Back to school is often a time filled with excitement – teachers planning a new classroom theme, children getting to see friends and teachers again, meeting new friends and teachers, and getting all of the supplies needed, too! Just as a teacher spends time planning lessons to best teach the school year academics, we as parents should be thinking about how we are going to support everyone’s switches to be on (yours and theirs) during this time of year!
Although there may be excitement, this is a time where the morning routine meets a deadline and your children may be anxious (and excited) about what the year will bring. As parents, we can expect our kids to calmly and easily roll into this routine because they are so excited, right? If you’re thinking “I feel like this is a trick question”, then you’re already off to a good start with managing your expectations of your child’s behavior at the start of school!
But what does managing your expectations of your child’s behavior have to do with his/her overall success with his/her switch staying on? By setting your expectations to assume your child’s switch will be off/dim, you can create a plan that will promote their switches being on proactively, and in turn, help to keep your own switch on! Setting up a few routines can help your children know what you expect of them, and you can promote their independence with these routines to help keep your switch on, too!
- Set up a morning routine a week or two before school starts. Create a routine that can be easily translated to a school routine. For example, it could include getting up, changing clothes, eating breakfast, and finishing getting ready for the day (brush hair, brush teeth, etc).
- Plan an arrival routine for when your preschooler arrives at his/her classroom – put his/her things away (cubby or hook), say hi to the teacher, go potty, wash hands, and choose an open center. Allow for extra time the first week to guide your child through these morning expectations until it becomes routine. This can allow for children that may be more shy to get a chance for their switches to come on as they scan the room, and can give more social and excitable children a chance to get settled into an activity rather than wandering.
- Establish a coming home routine. This could involve putting backpacks and shoes away, getting out folders or school items sent home and placing them in a designated location, and having a snack or playing with specific after-school activities while you as the parent take time to take care of your switch!
- How is your child’s bedtime routine? What once worked may not always as your child grows and develops, and their total sleep needs gradually decrease over time in the school age years.
Whatever the excitement or concerns may be, it is important to be aware of your expectations as a parent and meet your child where they are at, while also taking steps to support his/her switch staying on. We are not saying you should lower your standards. Your currently unrealistic expectations are a really great end goal to accomplish. We will help you bridge the gap between the two!
Similarly, as the parent, it is even more important for YOUR switch to be on when helping support your child in these new or difficult situations! As you establish these new routines with your child(ren), you should also manage your expectations on how much of your support they will need to complete them. Be prepared to spend more time supporting them with a newer routine, and less-time supporting them with a familiar routine.
If your child knows the routine but his/her switch is off, increase the amount of support you provide to promote switches coming back on. Pretend You Are A Light Switch!® to support your child’s success with these expectations. Remain silent or remove as many verbal instructions for your child to complete.
If your child wakes up with his/her switch off, that should indicate to you to work on getting his/her switch on while silently supporting follow-through with the necessary steps of the morning routine. If your child hides behind you as you enter the classroom, think about how you can first, support your child’s switch to come on without telling them what they need to do in that moment. If your child comes home and immediately starts whining about what’s for dinner, work on getting his/her switch on before completing these routines!
Most importantly, if your switch turns off when you child’s switch turns off, focus on supporting your switch to come on before you promote your child’s switch coming back on. Then, eventually follow through with any instructions or steps of the routine that need to be completed.
Anna Milligan, MS
Jamie Waldvogel, MS, BCBA
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute a behavioral consultation relationship between Behave Your Best, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as behavioral consultation and should not be construed as behavioral consultation.