Moving home is always stressful, but it’s especially so for a young child. Not only do they have to cope with leaving their familiar surroundings and being uprooted to a strange neighborhood, state or even country, but they also have to start at a new and unfamiliar school.
For most families undertaking a major move, making sure their children’s education doesn’t suffer is the number one priority. When looking at an area we’re considering moving to we always look at where the good schools are. But no matter how good a school your child will be joining, unless they feel comfortable and settled then they’ll have difficulties keeping up with their studies. Children need to feel secure and accepted, and only when these needs are taken care of can they get on with learning and working successfully.
Often cultural differences that may seem trivial to adults, like different clothing fashions or the popularity of different kinds of music in different areas, can have a major impact on a child’s sense of identity and belonging. Bigger cultural differences in terms of acceptable behavior and self-expression will also naturally need to be adapted to. Talk to your child about these changes, and why what was right in your old neighborhood may not be right in a new location. Don’t make them feel like they are in the wrong, but equally impress upon them why they may need to adapt to more conservative, or more liberal mores, or perhaps a different intellectual or religious climate.
When moving to another country where things may seem radically different, it’s important to give your child as much of a sense of continuity with their old life as possible. Expat families in Hong Kong have found that sending their children to a Hong Kong based international school means that they can continue with a familiar curriculum and have English as the main language spoken in the classroom; unlike the majority of public schools in the country. Obviously these are going to be important factors in ensuring a smooth transition for your child and minimizing the difficulties they’ll have in adapting to their new life.
Paving the way
If possible, visit your child’s new school before they start, both alone and with your child. On your first visit, you can observe the school yourself and speak to members of staff about any particular concerns you may have or your child’s particular needs. Then you can bring your child in and show them around, introducing them to a few teachers so that when they start it won’t be a totally unfamiliar experience.
If possible, allow them to start at the beginning of the school year, when everyone is starting over to some degree. Make sure that they know the route to school and are familiar with any transport systems they need to use. Encourage them to take part in extra-curricular activities and above all encourage them to talk about their feelings and experiences. Your support will be invaluable in ensuring they adapt well and make the effort to get the most from their education.