Tips for Helping Your Child Adjust From a Non-International to an International School

For many expat parents, having their children attend international schools rather than mainstream public and private institutions can be a big decision. International schools can be more expensive than comparable mainstream schools, and it can be hard for busy parents to immediately spot the benefits of these institutions, even after a campus visit. This is especially true in places with internationally competitive school systems like Singapore and Hong Kong, where parents can expect great facilities and high academic rigor in both state schools and private institutions. Yet, international schools are generally considered to be the best option for expat families, particularly those residing in East Asia.

Why Consider an International School?

International schools offer expat families several distinct advantages over top-tier mainstream schools. For one thing, international schools will generally offer a broader English language education, which can be a serious benefit for American and other Anglophile families. For another, many schools also integrate cutting-edge teaching styles that are more suitable for children with special learning needs. Importantly, international schools offer internationally focused curriculums that are typically absent in mainstream school systems. For instance, if you’re in Singapore and want your child to have an American education in Singapore, then international schools in the city-state are pretty much your only option.

Fortunately, children who move to an international school from a mainstream institution generally adjust after just a few months, with the adjustment period generally shortening the younger a child is. However, adjustments aren’t always straightforward and they can be fraught with academic culture shock, especially if the child transitions very late. This is why some international schools will not accept transferees starting from freshman year (approximately Year 10 for schools that follow the UK academic system).

How to Make Switching Easier

Make sure to take these steps when transferring your child to an international school for the first time:

  1. Build Positive Expectations

Telling things as they are is one thing, but constantly discussing the difficulties of switching to a different school is another. Negative discussions are only going to make your child anxious about the impending move, making their transition all the more difficult. You should, instead, focus on the positives such as the opportunity to make new friends and engage in co-curricular activities that your child may have enjoyed back at home.

  1. Involve Your Child in the Decision

The final choice of school should be up to you but your child must be given some agency over the decision, particularly if they’re older. Ask your child if there are any subjects they want to focus on or extracurriculars that they want to try. It also helps to ask them if they’re interested in specific after-school activities. Their responses should help you get a better idea of which schools will meet most of their needs.

  1. Visit Shortlisted Schools with Your Child

International schools usually allow scheduled visits from interested families and many even have open houses where you can interact with members of the school community. Taking the opportunity to visit and explore different campuses with your child may get them more interested in the move and may even help you narrow down your choices further.

  1. Treat Your Child when Buying School Essentials

Most international schools in Asia require students to wear uniforms, which can be an early shock for children who are used to more casual mainstream school systems elsewhere. Purchasing their first uniform sets should, therefore, be as positive an experience as you can make it. Take your child out for a treat before you get their essentials and go visit a park or nearby attraction to start their transition on a happier note.

  1. Be Open about Potential Issues

Even younger children know that their transition may not necessarily be the smoothest experience. If they express any fears about the move, resist the urge to gloss over them and acknowledge them openly. Addressing these concerns early on will not only prevent them from snowballing into larger problems but it should also strengthen your child’s trust in you, over time.

  1. Learn the Signs of Poor Adjustment 

Children can sometimes be very stoic when stressed, and you may not always see the signs of poor adjustment unless you know what to look for. Make sure to watch out for signs like withdrawal, binge eating, or declining academic performance. Being aware of these indicators makes it possible to provide the necessary support to help your child thrive in a new academic environment.

  1. Give Your Child Time

A successful adjustment to a new school can take up to a year, especially for older children. It’s understandable to feel upset if your child struggles to cope but you need to be patient and be an example to your child. Always reassure them that their struggles are valid and that it’s ok to take things slowly.

Stay Involved throughout Your Child’s Transition

Fortunately, international school administrators and educators are largely aware of the issues and you can trust most of them to help ease your child into their new educational environment. However, much of the responsibility remains with you. So long as you remain proactive with your child’s transition, they should successfully overcome their first hurdles in due time to become well-adjusted members of their new school community.

Photo by note thanun on Unsplash


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