The beginning of the year school picnic is this week and Jakob couldn’t be more excited. Last night, he got out all his back to school paperwork, including his list of school supplies. He’s on my case a bit to go shopping and get everything purchased, packed and ready to go. I’m lucky, Jakob loves school now. It wasn’t always that way.

Halfway through first grade, I pulled Jakob out of school and started a home-based program with him (The SonRise Program). He just wasn’t thriving in the school environment and all the stimulation that went with it. There were too many people, too many rooms, too many smells, too much stuff, too many noises, pretty much too much of everything. I went to visit him once and he looked right through me. I was standing in the doorway when he came back in the classroom after recess and his eyes were directed at me but there was no recognition. Just a blank stare, it scared me. It became clear at that point that I wanted to try something different, and I’m so glad that I did. I don’t believe that Jakob would be where he is now if we would had continued on with school when he was so little and struggling so much just to make it through the day.

The goal always was to get him back into school, and when he was 14, I knew it was time. I found a school with an administration and teachers that I knew and trusted. I made sure that they had a really good understanding of Jakob’s quirks and motivations. I spent a lot of time talking to him about what to expect. And more than anything, I got excited.

What we model, we teach. Every. Single. Time. It’s pretty tough to get a kid to calm down if you’re screaming at them in a very un-calm manner. And it’s pretty impossible to convince a child that school is going to be fun and awesome if you’re a nervous wreck about it.

Jakob loves going to the dentist. He enjoys going to the hospital and getting blood drawn. Having an hour-long IV drip is no big deal. He goes to bed every night excited to go to school the next day. And he gets very upset if he thinks he may have to take a sick day. It’s awesome and hilarious and so much fun. And it is the way it is because of how all of these experiences were modeled for him.

When I give back to school advice to parents, I tell them to relax and have fun. Stand firm in making sure your kiddos get the supports they need and are entitled to, that they’re safe and they’re being well taken care of and be calm about it. Never let them see you sweat. If they catch you losing it, they’re going to believe there’s something to lose it about. Then the cycle begins.

Our kids struggle with new things, new people and new experiences. Let’s show them that these things aren’t scary; they’re fun and exciting. There is a way to respect their boundaries and limitations and encourage them to grow and change. And in my experience with Jakob, I’ve learned that it’s most likely to happen when everyone is having a fun time doing it.