to help older children explore one story and deep dive into all of the nuances it can bring. Reading with your child is vital for learning and is a great skill to practice over winter break.
Play games with your child and pretend you’re more of a peer than a parent; tell your child that you want to “go first,” choose their favorite board game piece- you can even ‘bend the rules in your favor! The point is that we can help our children learn social skills by doing what their peers would do. However, we can help our children through these issues since we are adults. Ideally, the skills they learn by playing with us will translate to school and their social environments.
Practice delayed gratification; when your child asks you for something, or requests your attention, wait a moment before responding. At school, children have to navigate a whole classroom of students that want the teacher’s attention. By waiting just a moment before responding to your child, your child will practice patience and have an easier time when they are back with their entire classroom and one teacher.
Routines: Start up a routine your child completes on school days. Some examples of this are setting an alarm closer to the time they need to be up for school, following their morning routine as if they were going to school, and reviewing a calendar of your child’s schedule when they get back to school. Practicing school day routines leading to the end of the winter break will help ease the transition back to long school days.
Organization & Planning: Facilitate a project requiring multiple steps and have your child practice independently sequencing and planning those steps. Many children struggle with multi-step directions and the organization of larger tasks. Winter Break is a perfect time to practice this skill as the child has time to focus on a singular project. Projects include cooking, building, crafting, planning a fictitious trip, and more.
Following Through with Responsibilities: One of the most common things I help parents with is helping their children to remember responsibilities like putting their shoes in the proper place, hanging their backpack on the hook, putting their jackets or homework in a specific spot, putting their dish in the sink, etc. Practicing these responsibilities during Winter Break will help them to solidify once school starts. Try making a game out of practicing these responsibilities; try using a running point system or offering something fun for your child to earn upon completing the tasks over multiple days.
Ask your child about what they’re looking forward to about returning to school and what they’re not looking forward to. Try to help them figure out why they’re not looking forward to school and work through those reasons together. Make a Pro/Con list, draw pictures, tell a story, and encourage conversations about how your child feels about school.
Specific behaviors are required for learning, such as sitting with a “calm body” in a chair or on the carpet, looking at your teacher, taking notes, raising your hand, standing in line, etc. One of the most prevalent learning behaviors is a student having difficulty sitting still long enough to listen and learn during classroom instruction. Simply having your child practice sitting still can hugely benefit their return to school. Make a game out of the activity by playing freeze or having a competition between siblings for who can sit still the longest.
A very effective way to promote appropriate behaviors is through positive praise. Positive praise, also known as positive reinforcement, is extremely beneficial for long-term behavior change. The more you can praise or reinforce your child when they are doing something “good,” the more likely that behavior will solidify.
No matter what skills you focus on, I recommend choosing only 1 or 2 skills to practice over the winter holiday. Remember that these tasks should be fun for you and your child!
From the Olive Behavior Care family to yours, we wish you and yours a very happy holiday!