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Transitioning to a new school, or entering school for the first time, can be difficult for any child. Those difficulties are only increased when your child is adopted. Most internationally adopted children do not arrive home ready for an academic school setting. Due to their unique situation, adopted children may face difficulties adjusting to the transition other children do not.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With some preparation on your part, your child can have a comfortable transition into their new school, giving them a great start to what is sure to be a rewarding school experience. Keep these six concepts in mind:
Get Into A Routine – Establishing and maintaining a routine can be a powerful tool in ensuring your child has a strong comfort level when it comes time to start school. Don’t wait until the school year begins to get into a routine. Instead, begin several weeks early. This will give your child time to grow comfortable with getting up and getting prepared at a certain time each day, making those difficult first few days and weeks far easier for them.
Prepare Your Child For The Questions They’ll Be Asked – As a parent of an adopted child, you are probably used to being asked the same questions over and over again. Your child is going to have a similar experience if other students discover they are adopted. Internationally adopted children may feel different which can lead to low self-esteem, anger, frustration. Help your child understand the questions they will be asked and the answers they should be prepared to give. Also ensure your child understands that your family situation is a private matter and does not need to be shared with other students if your child is uncomfortable talking about it. It is okay for them to expect others to respect your privacy! And remember, there are no “right” answers, only answers your family is comfortable with.
Talk To School Professionals – These days, most teachers will have contact information on the school website that allows you to easily reach them. Use this to your advantage (and to your child’s). Reach out to your child’s new teacher, principal or counselor to let them know if your child has any special needs, and get to know what they’ll expect from your child. This is also an opportunity to explain your family situation to your child’s new teacher. There are still those out there who do not know how to approach the topic of adoption. Adoption specifics are private and do not need to be shared. However, it is important the teacher and principal are aware of possible behavioral issues and a basic understanding of how anxiety, fear, grief, and anger from your child’s early lives can impact their school experience. School professionals don’t necessarily have experience with dealing with children who have experienced multi-faceted grief, loss, and trauma. Parents need to advocate for their children and help educate the school professionals. Children from post-institutionalized care may be affected in ways such as being hyper-active, impulsive, having difficulty with self-regulation, visual processing, fine and gross motor skills. You can help avoid awkward moments by being the first to broach the subject and to explain what is and is not comfortable for you and your child. When you have a good comfort level with your child’s teacher, your child will recognize that and will in turn be comfortable with them, too.
Be Involved – This advice applies to all parents, whether of adopted children or birth children. The most important thing you can do for your child’s education is to be involved in it. Show them that it is important to you. Attend school meetings, follow up with homework, donate books on your child’s culture to the school/classroom, get involved in the PTA or as a chaperone. These things will not only help make your child comfortable in their new school, they will also reinforce ideals that will help make your child a successful student.
Visit The School – Take some time out to visit the school your child will be attending. If it’s possible to tour the inside, do so. It varies by district, but many schools will have orientation days for just this purpose. Otherwise, simply walking the school grounds a few times in the weeks leading to the start of school can give your child a significant boost in their confidence and comfort levels.
Let Them Choose Their School Supplies – Allowing your child to take ownership of choosing things like their book bag, clothes and notebooks will help them feel more secure when going to their new school by making them feel as if they have control over their school experience. It can help your child to have a family photo to carry (or tape to the inside of their desk/locker). That’s important because one of the key reasons why a child might be anxious about attending a new school is that they’ll feel a lack of control over the experience. By giving them a hand in choosing their school supplies, you help combat those feelings of powerlessness.
For older children, the transition to middle/high school may be more difficult, as they no longer are with one teacher the entire day and are dealing with puberty. It might be a good idea to delay starting school until the child is settled in and bonded with their family.
Parents need to research the special education service system offered in their area and advocate for their child. Have your child evaluated for services (IEP) or under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Educate yourself on No Child Left Behind Act.
The start of school can be scary, especially for a child who may still be getting used to a new situation, but with some careful planning and care you can prepare your child for a fantastic school year.
Part One of Two
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Practical tips for new adoptive parents
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