Before the school year begins: simple ways to empower your child
By Mary Mazzoni –
Many kids feel uneasy right about now. The new school year looms – with many unknowns. Unanswered questions can lead to anxiety – even a sense of helplessness.
Often kids’ questions about school go unspoken and unanswered. They may want a new teacher to know about their interests and talents- but there’s not an opportunity for them to communicate these things.
How empowering it would be if your child had a chance to ask his questions and speak his mind!
Here are some simple ideas that can make a big difference in the way your child feels about the new school year. As a bonus, these strategies help your child develop self-advocacy skills and set the stage for a positive relationship with new teachers.
Emailing questions to my new teacher
Email is usually the best way to communicate with teachers. They’ll likely check their school account regularly as the first day of school draws near. Visit the school website or call the school office for teacher email addresses.
Sending an email to a new teacher is surprisingly empowering for kids. How different than having parents communicate with the teacher about them.
It is a way for your child to use her own voice.
(Take this opportunity to teach your child about general email etiquette, and any specific guidelines the school district may have for student-teacher email communication. For example, one email with several questions is better than filling a teacher’s inbox with many emails.)
It may take a while for your child to decide what she wants to ask. Rather than putting her on the spot to name her questions in one sitting, give her time to gather her questions.
Together, set a date for writing the email. Set up a place where she can jot down her questions as she thinks of them. If writing is difficult, she can dictate questions to you whenever they come to mind.
This can be powerful because it can replace a sense of generalized anxiety with the chance to name specific questions when they come to mind – and then let go of them by putting them somewhere outside herself to be dealt with later. The questions are not unnamed or forgotten, but they are also not “percolating” unanswered in her mind.
Asking is empowering
Your child’s questions may be very different than your own. The email your child sends should be her questions – in her words.
Some of her questions may be simple and easy for the teacher to answer. Others may be less factual and more a reflection of how your child is feeling, like “will I like gym this year or will it be too hard?”.
Clearly, you have no control over how the teacher responds to questions. But the simple opportunity to ask what’s on her mind will be empowering for your child. And, most likely your child’s email will prompt an encouraging response from the teacher, even if all the details of your child’s questions can’t be fully answered.
What do I want my teachers to know?
Parents of kids with special needs are wise to begin the school year with a friendly letter to their child’s new teacher – communicating their child’s strengths and needs – and letting the teacher know of their desire to work collaboratively for their child’s success.
But, what does your child want his new teachers to know?
It’s very empowering for kids to introduce themselves to a new teacher their own way. This can be done through video, audio, in writing or pictures.
Your child might like to check out this page at IMDetermined.org, to see how other elementary and secondary school kids use a format called the “One-Pager” to tell teachers about their interests, strengths and accommodation needs. http://www.imdetermined.org/one_pager/.
How does your child want to introduce himself to new teachers? What does he want them to know?
Ask your child if he’d like to visit the school briefly a few days before school begins – to re-orient himself, and perhaps say a quick hello to teachers and office staff. The week before opening day tends to be hectic, so don’t assume anyone will be available without calling ahead of time. And make it a very quick hello rather than a coversation. Maybe even bring along some flowers from the garden or a home-made card.
Some kids enjoy this – others don’t like the idea at all. Let your child decide.
Only the beginning
In addition to alleviating anxiety, these simple steps empower your child as a self advocate and open the doors to a positive relationship with teachers.
You’ll want to keep the momentum going. Misunderstandings and anxiety can build during the school year if a child’s simple questions go unasked and unanswered.
Your child may not know when or how to communicate what’s on her mind during the busy school day. As a positive matter of course, help your child give voice to her questions and feelings. Rather than jumping in to solve small misunderstandings or problems, we can help our children email questions or concerns directly to their teacher in their own words. And how about kids sending a quick “thank you” email when their teacher does something special? Learning to communicate with teachers directly is truly empowering for kids, encouraging them to advocate for themselves.
Clearly there are times when we as parents must communicate with teachers. But let’s also support our children in learning to use their own voice.
Here’s to a positive, empowering school year for your child!
Mary Mazzoni has a passion for empowering teens to use their own voice and build the lives they desire. She provides training and coaching with teachers, youth, families, and IEP teams. Her blog LifeAfterIEPs.com http://lifeafterieps.com/ offers free transition planning tools and tips so teens (and the adults who support them) can plan and act now for their future.