Whether your family is planning for a full in person return, virtual or remote options, or anything in between, we are excited for you as you begin your 2021/22 school year! We know the transition from summer lovin' to school year ready can be daunting, especially for our students who learn differently. We've selected our top three tips for returning to school. All of our tips are behavior analytic in nature (which means evidence-based - wooo science!) and things that can be incorporated into your daily life.
1) Structure your Morning Routine
One of the hardest parts about saying goodbye to summer is saying hello to your alarm clock. One way to counteract the morning dash out the door is to have a structured morning routine that stays the same each day. We like to think of the morning in 5 to 10 minute increments, and we go as far as to write down a step-by-step to make sure each part of the morning routine is complete before strapping on the seatbelt in the car or bus. We recommend making your routine child-facing by writing down each step with an empty box beside it (Differentiation tip - if you have a child who is not yet able to read, consider using picture symbols, real pictures, or items that signal what to do next). This helps transfer ownership to your child and helps them learn the critically important skill of independence.
2) Catch Your Child Being Good - and Shout it Out!
This one sounds like a no brainer, but one of the most powerful tools we have is our ability to see kids behaving the way we expect and reinforcing it. There are times (and I'm guilty as charged as a parent and former teacher) when we point out what our children are doing wrong or not doing enough of. Research shows that the magic ratio of positive to negative interactions is 4:1 at minimum. For every one criticism, correction, or critique, try to balance it with four separate praise statements, reinforcers, or compliments. For example, if you reminded your child to sit down for dinner for the 6th time, BUT they put their plate away in the dishwasher without being asked, consider thanking your child, giving them a high five, or an extra scoop of ice cream (we aren't ready to abandon all things summer quite yet). A 4:1 ratio of positives to negatives helps keep the equilibrium for all.
3) Consider Misbehavior an Opportunity to Practice a Better Way
One of the top referral concerns we hear at Beyond Behavior has to do with misbehavior. We know it can be hard and downright overwhelming (and frustrating, we've been there) when we are playing parent and teacher to our kids. We encourage you to think of the top behavior concern that you currently have regarding your child or children. Stay away from broad terms, like defiance or tantrums, and think about concrete behaviors that occur often enough that they pop out in your memory, such as "crying when I tell him/her no". Once you've identified the specific behavior, it becomes easier to think about what you would like your child to do instead.
Then, think when your child is going to need to the skill and be one step ahead. For example, if you know you are going to need to say "no" to something that your child cannot have, consider prepping your child. We like to say something like, "Hey buddy, let's talk about what to do when mommy says "no". We take a deep breath, say "ok, mommy", and stay calm." Next, set up an opportunity to practice this skill. "Okay, let's practice what to do. You pretend to ask me for ice cream, and I am going to say no. Remember to take a deep breath, say "ok, mommy" and stay calm." Once your child practices successfully, heap praise and consider giving them a reward or reinforcer. This helps "lock in" the skill and makes it more likely he/she will practice it this way in the future and begin to use it without reminders.
We hope that these three ABA-based tips will help support you, your child, and your entire family as you embark on the new school year. If you would like to learn more, feel free to reach out to talk through how Beyond Behavior can support your child in his or her return to school. We have in home direct ABA therapy options and parent training and consultation opportunities available.
Sending you the best for a happy, healthy, and successful 2021/2022!