Preschool children may struggle with the new surroundings, schedule, or foods. But family life is pretty routine from the preschooler’s perspective, and that is a comfort to them. The presence of preschool children impacts the adjustment of the mother because of the limitations she has on language and transportation. Imagine the fear in a mother’s heart when her small child gets sick in a foreign country where she does not speak the language well!
School-age children’s adjustment is different. Language, social connections, ability to follow instructions, and fears are all issues these children have to contend with. However, there is such a difference after the first year in all of these issues and most children adjust very well by then. In fact, in some cases too well! Often, the children do not want to go home after 3-4 years. Many times, the reverse culture shock adjustment for children is worse than the initial cross-cultural adjustments.
What can be done to facilitate and assist school-age children’s adjustment? Offering patience along with encouragement and support go a long way in this process. An ethnic church where there are school-aged children who have to live in both worlds can be a wonderful source of relationships and comfort. Parents taking the initiative to invite families from their child’s school classroom on a weekend to get to know them and give the children time to play together can be a stimulus to relationships.
Occasionally, when there are issues of extreme shyness, withdrawal, and fears manifested as tics, a visit to the school counselor to see what aid options are available from the school might be helpful. The new international student husband may need to take the lead in communication with the child’s school due to low language facility with the mother.
Most fears will have been resolved by the end of the first year, and most school-age children make adequate adjustments in their own time and in their own way with the schooling they attend. One thing to note is that many children learning the language go through a “quiet period” where they speak very little, if at all. After six months, they break out and begin to interact very well. Be careful that the quiet period is not misinterpreted as other than normal adjustment.
Principles cited in this blog: School-aged children have more adjustment issues than preschoolers. Usually parents’ fears are unfounded, and the children make adequate adjustment in their own time (some after a 6-month quiet period).
Application for ISI ministry: Helping parents evaluate their school-age child’s adjustment could be a wonderful support to new student parents. Going to the school with the parents and explaining then and later what is happening would be well received.
Next blog topic: Trips and outings with new students
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson