By Kate Berger
Settling into a new school can be challenging, as children try to orientate themselves to unfamiliar surroundings. They encounter people with different cultural norms, and have to re-establish safe, trusting relationships and a sense of belonging within their new community. While children have a tremendous capacity to adapt, parents must be on the lookout for signs that their youngsters may be having a hard time settling in.
Children may withdraw significantly from their surroundings, such as resisting going to school and participating in social activities and hobbies. Some become hostile and argumentative in interpersonal relationships, picking fights with other students, teachers or siblings. Or they may appear very reluctant to take risks and try new things like getting acquainted with the new culture and making friends.
In addition, shifts in a child’s routine, such as dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns, or developmental setbacks — stalled language or toilet-training skills perhaps — could signal that a child is struggling to adapt.
In order to support children and help them overcome these difficulties, parents must make it a priority to ask their youngsters about their experiences, and listen to their answers. Parents can also acknowledge that these life changes are hard, and remind the children they are not alone, by sharing some of the challenges they, the parents, are facing.
Finally, many parents become overwhelmed by their own feelings of guilt when they see their children struggling, so it can be useful to spend time remembering why the decision to relocate was made in the first place. This can be as simple as writing a list of the benefits of relocation, and remembering that more often than not relocation offers rich and diverse opportunities for children to thrive.
Questions to ask schools to ensure that you pick the right one for your child.
- How large is the school’s expat population?
- Does the school have a buddy or ambassador programme?
- Does the school involve families in supporting expat students?
- Is the school willing to exchange information with the child’s previous school?
- Does the school staff include caring adults who are knowledgeable about expat transitions and are on call to meet the child?
Kate Berger is a child and adolescent psychologist and founder of The Expat Kids Club, which counsels young expats and their families.
The FT will be interviewing Kate later in the year. Click here to submit your questions.