As a parent or caregiver, you know how back-to-school time can be full of emotions for children, teens, and young adults. It can also be challenging as a parent or caregiver, especially if your child will need accommodation in the upcoming school year. Taking an active role in your child’s education is important and by advocating for their support, you can make a difference in their school experience.
Begin with Conversations at Home
It can be helpful to have a conversation with your young person about how they are feeling about going back to school. Understanding how they feel can help you know what to relay to the professionals at school who will be working with your child. During this kind of conversation, it is important to keep an open mind and give your young person the room they need to discuss how they are feeling. While you as a parent or caregiver may have some fears or preoccupations about back-to-school time, you’ll want to focus on your young person’s feelings first, so they don’t also take on your feelings as well.
Understand Who Your Support Network Is
From teachers to school counselors and social workers, it is important to know who is working with your child and build some communication with these staff. If your child has an accommodation plan, you will usually need to develop a relationship with the school counselor, social worker, or psychologist. If your child is receiving care from a therapist or other mental health professional outside of school, it can be helpful to have those care partners collaborate with the schools. An outside counselor can communicate with a school counselor or social worker if you sign off on their collaboration. If everyone on your young person’s care team can collaborate, then you are more likely to see better outcomes and support.
It can be helpful to have a folder or a few organized files that detail information about your young person’s diagnosis and treatment plans. Having one file with all relevant medical information, including medications and their dosages, emergency contacts, and all care partners listed can be a helpful tool. Especially if you have documentation or correspondence about an IEP or 504 plan, keeping all that information centrally located can be helpful for you to reference when needed.
Pursue Peer Support
We know mental health is worsened for anyone when social support is not available. Young people in particular need lots of social interaction to help foster their healthy development and growth. Ensure that your young person has strong social support, whether that is through extra-curricular activities or unstructured time with friends. While academic achievement is important, socialization can be just as important or even more so in some cases. When young people experience symptoms of depression in particular, relationships can be strained, so finding the support your young person needs to encourage socialization is crucial.
Advocate for Self-Advocacy
Where developmentally appropriate, young people should also begin to learn how to advocate for themselves in the school setting. If your young person is of an age where they have a good insight on their diagnosis, symptoms, and what they need to support themselves, they are probably at an age where they’ll be able to ask for what they need. Supporting your child through self-advocacy sets them up to be able to do so as they enter different stages of life.
While the new school year can be hard on young people and parents and caregivers alike, it can be helpful to create a plan, have open communication, and encourage self-advocacy. After the initial jitters of back to school have worn off, you’ll have set yourself and your family up for a smoother transition back to the classroom.