What’s important to you at the start of this new school year?
New teachers, reunions with old friends and the promise of new friendships figure large in my conversations with kids at the moment. Book packs have been collected, new shoes are still pristine, and I’ve got visions of being organised so that the children’s lunchboxes are packed full of carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes, homemade spelt muffins and apples. And, optimistically, that everything is happily consumed during school hours, lunchbox returned home empty!
If your child has a disability or learning challenges, there’s an additional consideration. You’ll plan for a new round of conversations with teachers and administrators about your child’s strengths and difficulties, and the nature of the supports they need to thrive.
You might also be contending with anxiety from your child about returning to school. Perhaps there is fear around new expectations from teachers, or their ability to ‘fit in’ with classmates and find someone to share lunchtime with?
The start of the new year might be a great time to help your child address these anxieties, and offer a new framework that can help them cultivate hope, even in the midst of challenges.
Of course, learning difficulties and disability can make it more difficult to access this positive emotion. Most children are acutely aware of their academic competence and their social status. It doesn’t take much to knock a child’s confidence, and they might begin to lose the belief that they have the ability to change the situation for the better with astonishing speed.
Happily, as parents, there is much we can do.
You are your child’s most effective advocate, and your capacity to speak up in your child’s favour can be compelling in making sure that teachers are aware of special needs and capabilities that might otherwise be lost in the middle of a busy class.
But perhaps one of the most significant ways you can advocate for your child is to create in them a sense of hope for the future. Their disability might well remain for life, but significant courage and tenacity develops when children learn to manage their challenges. These characteristics can be nurtured, especially when the child develops a sense of hope in the future.
How do we do this as parents?
Stories can be a compelling way of inspiring possibility. Hope has been defined as the application of willpower and ‘way power’ to pursue a defined goal. Finding a story with a relatable character who has overcome similar challenges can be a great place to start. The series of books “Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different” and its counterpart stories for girls provide examples of children and young adults overcoming remarkable odds to create lives of meaning and contribution.
It can be wise to set modest, easily attainable goals initially. The purpose of the exercise is to build the child’s confidence in their capabilities and connect their goal-setting to a series of steps that result in its accomplishment.
These small successes help to create a new narrative of possibility.
For example, perhaps you might first set a goal of placing school shoes in the same place every night? Or offering a welcome ‘hello’ to a new child in the class? Starting homework assignments immediately they’re given to maximise preparation time? Or committing to letting the teacher know when they haven’t understood a new concept?
It might also be a help to ask your child to journal these experiences. The act of writing is a great way to cement new patterns of thought.
Remember, too, that “ that discouragement tends to breed discouragement and that, most importantly, hope is infectious” (Snyder, C. The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There From Here. New York: Free Press, 1994 in McDermott, D. et al. “Fostering Hope in the Classroom”)
The more you believe in your own child’s unique and brilliant potential, the more likely they are to believe in it themselves.
Of course, many other interventions can make a difference, not least making sure that our little ones are well-rested, well-nourished and well-hydrated.
At Mindful Nutrients, we firmly believe that it’s impossible to achieve our potential without adequate nutrition. As a Mum, I also know how difficult this can be, especially for children with sensory challenges. Our nutrient medicine achieve+ junior works to relieve mild anxiety, improve our children’s ability to learn and supports their energy levels over the course of a busy school day. Just one scoop a day makes a huge difference in helping them navigate life’s challenges. And remember, it’s great for adults too. Please go to www.mindfulnutrients.com to order.