A+ Adjustment

By Abbie Pumarejo 2019-06-27 18:31:43

Moving to one of the world's largest cities is a wonderful adventure for kids, but it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Moving to one of the world's largest cities is a wonderful adventure for kids, but it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Abbie Pumarejo shares some helpful ways to make the grade when adjusting to a new school, new friends, and a new life in Shanghai.

Helping your child adjust to a new school anywhere can be a challenge. As parents, we want our children to move easily into a new situation, with the least amount of stress and worry possible. A new school may also mean a new city, new language and new culture. The international school community in Shanghai can be welcoming, but the adjustment period will vary from child to child. Many factors, including your child’s age, preferences, school environment and your own attitudes all contribute to how seamlessly your child will adjust to their new school.

Realistic expectations

According to Community Center Shanghai (CCS) counselor Andrea Smallen, “One of the hardest parts of transitioning to a new school or environment is finding a space where we feel like we belong. Often with a move, we do not know what to expect, which makes the transition that much harder.”

Open communication, explaining the need for the move and involving the child in the school selection process all help give a sense of security. If possible, visit several schools with your children. Do research online and take your child’s opinions into consideration before deciding.

“When choosing a school, allowing your child to be part of the process will help them feel more in control of their new environment and the decisions around it. It is, after all, where they will be spending the majority of their time. If they feel they are able to exercise some control over this, it will help them feel more secure and better able to adjust, rather than it being forced on them,” advises Andrea.

Give it time

Although we may want everything to be A-Ok from the very beginning, there are bound to be moments when the transition is anything but smooth. Giving your child time to adapt is as important as knowing when to step in and offer more concrete support.

“Firstly, allow some time to adjust, for both parents and child. It takes time to settle in, longer for some than for others. However, regardless of age, if you see your child is struggling, show your understanding that making such a change is hard. Most importantly, allow for communication, and for your child’s feelings to be heard and validated. “

Jessica Hörnell, mother of two daughters, studying in Grades 4 and 7 at Shanghai Community International School, shares her family’s recent moving experience. “We spent time together and talked a lot at home about everything new that had happened each day. We found fun places to visit during weekends and sampled new foods.”

However, like with many other families, there were also bumps along the way. “It was important for us as parents to be positive so we tried to be very patient and tolerant when our girls had their ups and downs - and we listened. We reminded our girls how it had been for kids at their old school when they were new and how our girls had helped them adjust to their new school in the Netherlands.”

As parents, one of the essential roles we play is setting the tone for our children’s attitudes with our own. Andrea suggests, “Talk, talk, and talk. Let your kids know you are available and that you are there to support them.”

By validating your child’s feelings about school, both negative and positive, you help them through the period of adjustment and prepare for anticipated difficulties. Being allowed to express feelings is an important step in the transitional process.

Can I stay home today?

Andrea assures parents, “It is not uncommon for children to unconsciously internalize their distress, which can then manifest itself in a physical way, with complaints of stomach aches, nausea, headaches or digestion difficulties on school days. Not surprisingly, if allowed to stay home, the child often shows a quick recovery.”

These behaviours are seen in both younger and older children. More seriously, some children may begin to display a lack of interest in school activities; difficulties with homework; increased sibling rivalry; trouble making friends; becoming more withdrawn, isolating themselves, mood swings, or school refusal. In addition, teenagers may begin to show signs of rebellion, acting out more than usual, or displaying increased aggression towards others, themselves and parents.

Zack Beck Gross, a licensed clinical social worker, says, “It’s normal to experience some challenges during transitions and it’s very important for students to receive support. Even for high school students, adult support is necessary to help ease the strain of starting over in a new school with new friends.“

Both Andrea and Zack encourage parents to seek support from teachers and school counselors and out-of-school professionals if you feel your child’s behaviours are not improving and are causing serious disruption to daily life.

“Getting support from a trusted adult like a parent, guidance counselor or teacher is important because it can make us feel less alone with the issues we’re facing and part of a positive network,” reminds Zack.

As new arrival Tiffany Glover, mum to children in Pre-Kindergarten, 2nd and 6th Grades, says, “You don’t have to know everything. Just be willing to try and contribute!”

Small adjustments, big impact

Concordia Elementary School counselor Evie Slatter shares ways to ease the transition.

• Use your own adjustment process to teach your child how to be flexible and adaptable.

• When longing for the comfortable life back home, remember how easily we vacuum our memories to include only the positive. Keep life in perspective.

• Expect to be surprised, both pleasantly and by new and bewildering challenges. You cannot know everything in advance.

• Celebrate unexpected discoveries and add them to your gratitude list.

• Look for opportunities to develop social connections with other expats.