Are you moving to a new country this summer and do you want to know how to make sure that your children have a stellar start in the new school?
International children experience more change before age 18 than the average adult in his/her lifetime (David Pollock Third Culture Kids: growing up among worlds), which doesn’t mean that they learn automatically how to deal with it. In fact, it’s our task to help them how to cope with change in a healthy way.
I’ve been helping international families have a smooth transition and settle in easier and healthier for many years now, and I have supported schools develop a transition program to welcome new students and families.
Here are 4 tips about how we can help our children – and ourselves – start on the right foot:
1. Share your worries…
If we have been through this kind of change before, we tend to assume that they will all be fine (in time). I strongly advise not to do that: we all change, situations change, our expectations change… and what was easy before might be an issue now. During a transition, our children tend not to make us worry and would do anything to see us happy.
Adults need to check in with them often during this time in an open way. Find out if the “I’m fine” means “I feel sad and worry about…” It sometimes helps to let them write it down. Refrain from judging: what seems secondary and not a big deal to us could mean the world to them.
If your children didn’t get really involved with the move and changes so far: start now. Let them make decisions about what they want to do and how.
If there is any major issue about school, please inform the teachers immediately. Especially when our children didn’t get to build a R.A.F.T. for some reason, there might be some unresolved grief they will deal with in the new place. The sooner they deal with it, the better.
2. Find your way…
Try to visit the school with your children to know where the classrooms are, the lockers and other places your child will have to find. Many families don’t get to visit the school until a few weeks or days before school starts.
Some schools organize welcome events for new families before the school starts. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet other new families and children. It is a great help for our children to be able to spot the other newbies amongst all the others.
3. Find your village…
You and your children need to rebuild your village in the new place and one important part of it are friends. It will always take time until others trust us. A way to make this happen quicker is to share our stories.
Schools with a transition program give new arrivals the chance to tell about where they lived before, what their school looked like, what their favorite activities are, what they liked to eat etc. It helps a lot when children can share pictures, maybe in form of a short PowerPoint presentation with their new classmates.
It is so much easier to explain pictures for children than to talk about it. Sharing our story is a great way to answer the dreaded question “where are you from?”. You can set up a short text for the PowerPoint slides with your child and translate the major points. This way your child will learn some more words in the school language related to what is important to them.
Your new village consists also of neighbors and other families in the school community. You can ask the school to put you in contact with similar school aged families or live in the same area as you.
Knowing a few children before school starts always helps not to feel disoriented or lonely.
Also, this is the opportunity to get some more information about what is customary at school: supplies needed, what kind of backpack or bag is “cool”, what clothes do they wear, what do they eat for lunch…
These might seem secondary aspects, but for children, sticking out and being visibly the newbie won’t help them integrate easier. This is especially true for pre-teens and teenagers who might not want to be noticed.
Ask the school if there are any events organized for parents, and try to attend. These are a great way to find out more about the school community.
For internationals, the school community becomes a second home to feel secure, accepted and recognized.
4. Find out how things are done…
In order to function in the new place, we need to know all the details. If the school has a buddy system, our children can ask their buddies about all that is needed. Buddies usually help new children settle in easier, find their way through the building and connect with other children with similar interests.
If your school doesn’t have such a system (yet), ask who could help so they can deal with issues as soon as possible. How often is homework assigned? What kind of trips are planned and what do you need to do and organize? How do children meet outside of school? Are there activities you need to sign up your child for – or can he/she do it her/himself?
The same applies to you: what do you need to know about the new school, the way things are done in the new place etc.? Ask other parents, teachers, staff members, neighbors, etc.
Some schools have a transition program for new arrivals: for children and parents. Find out if your new school has one and what you need to do to get up to date on their activities.
10 Alternatives to “Where are you from?”
Raising a Third Culture Kid in a Mixed Race Family
Becoming a Third Culture Kid: Letter to My Multicultural Daughter
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