Among the boxes of Kleenex, the 10-cent spiral notebooks and multicolored dry-erase markers is the well-known stress (coupled with relief) that comes with the start of a new school year. For families formed through adoption, this stress is especially complicated. Helping your child’s teacher understand what language to use in the classroom, or ensuring your child’s sensory needs are met can often be frustrating. We’ve compiled advice to help you prepare your adopted child to succeed in the classroom.
Establish Communication With the Teacher
If available, attend an open house or make an appointment with your child’s teacher or school social worker to tour the school before the first day. This will reduce anxiety for both you and your child—your child will see what the school looks like and have an opportunity to meet some adults. And you’ll take comfort in knowing who will care for and help your child grow throughout the next year.
If you haven’t already, take time to speak with your child’s teacher about your family’s background. Explain not just the language you use (for example, your son wasn’t “given up”) but also your hopes that the teacher will reinforce positive attitudes toward adoption. Let the teacher know you hope to continue open communication, especially should difficult things come up. This will also help normalize the situation and reinforce to your child that adoption is not a secret.
Watch for Signs of Struggle
Take note of when your child will be able to eat at school. Some children experience behavioral changes when their blood sugar dips. This is especially true for some adoptive children who may have experienced early trauma. Your perfect angel at home may take on mischievous behaviors at school when hunger strikes. If it has been an issue before or becomes one, talk to your child’s teacher about accommodations to allow your child small, healthy munchies throughout the day.
Think about your child’s sleep patterns. Coming off a summer schedule is hard for everyone, and can sometimes result in lack of sleep. For some children, a lack of sleep can result in behavioral issues, as their bodies respond more acutely to a lack of rest. Before school starts, start implementing new wakeup routines and bedtimes, even naptimes, to allow your child time to adjust before the first day. You may need to continue to adjust this once the school year begins.
Be on the look-out for any signs that your child might be struggling in school. Many children require Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to help them remain successful in school. It’s never too early to ask for your child to be tested for special education services if you have any concerns.
Create a routine to reconnect at the end of the day. School can be hard for our adopted kids because they are sometimes prone to attachment issues.
Create a routine to physically and emotionally reconnect at the end of the day to make the time apart easier on you and preserve that precious bond between you and your child. The routine can be as simple as cuddle time in front of their favorite Disney show or playing a familiar board game for a half hour. Try to avoid questioning your child about her day. This should be a time to connect on an emotional, not cognitive, level.
Educate the School About Adoption
At the end of the day, we can’t control what others will say or do. Your child’s teacher may be completely understanding and cooperative, but that may not stop another student from making a comment about how your child “wasn’t wanted” or “should look more like his family.” Help your child with kid-friendly ways to explain her story to other students.
Consider donating some adoption books to the school library and explain why you like them and think they’re important. This will ensure the topic is treated in a natural and appropriate manner. Often, books with adoption storylines have something of value for every child, adopted or not.
Encourage the school to be more inclusive in their language and activities. For example, if a grade plans to create family trees, encourage the teachers to include more inclusive options for families with different structures (options where the birth family represents the roots to the tree work well).
And don’t forget to have fun! Take joy in this next stage in your family’s life.