The Adoptive Parent’s Guide: How to Help Your Child Become (and Remain) A Successful Student
1An Aspen Education Group PublicationThe Adoptive Parent’s GuideHow to Help Your ChildBecome (and Remain)A Successful Student
1ContentsPreparing for the ChallengesYour Child May Face In the ClassroomPages 2-4Easing Your Adopted Child’sBack-to-School StressPages 5-7Five Tips for a SuccessfulBack-to-School ExperiencePages 8-11Four Action Items for Parentsof Students with Special NeedsPages 12-15About Aspen Education GroupPage 16
2Chapter OnePreparing for the ChallengesThat Your Adopted ChildMay Face in the Classroom
3It is a common question among parents of adopted adolescents and teenagers: What kinds of academic,behavioral and social issues will my child teen face in school?On top of typical teenage struggles, adopted children are faced with their very own set of concernswhen they hit adolescence, and while youre likely to experience many of these struggles right alongsideyour child, youll also find that many of them will play out in the classroom.In addition to understanding the particular emotional issues your adopted teen may face as he/sheenters adolescence, its also important to recognize how these questions and issues may play out in aneducational environment. And its also important to understand the types of support available to bothyou and your adopted teen.Exploring the Concept of “Family”Children adopted as infants usually begin to fully understand what it means to be adopted as they enterand move through grade school.Developmentally, this is the stage at which they begin to understand the concept of "family" within abroader social context. At school they may be asked to draw family trees and to explore their heritage,while their friends may begin to ask your child questions about why he/she is adopted.This is also the time that your adopted child may begin to experience some sense of grief or loss at notbeing with his/her natural birth family, no matter how much gratitude, happiness and contentmenthe/she feels within his/her adoptive family.Belonging & A Sense of IdentityAs your adopted child enters adolescence, these feelings of grief and loss may transform into questionsof belonging and personal identity. As a result, your adopted teens behavior at school may also change.He/she may start to seem less concerned or attentive to school work or may lose confidence or self-esteem if he/she feels that one or both birth parents "rejected" or "abandoned" him/her.These types of feelings very often translate into a "dont care" attitude at school, and previouslyresponsible or conscientious students may seem to lose focus or have difficulty upholding their usualacademic standards.Common Challenges Among Adopted StudentsOn top of all this, statistics also suggest that adopted children are likely to experience some kind oflearning or behavioral problem that may also influence their academic performance.Many adopted children are likely to suffer from ADD, ADHD or any number of learning difficulties thatmay only serve to compound their frustration and anxiety during adolescence -- especially whencombined with questions of roots and identity.
4Supporting Your Adopted ChildSo how do you help your adopted child negotiate so many emotional, psychological and educationalpitfalls successfully? Here are three important steps you can take:1. First and foremost, be supportive and understanding, regardless of your own level of frustration.Your adopted teen needs to feel as safe and secure as possible within his/her adoptive family –and he/she also needs to know that he/she can question and discuss his/her adoption concernswithout judgment.2. Next, make sure you have the back-up resources you need to provide your adopted teen withpositive, consistent support.3. Communicate closely with your child’s teachers and school counselors and consider adoptionsupport resources for both you and your teen.Depending upon the nature and severity of the challenges you are experiencing, effective options mayinclude family or individual therapy, summer programs, or a school that is specifically equipped tosupport adopted teens.
5Chapter TwoEasing Your Adopted Child’sBack-to-School Stress
6For many parents, the words "back to school" may evoke sepia-tinged memories of reconnecting withold friends, meeting new teachers, and claiming a familiar spot in the lunchroom. But for too many oftodays youth, returning to the classroom also means descending into a stress-fueled depression thatcan lead to a series of self-destructive behaviors."Life for many young people is a painful tug of war filled with mixed messages and conflicting demandsfrom parents, teachers, coaches, employers, friends and oneself," University of Minnesota professor andyouth development educator Joyce Walker, PhD, wrote in an article on the UM Extension website."Growing up - negotiating a path between independence and reliance on others - is a tough business,”Walker wrote. “It creates stress, and it can create serious depression for young people ill-equipped tocope, communicate and solve problems."As Dr. Lynn Bufka of the American Psychological Association noted in an article that was posted on theAPA Help Center website, the transition from summer to school can be a particularly tough time foryoung people - a challenge that can be either eased or exacerbated by the attention parents pay to theproblem."The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents andchildren," Bufka said. "While trying to manage work and the household, parents can sometimesoverlook their childrens feelings of nervousness or anxiety as school begins."Almost every student experiences some level of back-to-school nervousness, but for some, theseworries fail to subside once the year gets underway. Left untreated, enduring anxiety can lead to a rangeof unhealthy outcomes, including depression, poor academic performance, and substance abuse.The following five tips can help parents help their children make a stress-free return to school:Eliminate the UnknownsFear of the unknown can be a significant source of stress. If your child is attending a new school, findout if you can visit ahead of time so he can at the very least get "the lay of the land" by seeing thebuilding and walking through the hallways ahead of the school-day rush. Having the opportunity to meetteachers or other students (some sports and extracurricular activities have meetings and practices in thesummer months) can also be a great way to ensure a smoother transition.Help Your Student Stay OrganizedNeither you nor your child can control every back-to-school variable, but knowing that shes as preparedas possible will help your child handle the "curveballs" that life throws at us all. If your childs schoolsends out a materials list over the summer, make sure that you review it to be sure that she haseverything shes expected to bring with her on the first day of school.Also, set aside a quiet, well-lit, and clutter-free "study space" in your home where your child can do hishomework, and store his school supplies. Getting your child in an organized mindset before school startswill eliminate one source of stress once the academic year is underway.
7Talk to Your ChildThis, as any parent knows, may be much easier imagined than accomplished. While young students maybubble over with moment-by-moment recountings of their days, teens are likely to respond to "howwas school?" with little more than a shrug or a grunt. Regardless, experts emphasize that letting yourchildren know you are there and interested is essential."Kids need to know that theres a stable place for them to talk about all the stresses that theyve had,"Dr. Linda Bearinger wrote in a May 20, 2003 article on the University of Minnesotas Health Talk and Youwebsite. "Research shows that there are certain times of day - the drive to school, dinner time, or justbefore going to bed - when children tend to open up. Kids whose parents are consistently around at oneor more of those times tend to function better. Kids who cant count on those consistent connectionsdont do as well."Stay Involved With the SchoolParticipating in parent-teacher organizations, attending open houses, and scheduling privateconferences with your childs teachers are all excellent ways to ensure that you know whats going onwith your student while shes at school.Though most districts are required to send progress reports to parents of students whose grades aresubstandard, these messages often arrive after the academic damage has been done. Initiating contactwith teachers and school administrators will allow you to learn about small challenges before theybecome big problems.Also, many schools send out newsletters, and many teachers have established individual Web pages fortheir classes: Consider these to be "required reading" throughout your childs school years. (Yes, you justgot a homework assignment.)Get Help When Your Child Needs ItTeachers, guidance counselors, and other school personnel are trained to identify struggling studentsand get them the help they need. But with the vast numbers of students in most schools, some studentsare bound to slip between the cracks. You may not be an education professional, but you are an experton one essential topic: your child.Alert the school when you see that your student is starting to slip, and follow up to ensure that theproper steps are being taken. When communicating with your childs teachers and counselors,emphasize collaboration rather than confrontation. The vast majority of academic professionals has thestudents best interests at heart, and should value your constructive insights into your childs education.If they dont, find an administrator who does.No one has a perfect experience in school, and no preparation can adequately address every challengethat a student or a family will face. But by playing an active role in your childs education, emphasizingyour support, and continuing to educate yourself, you can put both you and your child in the bestpossible position to beat school stress and achieve academic success.
8Chapter ThreeFive Tips for a SmoothBack-to-School Experience
9It happens every year – and every year it seems to catch us by surprise.As memories of Fourth of July fireworks begin to fade and sales signs begin to sprout in storefrontwindows, families across the nation begin to realize that back-to-school time has snuck up on themagain.Though your children may want to pretend that summer will never end, you know that the return to theclassroom grows closer with every passing day. And although no formula has yet been created to ensurea seamless transition between summer vacation and the start of school, the following five tips can helpmake back-to-school time a little easier:Back-to-School Tip #1: Be EnthusiasticAlmost every student approaches the start of a new school year with at least a bit of trepidation, and ifyour child has struggled with school in the past, hes much more likely to be less than overjoyed aboutheading back into the classroom.To allay your childs fears, do your best to project an attitude of confidence and enthusiasm: When he talks about problems hes had, discuss the ways that you worked together to findsolutions to those crises, and let him know that youll continue to do whatever you can to makehis academic experience as enjoyable and productive as possible. If your child expresses concern about dealing with certain teachers or students, remind himabout the friends hell be able to spend time with and identify the teacher(s) with whom he hasbuilt a positive relationship. If your child begins to dwell on the frustrations hes had in the past, emphasize that this is a newyear, a new beginning, and a new chance. And dont ever stop telling him how proud you are ofhim, and how confident you are that hell be able to have his most successful year yet.Back-to-School Tip #2: Be RealisticInstilling a sense of confidence and enthusiasm in your child is an important part of preparing for a newschool year, but be careful not to raise her expectations too high.It may be tempting to comfort your child by promising her that none of the frustrations she experiencedin the past will rear their ugly heads again this year, but when this doesnt come to pass, you may be leftwith a child who is both disappointed in her circumstances and distrustful of the person (you) whopledged that she wouldnt have to go through all of this again.Be sure to temper your enthusiasm with healthy doses of realism: If your child has struggled with grades in the past, dont talk about this being a "straight A" year.Instead, help her identify small, measureable achievements that she can make, like studying fora certain amount of time every night or improving her attendance. If she has had problems with certain students in the past, dont pretend that those kids wontbother her any more (because they probably will). Instead, tell her that youll bring these
10concerns to her teachers attention, and plan other ways in which she can either preventconflicts or resolve them when they arise. Encourage her to try new sports, clubs, or activities, but dont lead her to believe that she has totake a "starring role" in order to have a meaningful experience. Talk about the value ofparticipation, and the benefits of working and playing alongside her peers.Back-to-School Tip #3: Be PreparedFor many students, the most intimidating aspect of a new school year is the fear of the unknown. Whatif my teacher is mean? What if I cant make any friends? What happens if I cant find my classroom, or ifI dont understand the lessons?Theres no way you can dispel all of these worries, but you can ease quite a bit of your childs back-to-school anxiety by removing as many unknowns as possible: If your child will be attending a new school, arrange to take a quick tour of the building over thesummer. Walking the halls and peering into the classrooms will familiarize your child with hisnew environment, and will take some of the fear out of the first day. Set up a quick meeting with your childs teacher. Most teachers spend at least a few days beforeschool setting up their classrooms and preparing for the first day. Find out when your childsnew teacher has a few minutes to spare, and stop by for a quick introduction. Throughout the summer, strategize various problem-solving situations with your child. Forexample, discuss the best ways to respond if another student is being a bully, if he doesntunderstand a lesson, or if hes having a problem with his teacher. Talking through potentialproblems before they occur can equip your child with the confidence he needs to overcomemany of the more common obstacles that may come his way.Back-to-School Tip #4: Be ProactiveWhen it comes to their childrens experiences in school, many parents take a "wait and see" (or, in somecases, a "hold our breath and hope for the best") approach. Some may even be intimidated by schoolpersonnel, or may feel that advocating on their childs behalf will target them as being troublemakers.In truth, being proactive doesnt mean that youre being pushy; rather, it means you are committed toyour childs welfare, and you know that its easier to solve a problem before it gets too big: If your child has a learning disability that requires an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), be surethat the school is aware of this plan, has reviewed it, and is prepared to provide all requiredsupport. If you suspect that your child may have an undiagnosed learning disability, request that she betested by the school. If your child has struggled with certain subjects, students, or situations in the past, talk to thenew teacher(s) ahead of time to make them aware of your concerns and to ensure that if theproblems recur they can be addressed before any significant damage has been done.
11Back-to-School Tip #5: Be ConsistentWhen it comes to your child and school, dont forget that routines are your ally. From consistentbedtimes to a well-established homework zone, developing positive habits can help ease anxiety andpromote appropriate behaviors: A few weeks before school starts, make sure that your child starts going to bed and getting up atthe same times he will during the school year. This will help his body clock adjust, will increasethe odds that hell be awake and aware during first period, and will lessen the likelihood thatyoull have to fight to get him out of bed and out the door. Establish a "homework zone" in a quiet, clutter-free, and well-lit area of your house (away fromthe television). Schedule certain hours for study time, and provide supervision and assistance asneeded. Once youve established rules and procedures, enforce them. For example, if your child doesnthave homework on a certain night, use the study time to review his lessons with him or read abook with him. If you expect your child to be in bed at a certain hour, dont schedule (or permit)any late-night activities.No set of rules, policies, or procedures can guarantee a successful school year for your child. But byembracing the ideas expressed above, you can increase the likelihood that both you and your child willbe as prepared as possible for the challenges ahead.
12Chapter FourFour Action Items for Parentsof Students with Special Needs
13Most kids dont want summer to end, but if you are the parent of a special needs student, back-to-school anxiety can be much more than a typical case of the end-of-summer blues.For students with learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, or other conditions that have resulted insignificant academic frustration, heading back to school can feel like going back to prison – a place thatthey associate with fear, anxiety, depression, and failure.Here are a few steps you can take during the summer months to help your child return to school with amore optimistic outlook, and an increased likelihood of experiencing success.Action Item #1: Acknowledge Your Childs ConcernsA child who wishes for an extended summer vacation is hardly an anomaly. But as the parent of a specialneeds child, you know that attitudes and behaviors are often symptoms of underlying conditions – andunless you identify and address the root cause, the symptoms are likely to get worse. Talk to your child about his attitude toward school, and make sure that this exchange is adiscussion, not a lecture. Give him plenty of opportunities to speak, and really listen to what hehas to say. Lack of control can lead to frustration. To avoid this, make your child a partner in back-to-schoolpreparations. Depending upon his age and maturity level, let him pick out back-to-school clothesand supplies, and have him "help" you establish his school day schedule (when to wake up,breakfast time, homework hour, bedtime). Be positive, enthusiastic, and confident. Remind your child of successes that he had in previousyears, let him know how proud you are of the work that hes done and the progress he hasmade, and tell him youre confident that this can be his best year yet.Action Item #2: Address Your Childs FearsYour child may not want to admit it (and my not even realize it), but her reluctance to go back to schoolmay be due to fear; for example, fear of being made fun of or bullied, fear of not being able tounderstand the lessons, or fear of not getting along with her teacher.Every effort you can make to identify, address, and ultimately dispel these fears will take you one stepcloser to a stress-free first day of school. If your child will be attending a new school, arrange to take a "private tour" during the summer.If possible, take your child to her new room and ideally, have her meet her new teacher.Establishing even a small sense of familiarity with the people, places, and events shellencounter when school starts will go a long way toward lessening her anxiety. If your child is worried about encountering students or teachers with whom she had problems inprevious years, address these matters on a case-by-case basis. If she will be in class with ateacher she dislikes, perhaps a summertime meeting with you, her, and the teacher can smooththings over.
14 For potential problems with other students, help your daughter develop conflict-resolutionskills, make sure she knows where to get help during the school day, and tell her that youllexpress her concerns to her teacher before school starts.Action Item #3: Go to Your Childs SchoolHopefully, the professionals at your childs school are highly trained and well-versed in areas that areimportant to your childs education. But theres one essential area in which you are the unquestionedexpert: your child. Instead of waiting for a problem to occur, schedule a get-to-know-you meeting with your childsteachers and counselors to discuss your childs strengths and weaknesses, and to inform them ofyour desire to work with them. Make sure that your childs Individualized Education Program (IEP) is current and that the schoolis prepared to provide all expected services. Join the parent-teacher association or other similar organization, attend school functions, andmaintain an active and positive presence at your childs school.By expressing your desire to collaborate with your childs teachers, and by demonstrating that you havea positive contribution to make, you can develop an effective and mutually beneficial relationship.Counselor educators Rita Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D., and John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D., addressed thismatter in an article that was posted on the website of the American School Counselor Association:Parents of special-needs children often develop amazing abilities to obtain resources for their children.In our opinion, no other group of parents is as dedicated to their children’s academic opportunities,social and emotional development, and overall well-being than parents of children with special needs.Typically, these parents have spent years advocating for their children. This is exhausting and oftenunrecognized and underappreciated work.Action Item #4: Plan for Your Childs SuccessYour child may have struggled in the past and may struggle in the future, but this doesnt mean that youcant plan for his success in a manner that is both optimistic and realistic. Request frequent progress reports from the school. Many districts only send reports once pergrading period, but by the time you find out that your child is having trouble, he may be so farbehind that the class is practically a lost cause. Also, requesting regular reports ensures thatyoull hear about successes, too – and theres no better way to surprise your child than to"catch" him doing something good! Set meaningful, measureable, and attainable goals for your child. Expecting straight As orperfect attendance may be setting the bar too high, while establishing an objective to "do betterin school" is too vague to be helpful. Start with small objectives (such as "study for 30 minutes
15every evening" or "dont miss school this week"), reward appropriately, and build on thesevictories. Identify tutors and other sources of support before your child has a problem. If you think extrahelp is justified from the get-go, make regular tutoring sessions part of the weekly routine(which may help eliminate the stigma that being tutored is punishment for failure). If you dont opt for extra help from the start, at least explain to your child that you want tomake sure he has every opportunity to succeed, and that you are prepared to step in as soon asevents warrant an academic intervention.Obviously, educating a special needs student is a complex process that cant be captured in a few simplesteps. But the issues discussed above can have a significant impact on your childs school-relatedattitudes, behaviors, and performance.
16About UsAspen Education Group is the nation’s leading provider of education programs for struggling orunderachieving young people.As the largest and most comprehensive network of therapeutic schools and programs, Aspenoffers professionals and families the opportunity to choose a setting that best meets a studentsunique academic and emotional needs.Aspens programs exist at the intersection of therapy and education for students that havedemonstrated behavioral issues that are preventing them from achieving to their greatestpotential.Recognizing that every individual is different and challenged by different needs, Aspen offers awide diversity of educational programs, settings and solutions that match client needs with theright learning and therapeutic environment.Our help and services range from short-term intervention programs to residential treatment,and include a variety of therapeutic interventions including: boarding schools, wildernesstherapy, residential treatment, special needs summer camps, and weight loss programs.Aspen Education Group is a proud member of CRC Health Group, the nation’s largest providerof behavioral healthcare services.For more about Aspen Education Group, please visit www.aspeneducation.comFor more about CRC Health Group, please visit www.crchealth.com