Settling into a New School Year

Transitions can be tricky for many of us.  Starting a new school year can be a particularly challenging time for many children.

After a lovely summer holiday in Australia, children are now well and truly into Term 1.  Most have settled in well but several may still be struggling to make a successful transition.  Here are few ideas for you to consider if this sounds like your child, a child you care for or perhaps a child in your classroom.

Acknowledge your child’s emotions

We all appreciate being heard and understood.  It is really important that you firstly accept and acknowledge your child’s emotions and try to see the challenge of starting or going back to school through your child’s eyes.

Label these emotions…give the emotions words to start helping your child to process what they are feeling.

For children who are very young or who have challenges such as Autism or Language Disorders, you might also need to ‘SHOW’ your child the emotion using your facial expressions and tone of voice very clearly.

Pausing to reflect and acknowledge what our child is feeling offers far more support than expecting our child to ‘get over it!’  Yes, school is a few weeks in now but transitions can take weeks and sometimes even months for some children.  Don’t try to rush them through.  Instead, support your child where he or she is at by providing an understanding and accepting response.

Create Positive Memories

Children learn when they are regulated, comfortable and secure.  If your child is working with an Occupational Therapist, encourage your child’s teacher to work closely with you and the OT to develop a regulation plan to support your child especially during those tricky transition periods to and from school each day.  If something has worked in the past, don’t hesitate to bring back that specific strategy and use it again. We often need to revisit strategies from time to time that we thought we would no longer need.

Help your child’s teacher to understand and read your child’s specific signs of dysregulation and work together to create a plan to support your child.

Ensure your child gets plenty of physical movement, fun and ‘down time’ when at home if at all possible over the next few weeks to allow their body systems to adjust to the new daily routine and expectations.  It is also important for these moments to be infused throughout the school day if at all possible.

Remember that many of our children learn and understand best when they ‘see’ as well as ‘hear’ what it is you have to say.  Instead of relying upon verbally explaining changes, routines and expectations only using spoken words; maybe use social stories with lots of photos and visual schedules to assist your child to understand and then eventually feel more relaxed about.

Finally, all of our children benefit from the adults in their lives being reliable and trusting.  When a child trusts you, they feel safe and you can’t regulate your emotions unless you have […]


The Opposite of Anxiety is not Calm

We all face stressors in our lives.

Some of us are lucky enough to be equipped with a well-developed prefrontal cortex which can support us in managing or regulating our emotional responses to these stressors.

Young children require the assistance and support of trusted adults in their lives at times when their emotions are in overdrive.

Children do not have well developed areas of their brain that allow them to reason, problem solve and reflect upon their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

As the school holidays are now here in Australia, it is timely to remind ourselves that many children but particularly those with Autism are vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety when faced with

Uncertainty or a lack of Predictability.


The school holidays involve much uncertainty.  Routines are changed as are environments, people and food.  Large family and other gatherings take place.

Whilst most of us enjoy a holiday…Not many of us enjoy uncertainty or a lack of predictability in our lives.

Young children who are yet to fully develop their reasoning and emotional regulatory abilities are more vulnerable than adults to feeling stressed by a lack of certainty and predictability in their lives.  They may respond well however to trusted adults in their lives supporting them during these moments.

The key word in that last sentence = TRUST.

Let’s remind ourselves that children who are autistic are at particular risk of experiencing stress and overwhelm when their world feels uncertain.   They can be left in a state of hyper-caution.

In order to feel emotionally well regulated, one most first feel trust and safety.  It can be so difficult for children to develop trust in people, activities and experiences when they are in a state of confusion and hyper-vigilance.

At these times, when we observe children to be shutting down, melting down, or engaging in repetitive behaviours, we do well to first chase the ‘why’ ….

Why is the child behaving in this way?  What emotion might be driving the behaviour we are seeing the child exhibit.  What triggers might be causing that emotion to arise? What can we do that will best support the child in this moment?

By taking that moment to reflect before we respond, we can better understand where a child’s behaviour is truly coming from. Then we can respond in a manner that supports the child to feel safe.

Our children will only respond to our efforts to support them if they trust us.


Barry Prizant (Speech Language Pathologist and author of my favourite text on ASD ‘Uniquely Human’) some terrific tips that I often refer to.   I have summarised them for you below from an old article her penned for the Autism Spectrum Quarterly (2009).  Still as helpful today as it was then.  I hope these tips help you, a family friend or a colleague to better understand and support our children who face challenges associated with Autism:

Acknowledge Communicative Attempts

A core element of a trusting relationship is the feeling that others ‘hear’ or ‘get’ you.  It can sometimes be tricky to decipher the non-conventional […]


When children just don’t seem interested in communicating with us

Many children who struggle with communication find it challenging to respond to the topics, questions and interests of others.

The more we try to seek their engagement, the more it seems they try to disengage from us.  Some children will dip further and further into their own interests, topics and scripts.  Others will turn away from us and seemingly ignore or not even seem to hear our attempts to engage them in conversation.  Other will find our constant efforts quite dysregulating and may either shut down or exhibit challenging behaviours.  What to do when your child or a child you educate struggles to engage in back and forth conversation or interaction?

The Power of Declarative Language

The day a parent of one of my young clients suggested I read The Declarative Language Handbook by Linda K Murphy really turned things around for me.  This brief but incredibly insightful and helpful little guide provides adults with a range of simple tools that have the power to really transform the way we interact with children who some would describe as ‘disinterested’, ‘daydreamers’ or even ‘non compliant’.  Since making a concerted effort to implement the strategies that Lindy recommends I have seen incredible results.

It all starts with taking the perceived pressure to communicate OFF the child and establishing a lovely connection.

Declarative Language put simply means to make simple comments about what one can observe (see, feel, smell, taste) and what one thinks whilst interacting with a child.  Instead of asking questions, change your language into simple comments.

Using words that include 1st person pronouns such as I, We, Let’s, My and cognitive verbs such as “I wonder”  “I know”   “I am thinking that…” really does open the child up to considering different possibilities and ideas and tempt them to enter the world of their interaction partner and tune in even if just for a moment.

Interested in Learning More?

I would highly recommend purchasing the text of course but, to start, you can look no further than this lovely summary blog here where Linda provides a free to download Declarative Language Cheat Sheet.

Speaking from experience, it does feel awkward at first when you start intentionally using this type of language, but stick with it.  It really does yield some pretty amazing results with many children and is a good reminder that sometimes it is not the child we need to change but the environment in which that child is growing and interacting.

Declarative Language techniques can be used with children of all ages.  Give it a try.  You won’t be disappointed.



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