How long does it take children to settle?(20 Posts)
Background: we moved from the UK to the USA on a three year posting in mid-January. We've got three DC; our 8 year old DS and 5 year old DD started in 2nd grade and Kindergarten of the local (generally well regarded) public school at the end of January, and our 3 year old DS is in a private preschool.
Initially they all coped amazingly with the move. They were excited about coming and really supported each other. The older two were nervous about starting school, but seemed to be doing OK.
But in the last few weeks my older DS has started struggling, and saying that he hates the US and hates the school and wants to go home, in tears. I feel so sorry for him, and guilty too, because we had a choice and we've done this to him. And the reality is they were in an amazing village playschool and then school back in the UK, and from what I can see of their new school it is different, and not in a good way. Much more plugging away at worksheets, more testing, and a lot less creative, collaborative and project work. So I can't help feeling my DS has a point. And although they seem to work harder here, its at a lower level than they were in the UK - I guess because they have had an extra year of schooling - and I am worried about them being behind when we return.
We've got an opportunity to move them to a private school from the start of next school year - it's not a true international school, but the closest that there is to one in the area. It's reputation is OK, although not outstanding. We are in a good school district and plenty of local Americans use the public schools even though they could, I assume, send their children to the private school quite comfortably. The last thing I would want to do is create more upheaval for them for no reason.
We've got some expat friends here with children of a similar age, but they've been here longer and their children started school in the US, so haven't been through the transition or experienced the UK system. So I've got no idea what to expect, and whether this is just a blip or a sign that he really is unhappy. I'd really welcome anyone who could share their experience of moving grade school children - how long did it take them to settle, and what were the bumps along the way? If they are struggling, how can you judge between a wobble and something more serious?
OP I can't really help because I am not in your position however there are a couple of threads running in the education section and primary school section dealing with the differences between the two systems which might be worth a read
Actually one is in Living Overseas as well
It's soo tough, isn't it.
We moved in October. First school was awful, but we were fortunate enough to still be on the wait lists for the other school. We got a call after about 6weeks, offering assessment at one of the top schools. We moved, and don't regret it for a second (despite the eye watering cost of getting out of old school). The boys are happy (as they ever were in the UK), and talk of their friends, which never happened at the old school.
They may just be ready for a break - have you got a spring break coming up???
Have they made friends in the neighbourhood, and at school? That was the biggest settler for us.
And we Skype and write to the closest friends. We will be going back for the whole of the summer break (DH coming back for work after 3 weeks, but I'm escaping the horrid heat for 2 months).
Don't worry about fitting in when they come back, and try to make the best of what you have now.
Is it too early for where you are?
Dc's started school about 6 months into our move. I hated the local village school, I knew they weren't getting a good education, and because they were 'foreign' they stood out (even though they spoke the lingo)
We debated on whether to move back to the UK because I couldn't let them continue somewhere none of us were happy with. They wanted to go home too, even though I doubt they remembered home.
I had the opportunity to move schools, which having nothing to lose, did so. Best thing we did. Kids are thriving, they love their now school, have great friends, and never want to leave....
Think about changing schools first rather than country, it worked out for us.
When is his birthday, OP? Can you put him up a grade?
Its a tough one as although he may be repeating some things, a lot of the curriculum will be entirely foreign to him. He's learning a whole new learning style as well as trying to make friends.
My eldest was 10 (5th Grade) when we arrived and I would say it took him the whole of that grade to get used to his new style of school. He floundered a little and, in retrospect, I didn't advocate enough for him presuming he'd just get the hang of it quicker than he did.
If you think the private school will be a better match, go for it. It's irrelevant what the rest of the parents would do as they're not in the same situation. I know plenty of Americans who have gone to the UK for a 3 year stint and all of their kids have gone to private school so it's perfectly fine for you to do the same this way.
Also, you're probably already doing so, but organize plenty of play dates and get him involved in the extra curriculars (sports, arts, etc) as this is where a lot of the friendships are built.
We moved to the US when my DS was 7, he goes to a private school even though we are zoned for some of the top public schools in our state. We went private as they are much more flexible with regards to moving kids up (or down) a grade when appropriate and they have much more freedom with regards to the curriculum they teach and they don't have to 'teach to the test' the same way that public schools do.
There are only 60 children in DS' grade which has made it much easier for him to make friends and find his own place within the school. The local public school has 500 children per grade which I think he would have found overwhelming!
He has been very happy at school but as a previous poster mentioned, a lot of the kids here play sports outside of the school. I would say the majority of DS' friends come from playing for a local soccer team so maybe that is something you could look into for him?
In my experience it takes about 6-12months for children to settle. Much longer than most people think and expect, things can start to turn a corner at about 12 weeks. The most important thing is to get the school right and then progress happens. If I am honest it is my gut (that I doubt) that has told me whether it is a wobble or something needs to be done. I am am frequently found chatting to staff and parents to help me figure things out.
My moves have a different basis though a we are an army family and have moved every 18months on average mainly within the UK. Although I did the expat life as a child.
It's very very early days. I agree it takes at least a year. You will go through ups and downs and it sounds like he is currently in a down moment.
We moved when my oldest was in Year 4 and he found the transition really difficult. Many tears and cries of send me back to live with nana or grandad. We are in Brazil and he is in private school as they do more creative activities and have more flexibility with the curriculum than the state schools.
One thing that made a massive difference to my son was when his new friends became his closer friends. He stopped missing his friends so much, he started to figure out the system and he started to see friends outside school. Now he's in 7th Grade and loves it here, he said he never wants to go back.
What do kids do for social activities? Does he do extra curricular stuff? Have you had any playdates?
It just takes time.
I moved country as a child and another child told me that the first year is shit. And it was! Culture shock does follow the pattern of great then shit then 'normal'.
I agree that friends becoming good friends really helps.
We moved to NZ from UK our eldest then 11 settled quickly which was helped by an amazing teacher our younger one had a awful teacher and I think it took almost a calender year to settle. But we are here now forever and I knew she would as she liked the country and the extra stuff she got to do here. I would say stick with it lots of play dates, and sports. Also take time out as a family and do some extra family stiff you wouldn't be able to do in the uk. The kids have to benefit from the move i so me way. Treat school as a way for them to make friends and as day care, find out what things they would be doing in the uk and in a fun hand on way cover them over the weekends by trips, experiments ect. Not in a way that the kids think they are learning but just so that it helps when you go back. You can always get a tutor when you return.
I moved to the US pre-kids. I have had children in public and private schools in the US.
First of all, I think you should acknowledge that just like you, your children may adapt and then be homesick and then be fine again and then be homesick. I don't think it is fair to expect them to spend a certain amount of time in the US and then be fine and settled (I know you are not expecting that really). that may work for the younger ones but for your older one, he may feel homesick on and off for a good while-and that is fine. I know I do still feel homesick sometimes 20 years on. It doesn't mean the move here hasn't been fantastic for me in many ways.
Secondly, with kids the age of your oldest, there could be something else entirely going on - like his friend in school was mean to him or a teacher dismissed him or whatever. So maybe first try to see if there is something that could happen anywhere going on.
Thirdly, my experience of US is all the sports and even arts activities happen at a town level so you should try to engage your kids in soccer/ softball/hockey/swimming etc through the town. just ask any of the mums at school and they will give you the details of how to enroll. That does really help with integration.
And fourthly! We moved from public to private schools. My own experience is really bright integrated kids (like our third one) do fantastically in good public school systems. If your child needs anything a bit extra or is a bit quirky (like our second) the right private school can be a great relief. If your child is a bright child who isn't high achieving (our first) putting him in a more competitive environment can also help. I wouldn't rush to private school if I were you if your son is otherwise doing fine.
I think it is ok for your son to have a bit of a wobble about being in the US. It doesn't mean he hates it or it is an awful decision. Be prepared for similar wobbles when you move back to UK (although you oldest will be at a great age to move back-your second one might find that move harder!)
Can you figure out what exactly is upsetting him? We moved 2yrs ago and my dc's are now at least 2yrs behind educationally but happy - the focus of the education system at their age is mainly social. I top up their learning at home or at outside clubs. When I talk about moving back they say no, but we're in Europe and travel back to the uk frequently to keep in touch with family and old friends.
Thank you so much everyone for taking the time to reply. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to come back to this thread - we've been busy with spring break and then getting back in to school.
Hilda - thank you, I'll check out those threads.
Desert - sadly it was too early for wine, and is too early now too! I'm sorry to hear that your boys had a tough start in their first school, and glad to hear that they are much happier in their new school. Ours were definitely ready for the break - they missed the half term that they would have had in the UK, and then spring break was only a week. They have 11 weeks off over the summer which seems insane to me, I'd much rather it was spread out a bit!
Crazycat - Again, sorry to hear that you had such a bad start, that must have been so difficult. We are nowhere near needing to go home, thank goodness, although in some ways that makes it hard in a different way as I don't think we are at the "nothing to lose" point either. The local school is not awful, and the kids are doing OK most of the time. And we can't be sure that they would be happier in the private school.... it's very difficult!
Chips - It's interesting that you feel it took your son a whole year to settle. Thing is, whenever we talked to anyone about moving, and our concerns about the kids, without exception everyone says breezily, "Oh, the kids will be fine, they are so flexible, yadda yadda". But it isn't that simple! Yes they are "fine", in that I don't think they are utterly miserable, but they are definitely less happy and who wants their kids to be just "fine", anyway?! It's frustrating sometimes as a feel we can't have a proper conversation with friends and family back home without sounding like we are being overly anxious. And yet these are people who are already (understandably) agonising over secondary education for their kids in four years time. Somehow once you take your kids overseas they are expected just to get on with it! Sorry, that was a bit of a rant
Putting him up a grade is something that we initially dismissed, and I don't think it would be possible in the public school anyway. I think there might be a bit more flexibility in the private school, I will ask.
NoMore - the private school does claim to have more flexibility over teaching to individual need, which sounds great, but it is difficult to know the extent to which this happens in practice. 500 children per grade!!! OMG that is enormous, absolutely overwhelming!
Nickname/tomato - a year to settle - that is really interesting to hear. Definitely much longer than I think most people (without first hand experience) would expect. And interesting about the "gut feel" too - that is exactly what I am trying to figure out. The fact that we don't see their teachers or other parents at the school gate definitely makes it harder to gauge what is going on - unless you proactively ask there is no feedback whatsoever, and my kids don't provide any either, unless they are either really happy or really sad about something.
MrsTerry - I really do think the kids are experiencing a bit of culture shock. I thought they would be immune because of their (young) age, but it seems not.
JellyTip - we are definitely doing as you suggest and trying to make family time as exciting as possible. A lot of you mention the importance of friends - DS(8) seems to be doing ok and has a couple of friends in the neighbourhood who are in his class at school, and they play out after school which is great, and something he was never able to do back home. So that is a big plus for him I think. But I think he finds it tiring, because of the culture differences - like he is subconsciously working at it all the time. DD(5) I am more worried about - she had a couple of wonderful friendships back home, and has spoken forlornly about feeling lonely here. Unfortunately neither of them are at all sporty, which is a shame as that is such a great way to get involved in something out of school. We are pursuing other things though like cub scouts, guides etc.
Canyou - thank you for your thoughtful insight. As I said above, I do think there is a tendancy to dismiss the complexities of what our kids experience when we move them. Just recognisning that is a good thing I guess.
naturalbaby - if the kids were loving their current school, like you I wouldn't be stressing too much about them catching up one way or another when the time comes to go home. But as they themselves seem to feel that they are getting behind, I feel like I should do something.
So the latest is - if anyone is still with me, sorry this is long! - we went to have another look at the private school yesterday and had along chat with the head. I can see in some ways it might well be a better fit for our kids, but I'm not so overwhelmingly convinced that the significant expense and additional disruption will be worth while. But what I was really pleased about it that they are happy for the kids to come and spend some time at the school and shadow the lessons. So we are going to give our DS(8) the opportunity and, pretty much, let him decide. With DD(5) it is harder as I don't think she can make a decision alone, she's too young. We'll have to see how that plays out a bit more I think. I'll keep you posted!
Hi cheeseismydownfall, my experience was almost two decades ago so not sure how relevant it is, but I moved to the US at 15 and totally hated the public school I tried first. I only lasted two weeks. My parents ended up sending me to a Quaker school which I loved. That school completely changed my life and gave me so much confidence. Quaker schools also have the advantage of being quite focused on student wellbeing and tend to offer good financial aid packages. Could that be an option where you are?
We've just come back to the UK after a few years in the USA, DCs were 6 and 8 when we arrved there...I'm going to reply properly in a bit, just wanted to check in and save my place!
Hi again...I reckon it took DS1 a month or so to settle in to school, he started in an excellent public elementary school 3rd grade aged 8/9 and he settled in quickly with a great teacher, and though he's very outwardly quiet and shy, it didn't seem to phase him too much. Both DSs were settled, but still homesick. They did seem to repeat a lot of work but we wanted them in with their age group so this was bound to happen as UK schools start a year earlier.
DS2 was 6 and started in 1st grade and it took him til after the winter break to be happy there; he said he was okay and happy, but his lovely teacher was concerned that he didn't speak at all in class and spent recess alone . Then he found a few lovely friends and he was absolutely fine.
DS2 moved up to middle school for 5th grade and he loved it, and it helped him transition back to the UK where he started high school last year.
I think it's down to the individual child, there's no hard and fast rules of course. DS1 was quite homesick throughout our years there, and DS2 has been homesick for the US now we're back home! ! I agree, the long semesters and even longer summer break were really hard!!
My only word of caution is if you are returning to the UK, keep an eye on the curriculum and try to fill in any gaps you see, as we have found that both DSs have missed chunks of the UK curriculum in maths, and of course history and geography. Spelling for DS2 is harder as he keeps missing out the letter 'u'! We all kept in touch with friends here, including DSs, and that made the transition back pretty seamless.
All that aside, we had a great time in the USA and travelled to so many amazing places that we'd otherwise never seen. We all made great friends and though we're definitely happy to be home, wouldn't have changed anything about the whole experience.
cheese, another thing; our school had a fabulous counsellor and she was a great contact in terms of advice, and keeping an eye on the DSs' welfare in school, I don't know if you can talk to someone for reassurance?
I remember one day early on, DS1 wouldn't get out of bed and was really tearful with homesickness, so I called school to explain and they supported me in keeping him home for the day, as I would if he'd been physically ill. ..they were really understanding.
DSs weren't sporty either but they loved going to Adventure Guides through the ymca, which is kind of like Scouts but more relaxed and is all about kids and dads doing fun camping and outdoorsy stuff.
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