How easily a child adapts to a new school and a new culture is heavily influenced by their age, personality and parental guidance.
Preschoolers (under 5’s) are usually the easiest to settle into a new school, as they tend to be ‘portable’ seeing ‘home’ as where their parents are. Encourage them to play alongside the other kids at kindergarten and before you know it, they’ll have found their feet.
Primary school (5 to 10) children basically want to know the ‘rules’ at school and they are likely to worry if they don’t understand what’s expected of them. Help them to find out the rules in advance and make a plan for what they need to do.
Middle school (10 to 12) kids are burdened with an emerging sense of self awareness, and are most concerned about how to fit in. Help them to find kids ‘like them’ who can help them ‘bridge’ into their peer group.
Secondary school (13 to 18) adolescents can be reluctant movers, after leaving some significant friendships in their old school. Encourage them to be curious about new possibilities, remind them they’re good at making friends and help them stay in touch with their old mates.
9 Tips to help them settle into school...
1. Remind them - They are skilled.
Ask them what skills do they already have that will help them in their new school. Draw out as many as you can. The ability to make new friends, follow rules and being respectful, are obvious social ones. Skills linked to a hobby are important too, like being good at soccer, playing the guitar, singing etc. Encourage them to demonstrate and build on their unique set of skills in their new school.
2. Partner with the school.
Get involved with the school. Volunteer your time and expertise where you can, you’ll understand the school environment better and you’ll model positive engagement to your child.
3. Make new acquaintances and friends.
However, don’t invest everything in the school community, make sure you find other circles to be active in. Help your children get to know locals in your neighbourhood, join an expat families group, local sports or hobby clubs, have a party and arrange play dates. See this as a way a making lots of acquaintances, some of which will become friends. If things don’t gel in one circle, you’ll have friends elsewhere.
4. Keep in touch with ‘home’.
This is a fine balancing act. It’s important for them to stay connected with important people from home but it mustn’t become a ‘safety blanket’ that stops them making new friends. Enable regular communication and be flexible about it, some kids love Skype, others prefer just a phone call, photo sharing or messaging.
5. Create a sanctuary.
This is a subtle way of helping them feel secure. Their new home will feel more safe and familiar if they see and use precious things from your last home. Unpack these things quickly and help them personalise their bedrooms.
6. Hold on to your routines.
As far as you can, keep to familiar routines for bedtimes, chores, homework etc. Kids (and adults) are less likely to be stressed and experience a greater sense of fulfilment when they are following a familiar schedule. Comfort foods from home are also really important, especially after a tough day. You may need to evolve with time but start off with what you know.
7. Feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Find a lighthearted way of asking them about their day that avoids, saying ”how was your day?” asking something slightly silly like “Ok, give me the good, the bad and the ugly” can be more engaging for them. Sometimes talking in the car on they way home is a good opportunity, often walking the dog or over a mealtime is better.
8. Invest in family time.
Spend time together exploring your new world. Find useful places that you’ll need for everyday life but also explore the fun, the historic and the quirky ones too. Encourage them to come up with ideas for days out and have fun together.
Early after arrival, find something to celebrate, it doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it’s significant to your family in some way. Keep going with celebrations for birthdays and special days as before and join in with the local celebrations in your adopted home.
And lastly, be vigilant.
Children are often reticent to talk about their feelings so watch out for changes in behaviour, appearance, mood and eating habits. Trust your gut instinct. If anything is giving you cause for concern, then take appropriate steps to resolve it.