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How Self-Talk Helps with Back-to-School Anxiety

Self-talk was key in helping Tom manage his back-to-school anxiety.

 Self-talk is rehearsing silently something that you think someone you trust would say to you in a situation you find tricky or challenging. Being able to self-talk is useful as it is something a child can do to help themselves. It has been a game-changer for Tom as he can use this whenever he is feeling overwhelmed.

Let’s get started

You can use this Prompt Sheet to help your child develop self-talk to manage their back-to-school anxiety. 

Here are our tips for using the sheet which is available as a free download using the link below:

  • Let your child know that lots of people are anxious about going back to work or school. This helps them feel that their worries about going back to school are valid.
  • Give your child the words to describe their feelings. Introducing and explaining the phrases ‘back to school blues’ and the ‘oh no feeling’ help them understand the emotion and feeling behind their back-to-school anxiety.
  • Ask your child to show you how strong their ‘oh no feeling ‘is. If they struggle with language try simple visual scales using either numbers ( 1-5) or the intensity of colours (green – red) to make it easier for them to rate their feelings. The TomTag feelings tag, a thermometer-style sequence of 6 feelings faces, is a good option to use.
  • Explain that their ‘oh no feeling’ is the right feeling but too big. Like a shout that needs to be shrunk to the right size – a whisper. The drawings  on the Prompt Sheet are a good way to show this
  • Tell them that to shrink the ‘oh no feeling’ they should think of 3 good reasons why going back to school is ok and say these reasons to themselves when they feel the ‘oh no feeling’ starting

Rating anxiety levels 

Tom used his I can do it Share How I feel Tag to show us the intensity of his feelings about going back to school. 

If you have any tips to share on reducing back-to-school anxiety please leave a comment below. 

  • Back-to-School Self-Talk Prompt Sheet

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • Feelings Bundle

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

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Organising My School Bag

‘Have you got your…?

Imagine being able to send your child off to school without the usual dramas, panic, shouts, and screams over lunch boxes, PE kits or homework!

Anxieties over forgotten items can be avoided with a little preparation and practice.

When children have the  skills to pack their school bag independently, they can start taking responsibility for their belongings without you having to remind them all the time. This also helps them at the end of the school day when they need to know what to bring home again.

Even the youngest or most disorganised child can soon get the hang of finding and packing everything they need for school, giving them a great sense of achievement too.

Visual checklists are an ideal tool to use when helping your child learn how to get organised and become more independent.

Find the right school bag

With so many bags to choose from it is important to find one that matches your child’s needs.

The main consideration is comfort.
• Does the bag feel good to wear?
• Do the straps feel sufficiently strong?
• When filled, is the weight of the bag evenly spread about?

Choose a sturdy bag that has multiple compartments and zipped pockets. Check that all the fastenings work cleanly and it is easy to access. If you child gets frustrated finding things or struggles with fiddly zips, opt for fewer pockets and Velcro fastenings instead.

Let’s get organised

Start with an empty school bag.

Ask your child to sort out their school things into clear categories. For example, school supplies such as pens, pencils, notebook, communication book in one pile. Items that go back and forth to school like lunch boxes, water bottles and PE kit in another pile.

Assign each item to a compartment or pocket. A big compartment can be for books and their lunch box. A smaller pocket for writing equipment.

A school-home folder is ideal for any loose papers, letters, or permission sheets that need to go back to school.

Make a map

Once everything has its place, help your child draw a picture of their school bag and label what goes where. This school bag ‘map’ will help remind them where things go when they are packing up for the
next day.

Encourage your child to practice emptying their bag and putting everything back in the right place.

Keep a copy of the map in the front pocket of their school bag plus a copy at home.

Pack all the right kit

Use a simple checklist attached to their school bag listing all the things they need to remember to take to school for each day of the week. The checklist should be sturdy and easily seen. Using different coloured lists makes it easy to identify the right list for each day.

Picture cues work well for younger children or non-readers as well as older children and those with additional needs such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, or ADHD.

Getting into the habit of packing the night before is a great way to avoid the last-minute panic searching for homework or PE kit in the morning when you really should be leaving the house!

Bear in mind that children may need lots of practice before they can organise and pack their school bag independently.

Give lots of opportunities to practice these techniques and make forgotten school items a thing of the past.

Make your own checklists

We used the TomTag   I can do it pack my bag for school kit to make the examples shown. 

If you have any tips to share on organising school bags please leave a comment below.

 

  • Back-to-School Self-Talk Prompt Sheet

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • Feelings Bundle

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

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Transition to secondary school for autistic children – 10 tips for smoothing the move

mum hugging boy in school uniform on secondary school offer day

“I’m feeling worried about eating in the canteen.”

“I am concerned that the lessons are going to be a long time.”

“I worry about wearing my blazer all day.”

These were some of the worries my autistic son Tom had when he was moving from his beloved small and familiar mainstream primary school to a much larger secondary school.

The move from primary to secondary school is one of the major transitions in a child’s life. All children are likely to feel some level of worry about this move but for many children on the autistic spectrum, who crave stability and predictability like Tom does, this transition can be particularly difficult.

Secondary school transition issues

Like many children with autism, Tom has anxiety about the unknown and finds it difficult to think flexibly. He felt safe and secure with familiar routines established in primary school. Not being able to predict what might happen in his new secondary school and the thought of dealing with change and different rules was a real worry to him.

As a parent, my worries were mainly around his lack of social understanding, his communication difficulties, and his sensory challenges.

How would he:

  • cope with the many new social situations he would encounter in secondary school?
  • manage his feelings and emotions when things didn’t go as planned?
  • deal with the increased sensory demands of his new environment? 

Preparation is key

Every child with autism is different so a ‘one size fits all’ approach to transition is therefore not going to work. It’s vital that transition planning should be personalised to each child. By preparing your child as much as possible beforehand using some of the tips we’ve listed below, we hope you’ll be able to make those first days and weeks in the new school a lot less worrying for you and your child.

Extracts from Tom’s transition to secondary school booklet
Extracts from Tom’s secondary school transition booklet

Top 10 transition tips

Tip #1

Arrange for your child to visit their new school several times before they start and at different times of the day e.g. lunchtime, breaktime and during lessons. Tom made frequent, short visits which helped make his new school more familiar to him and took away some of the worry he felt about eating his lunch in the canteen.

Tip #2

Make a “My School transition booklet” which your child can keep and use as they need in order to reduce anxiety.

Tom’s booklet included a map of the layout of the school, photographs of key staff (particularly the teaching assistants that were going to support him) and photographs taken of him in the important places, like the school canteen, main hall, classrooms and a safe place for times of stress.

A photograph of Tom on the stairs in the school corridor with his written note of the correct corridor etiquette

A photograph of Tom on the stairs in the school corridor with his written note of the correct corridor etiquette – “walk on the left hand side so we don’t get squashed and we can let other people pass” was a simple inclusion in the booklet but meant that he knew what was expected of him when the corridors filled with students.

Tip #3

Establish a link with a member of staff who can act as a mentor and home-school liaison. Set up a home-school book to pass on information about any worries/concerns or any relevant developments at home.

Tip #4

Create a personal profile written with the help of your child to include all the information new staff should know about them. Tom’s profile mentioned his need to have frequent movement breaks and his worry about the long lessons.

Tip #5

Get used to a homework routine in advance of the new school start. Start simply with a 10-15-minute task at a regular time each evening in a quiet environment.

Tip #6

Make a visual timetable showing the school day to make lesson order & break times more predictable. The TomTag School Timetable kit is ideal for creating portable and personalised timetables for your child without the hassle of printing, laminating or Velcro!

Tip #7

Practice the journey to and from school, making sure your child knows the location of bus stops, road-crossings, meeting points or anything else significant on their journey.

Tip #8

Familiarise your child with their new school uniform and deal with any irritating seams or labels. Tom practised wearing his blazer at home so that he got used to how it felt and was also told he could take it off during lessons.

Tip #9

Practice packing the correct items for school. The TomTag school bag packing checklist would be perfect for this!

Ask your child’s current primary school to work on preparing your child for the transition by including activities around organising and managing their own items at school.

Tip #10

TomTag feelings notebook with example page filled inSet aside time to discuss your child’s worries and concerns about the transition. Encourage them to write down or draw about any concerns they have about moving to their new school. Remind them of relaxation and self-help techniques they could use if they are anxious. The TomTag Feelings Notebook is a helpful place to record worries and concerns. 

Transition to secondary school resources

The National Autistic Society website has some useful information about transitioning to secondary school.

Leicestershire Autism Outreach Service also have a comprehensive transition resource pack that’s well worth checking out. 

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • I Know What To Expect At School Kit

  • cover image product feelings notebook

    My TomTag Feelings Notebook

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School morning routines

Getting the whole family ready for school and out of the door on time and with all the right kit is never easy. There’s usually lots of shouting, nagging and panic involved!

Chaos or calm?

A less stressful and chaotic morning is possible with a little preparation. When children have the skills to get ready independently, they can start to take responsibility for themselves and their belongings without needing you to remind them every time. It might take a little practice and patience at first but it will be worth the effort in the long run.

Establishing a consistent morning routine (and the evening before) is also key to getting things to run more smoothly and helps everyone to understand what’s expected of them.

Visual checklists and schedules are an ideal tool to use when helping your child learn routines and skills for independence.

Use a consistent morning routine

Getting back into a routine after a long break or when starting school for the first time can be really difficult, especially for very young children or those on the autistic spectrum.

Create a visual reminder of all the tasks that need to be completed each morning and list them in the order in which you want them to be done.

It’s ok to use more detailed steps at first or attach a separate detailed list for each task to help make the process easier to understand.

Keep this list in a handy place in your child’s bedroom so it’s within reach when they get out of bed. Get them used to following the routine step by step each morning and work towards them checking things off independently each day.

Avoid the dressing battlefields

self care i can rememberKeep another checklist in the bedroom that will show your child what clothes they need to wear and what they should put on first. This avoids the pants over trousers scenario!

Setting out clothes the night before saves a lot of stress trying to find clean clothes in the morning. Start by laying out all the clothes for them so that everything’s ready to go the next day and then build up to them taking the responsibility for preparing this themselves.   

Tackle hygiene skills

self care follow instructionsTaking care of personal hygiene is a very important life skill for all our children to learn. We perform these tasks for ourselves everyday without needing to think about exactly what we’re doing.
For children just learning these skills, we need to break the task down into smaller steps. A picture list describing each step in the process is a great visual reminder that they can refer to each time they do the task which will help them to master getting it right.
Keeping a teethbrushing, toilet routine or washing checklist in the bathroom will help your child develop the independence to get ready in the morning by themselves and speed up the whole family’s routine.

Pack all the right kit

pack for school carrying bagGiving your child the responsibility for finding and packing everything they need for school might seem like a crazy idea but even the youngest or most disorganised child can soon get the hang of it, increasing their independence and reducing anxieties that occur over forgotten items.
Use a simple checklist attached to their schoolbag listing all the things they need to remember to take for each day of the week. Then they’ll also have it with them at school to remind them what to bring home at the end of the day too.
Getting into the habit of packing the night before is a great way to avoid that last minute panic searching for homework or games kit in the morning when you really should be leaving the house!

Make your own schedules and checklists

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • I Can Do It Brush My Teeth Mini Kit

  • I Can Do It Learn At Home Kit

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • I Can Do It Self Care Skills Kit

  • I Know What To Expect – Morning and Evening Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect At Home Kit

  • Learn At Home Sticker Pack

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

  • Organising My School Bag

  • School Morning Routines

 

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New school year, new start with TomTag

Looking forward to the children going back to school but dreading those chaotic school mornings?

Help your kids learn to get themselves ready for school, know and understand their own routine and remember what they need to pack – with less nagging from you and a lot less stress all round.

It really is easy with a little help from TomTag!

  • Back-to-School Self-Talk Prompt Sheet

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • Feelings Bundle

  • I Can Do It Brush My Teeth Mini Kit

  • I Can Do It Learn At Home Kit

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • I Can Do It Self Care Skills Kit

  • I Can Do It Toilet Routine Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect – Morning and Evening Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect At Home Kit

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

  • Self Care Sticker Pack

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Building a positive teaching assistant relationship

National Teaching Assistants Day recognises the valuable contribution that over 240,000 teaching assistants (TAs) make to the education and support of pupils in schools across the UK.

Most TAs are employed to support pupils with special educational needs (SEN) either working with a child one-to-one or in a small group to reinforce what has been learned earlier from the teacher; others have more general classroom responsibilities.

I have met many TAs over the years as they have supported my son, who has autism and language impairment, during his journey through mainstream school. From this experience, these are my top tips  for building a good parent/TA relationship.

Sharing information

Share information about your child’s strengths, interests, likes and dislikes with the TA as much as possible. My son loves trains and lorries so letting his TA know what inspired him helped her incorporate those interests into his writing and maths tasks. By sharing his dislike of noisy, crowded rooms she could suggest alternative, quieter activities we could use whenever he became overwhelmed in such situations.

Communication strategy

Decide how you will communicate and agree a way that works best for both of you. A weekly phone call might be sufficient for some whereas others may prefer more regular emails, texts or paper-based contact.

diary_webWhen my son was in primary school and had just one TA I found a home/school contact book to be most useful. This was used daily to share information about his activities, issues or events at home or school. That Beautiful mind have a super home/communications book that’s simple to use and quick to fill in!

Now that he is in secondary school with a number of TAs, I find regular emails to each assistant to be the most effective and efficient means of communication. 

 

Understand responsibilities

Recognise that whilst the teaching assistant is supporting your child, the teacher has the responsibility for what happens in their classroom.

Qualified teachers are responsible for children’s learning so it’s important to ask the teacher and SENCO how your child’s TA is being deployed in the classroom to get the best from your child. Find out what training the TA has had to provide the support your child needs too.

If you are concerned about your child’s progress don’t blame the TA but speak directly to your child’s teacher and SENCO about your concerns.
TT thank you

Appreciation

Everyone likes to feel valued. Don’t forget to tell your TA how much you appreciate their support; a handwritten card and small gift at the end of the year is a nice token of gratitude!

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TomTag life skill – school routines

school girl carrying rucksack with packing checklist attached

Minimise stressful, chaotic school mornings with preparation, practice and patience.  

Children who can wash, brush their teeth and dress themselves independently won’t need constant reminding of what to do. Whilst a consistent morning ( and evening routine) will make things run more smoothly for everyone.

We’ve lots of advice on how you can develop your child’s self care skills in our tips and resources section. Here are some of our tips for establishing that all important winning school routine.

go to sleepevening compilThe night before

The best way to avoid frantic and stressful school mornings is to have a regular evening routine. Preparing the night before frees up time in the morning and helps you to sleep well knowing that everyone is ready to get up and go.

If your child needs help to settle and calm down before bed, use TomTag to make a bedtime routine timeline to help reinforce your expectations and ensure everyone gets a good night’s sleep.


tidy upA place for everything

Set aside a designated area for coats, shoes, bags, sports gear, letters, etc. and encourage your child to use it. A little effort setting this up now will make everyday packing and organising so much quicker and easier.

This doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive – some simple wall hooks or stacked boxes might be all you need. Check out our Pinterest Back to School Organisation board for some creative ideas.


homework

Homework

Some children may prefer to get it done and out of the way straight away whilst others may need a rest, a snack or some chill-out time first. Go with what works best for your child but be consistent so that your child knows what is expected. Using a designated area for homework also helps create good habits; this might simply be at the kitchen table with supervision for younger children or a quieter place at a bedroom desk for older ones.

Check out your school’s homework policy to see how much time they expect your child to spend on it. If they’re struggling with something in particular, set a time limit then leave it and write a note to the teacher explaining the position.


school uniform

School uniform

Setting out clothes the night before saves a lot of stress trying to find clean clothes in the morning. Don’t forget pants and socks too! Help to keep uniform tidy by encouraging children to change out of it when they get home from school and hang it up ready for the next day.

 


pack bags

Pack your bags

School bag packedGet into the habit of packing up school bags the night before to avoid that mad morning rush around the house looking for missing items. Check bags for any letters or permission slips that need returning and empty out anything that isn’t needed for the next day. If there’s anything that can’t be left out the night before (eg. packed lunches) leave a sticky note on top of the bag to remind you to add it in the morning.

With the right guidance, even very young children can take responsibility for packing their own school bags. Our TomTag I can do it – pack my bag for school kit attaches to any school bag and helps children remember what they need to take to school and bring home again each day. For tips on teaching this skill, read our short guide here.


breakfast

morning compilReady, steady, go!

Just like at bedtime, you can use TomTag to make a timeline for your morning routines. For children just learning self care skills , you might need to start with an individual list for each task, such as showering, dressing, brushing teeth, etc.

If your child can manage these independently and responsibly then one quick morning summary checklist might be all you need to prompt them each day.

We wish you good luck and many happy, smooth-sailing, school mornings!

Resources

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • I Can Do It Brush My Teeth Mini Kit

  • I Can Do It Learn At Home Kit

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • I Can Do It Self Care Skills Kit

  • I Know What To Expect – Morning and Evening Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect At Home Kit

  • Learn At Home Sticker Pack

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

  • Organising My School Bag

  • School Morning Routines

 

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Back to School – an essential A to Z

Whether it’s your child’s very first day at school or they’re just starting a new school year, here’s our A-Z guide to help ease you gently back into the school routine.

  • A   is for ALARM CLOCK

Choosing a fun model and showing kids how to operate it is a great way to teach them good time-keeping.

  • B   is for BUSES

Have you got an up-to-date timetable and a vaild child’s bus pass? Does your child know where they are going to be dropped off and picked up? Have a trial run so it’s not left to the first morning!

  • C   is for CALENDAR

Think beyond the first week of school and put important dates such as parents evenings, inset days and holidays in your calendar now.

  • D   is for DROP ZONE

Set aside a designated place where the kids can leave their bags, coats and school books so it doesn’t all end up in a heap by the end of the first week.

  • E   is for EMPTY BAG

Make a clean start with an empty bag and clear out anything still lurking in there from last term.

  • F   is for FIND A PARENT

Have you got contact details of another parent at your child’s school who you can ask about school events if letters /permission slips don’t make it home?

  • G   is for GYM KIT

Have you got the right stuff for P.E. and perhaps a seperate bag to put it all in?

  • H   is for HAIRCUT

If you still have time before the first day of school, make sure they get a good cut so you don’t need to drag tired kids out after school or at the weekend to get it done.

  • I   is for INFORMATION

If your kids are starting new schools, it’s time to dig out any information books you have received from the school and make sure you’re familiar with their routine and policies.

  • J   is for JOIN

Get involved with the school community and join the PTA or check out after school activities the kids may want to join.

  • K   is for KEY

If your kids are older do they have a spare key? Get one now rather than wait until first morning back!

  • L   is for LABEL EVERYTHING!

We can’t shout this one loud enough!! Iron, sew, stamp or write your kids’ name on all clothing, shoes & personal items otherwise your jumper will look like all the rest in the lost property mountain!

  • M   is for MEDICAL FORMS

Make sure the school has up to date medical information for each child with details of allergies and emergency contact numbers.

  • N   is for NOTES

Remind your child to bring ALL notes home from school and check their bag each night for anything lurking in the bottom!

  • O   is for OUTDOOR COAT

Have you bought one yet? It won’t be long before those cold days and dark nights start creeping in!

  • P   is for PLANNER

If your school doesn’t provide one, look for a suitable notebook or diary to use as a homework planner, an essential for those kids starting high school.

  • Q   is for QUALITY TIME

Don’t forget that school can be stressful and tiring and that kids need to spend time away from homework, TV and other electronic distractions. Try and set aside some time to chat with them each day so you can pick up on any worries they may have.

  • R   is for RECYCLE

Donate old school uniform to charity or for good quality articles check whether the school PTA runs a second hand uniform sale.

  • S   is for STATIONERY

Check with the school what items your kids need to bring and make a regular check to see if anything needs replacing.

  • T   is for TOMTAG

The essential tool to help kids pack their bag to school!

  • U   is for UNIFORM

Making sure you start the year fully equipped will avoid any panics later and help children to feel more confident.

  • V   is for VISION

Find our if your school offers vision screening and if not, remember to get your kids’ eyes checked regularly as it’s important to pick up any problems as early as possible.

  • W   is for WEBSITE

Check your school’s site regularly for useful dates, school policies and curriculum guides.

  • X   is for EXTRA-CURRICULA ACTIVITIES

Let kids choose what they want to participate in rather than what you want them to. You never know what hidden talents you might uncover!

  • Y   is for YEAR GUIDES

Remember to check your school website or ask at school for details of what your kids will be studying this academic year so you can stay ahead of the game.

  • Z   is for ZZZZZZZ

As the nights draw in, get into a sleep routine for school. Just don’t forget to set the alarm clock!

 

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ORganised KIDs – top tips for back to school

New uniform to buy, school shoes to get fitted, pencilcases galore in every shop – it’s that time of year again when our thoughts must inevitably turn to planning for the new school year.

Last summer our own back to school preparations took on a whole new dimension. My autistic son Tomas faced the daunting transition from his much-loved mainstream primary school to our local secondary. Clearly there would be many challenges to face and one big worry was how Tomas would manage the extra organisational demands of dealing with lots of different subjects.

Organised paperwork

folders for organising school papeworkTomas was going to need a system to help him keep his paperwork organised and in one place if he was to stand any chance of keeping on top of things. We started with eight A4 ring-binders in different colours and labelled each one with a subject. We labelled the pockets of a plastic concertina file with the same subjects and labelled one extra section ‘letters’ to be used for permission slips, newsletters, etc.

I explained to Tomas that he must take the concertina file to school each day and bring it home again every night. Any notes, homework or handouts he was given had to be filed in it immediately after each lesson to prevent them from getting lost in his school bag or left at school! I then showed him how to empty the file each night. We talked through how we made the judgement about what should happen to each piece of paper. It if was needed for lessons the next day it could remain in the file, any homework sheets should be completed and returned to the file and some papers would need filing in the ring-binders for later reference and revision purposes.

Independence

The aim eventually was to have Tomas apply the strategy independently. Direct explicit instructions and plenty of practice are often all that is required to help children learn basic oTomas filing paperwork in a concertina filerganisational or other skills. This approach can be particularly beneficial for a child with organisational difficulties although it is appropriate and useful for most children.

One year on and I am delighted to report that the system seems to be working!  With lots of practice and the support of his teachers, Tomas can now collect, sort and file all his own paperwork from school. Now I just need to apply the same rigour to my own filing system!