Mary Kurcinka defines spirited (HSC) children as: “… normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive and uncomfortable with change than other children.” If this describes your child, there may be unique challenges for your highly sensitive child (HSC) as they start a new school year. I’m a highly sensitive parent with multiple HSCs that call me Mom. Over the years, we’ve learned simple ways to help make a new school year successful for a HSC.
Start bedtime and mealtime routines early–at least a week before, if not two. As soon as I receive teacher letters in the mail, I email the teachers and ask what their lunch times are (and if littles get an additional snack during the day). A week or two before school starts, we try to have bedtimes and mealtimes as close to what they need to be during the school year.
(Yes, I have multiple kids in school, which means multiple lunch times. No, we don’t eat at different times at home. We pick one time as close to all their school lunchtimes as possible, and call it good).
Restart organizational routines–We try to be relatively organized at home, but sometimes in the summer things get more relaxed. When we implement school bedtimes and mealtimes, we also refresh the habit of laying out tomorrow’s clothes the night before. If you don’t have one set place for backpacks and coats, hang some basic hooks and establish a home for these items now.
Help your child view their new classroom as a positive place–It can be scary to be in a new classroom with no memories in it. It’s a big blank slate, and it’s easy to think about last year’s classroom through a soft and fuzzy lens. There are fun times and memories in that old classroom, and the new classroom seems a little sterile and cold in comparison. Sometimes talking about fun future events can help overcome that (holiday parties, movie days, lunch in the classroom, ect).
Help your child focus on things that are familiar–depending on the classroom’s setup, having a small family photo in their supply box, lunchbox or coat pocket can help (plastic baseball card sleeves are great for protecting wallet sized photos).
HSC feed off of other people’s emotions. Help project calmness and stability for your child. When I walked into kindergarten on the first day of school with my oldest child, there was a little girl in the classroom sobbing hysterically, and my stomach sank. Quietly address the situation with your child, “This friend is sad right now, but she will feel better soon. You are ready for a fun day, and you can tell me all about it after school.” If you are calm, it will help your child to stay calm too.
Tour you child’s school at the least busy time possible. Crowds of people and noise are often difficult for HSC to cope with, and can be very overwhelming. If you can swing a private tour of the school when it’s fairly empty, definitely take advantage of that. If you can’t, try to go to Meet the Teacher night at the very beginning of the evening, or towards the end, when traffic is lower.
Don’t rush your HSC–encourage them to really explore the building at their own pace. Make sure they know where places of importance are located such as restrooms, office, nurse, ect. They will feel empowered knowing how to take care of themselves when the occasion arises.
Meet additional building staff besides their primary teacher. It’s great practice for your child to walk up to adults, make an introduction, and shake the adult’s hand. This strengthens their social skills, and gives them a connection with the adult when the time comes for them to interact.
Your HSC will feel more confident and in control by knowing the layout of the building and the names and faces of the people who work there. For example, if your child gets a bloody nose on the playground, knowing where the nurse is and having at least one positive interaction with him/her will greatly reduce anxiety and stress over the situation.
Help them to be as physically comfortable as possible. Wearing clothing that makes them feel comfortable and confident can make a big difference. If they’re bothered by sock seams or itchy tags, cut the tags out and find seamless socks. Make sure they take a sweatshirt or jacket in their backpack if they get cold easily. If they’re hot natured, let them wear shorts if it’s a reasonable temperature.
Highly sensitive children can be very distracted if they’re physically uncomfortable, so taking care of small details can make a huge difference to them. If their classroom allows them to bring a water bottle, help them take charge of bringing one every day.
Treat every first day of school like your child’s first day of kindergarten. Don’t slack off just because this isn’t a year of huge change. Last week I sent a 6th grader, 4th grader, and 1st grader back to school. Everyone returned to a familiar school, so honestly, I dropped the ball and didn’t put as much effort into prepping for the new school year, and all of our stress levels suffered.
Be patient–one of the hardest parts is that it just takes time for new things to become familiar and routine, but they will.
What are your tips for helping kids adjust to a new school year?