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FAQs: Coping with a School Transition

Are you and your child dealing with the tough, emotional challenge of transitioning to brand new school? Click the questions below to read our advice on what you can do.

What do I do if my child hates the new school?

Keep in mind that transitions take time. Don’t jump to conclusions if your child doesn’t settle in instantly, although your parental instinct may want to do whatever you can to improve the situation.

At prolonged signs of stress, speak to the teacher. You may need to begin by explaining the transition that your child has been through. Except in international schools, teachers may be unfamiliar with the effects of relocation and may not understand what children are experiencing. and do not understand the symptoms they are witnessing. With a little coaching, they can become supportive and assist the child’s progress through this process.

Next, you need to see if your child is struggling academically or socially. If there is a problem with learning unrelated to the transition, find out what it is and see what learning support is available at the school or ask the school to recommend outside resources. If it is a social issue, strategize with the teacher as to how your child can make friends or cope with unpleasantness. Many schools have a school psychologist who will be able to give you strategies for helping your child adjust. All schools should have an anti-bullying policy and be able to tell you what it is and how they implement it.

It is important to keep perspective that this is a natural part of the process and, indeed, of growing up, and one that your child will learn from. Develop an alliance with the school rather than treating teachers or administrators as adversaries. Other parents are your best resource for learning how to approach the school effectively rather than alienating school personnel.

What do I do if my child is so homesick s/he refuses to make an effort in the new school?

Homesickness is inevitable but generally does not last too long. Staying in touch with old friends is much easier now that phone calls are cheaper and the internet is available. Encourage continued contact but within limits to make sure your child is also making new friends. Elicit the help of the teacher to stimulate your child’s interest in school.

Explain to your child that there is a  process of acclimating to a new culture: the honeymoon phase when everything and everyone is wonderful, followed by a period of disenchantment when everything about the new culture seems negative and hateful; and the slow emergence into a more balanced, accepting view of the new culture. Tell them that everyone adjusts at a different pace but it does happen. Curiosity about the new culture, even the bits they hate and those aspects which seem strange, helps.

What do I do if my child is not at the popular table?

This is a tricky one. We all want our children to be happy but the unavoidable reality of relocating is that we do disrupt our children’s friendship groups and then introduce them to a new environment where friendships will have already been established.

When you are visiting schools, ask what orientation procedures they have for new children. Some schools have a buddy system so the new child receives peer guidance for the first few weeks, others have a constant flow of international children so there will always be other children in the same situation. Schools that are particularly sensitive may have popular children selected as buddies, which immediately smoothes the path for the newcomer. Arrange play dates so your child has the chance to interact with a variety of children until they discover those with whom they can be friends. Be patient. It takes time to integrate into a new life but it does happen and children are often quicker to acclimatize than the adults.

When your child is struggling through the phase of being unknown in school, do not despair. Don’t relive your own childhood experiences and share your feelings with your child, exacerbating his or her own. These can be times that children can learn important life skills about how to make transitions, how to assess and pick the right friends, and to assess themselves.

What do I do if my child is excluded for being foreign?

Go and see the school immediately and express your concern. Exclusion is a form of bullying and the school should have clear ways of dealing with it. Encourage the school to explore different cultures in their lessons and to use your child to discuss their culture if s/he is willing. Whether or not the school assists you, it is wise to provide your child with intensive instruction in the language of his or her peers.