Thank you to E. Mellyberry for her guest post this week. E. Mellyberry is the author of eight children’s books and two adult novels. She’s the founder of Indonesia indie publishing house m.i.books which specializes in editing and publishing books written and illustrated by children.
This July my husband and I decided to move both our kids, ages 14 and 10, from their previous schools to a new international school that’s located in our neighborhood. It wasn’t an easy decision. We knew switching schools would be a challenge for our kids, but we found ways to help them cope with the transition.
Reasons We Thought Switching Schools Might Not Be a Good Idea
We live in Indonesia. Our school system follows a national curriculum set by the government, but our private schools may adopt international curriculum on top of the national one. Cambridge and IB are the most favoured two.
Our 14-year-old son, Michael, would be starting his Secondary 4, and this is a critical year for students. It’s the year where the students sit for their IGCSE level examinations. It’s a huge milestone, one which will have an impact on his college applications.
Additionally, many schools prefer not to accept new students in their Secondary 4, because they’re afraid the students can’t keep up with the rigorous academic requirements. On top of that, Michael comes from a school with a different curriculum where the learning and grading system are not apples-to-apples to the one of the new school.
We also felt concerned about our 10-year-old daughter, Nina, switching schools. She would be enrolling into her Primary 5, which is two years away from her Elementary graduation. Luckily, there is no curriculum difference between her current school and the international school. However, Nina has been doing amazingly well in her old school, both in academic and non-academic areas. We worried that moving her into a new environment could disrupt her confidence and performance.
On the Other Hand…
The school we wanted to move them to is very close to our home – 5 minutes by car, 10 minutes by bike. The other school is 30-45 minutes by car, one way. The quality of education is the same at both schools, but the commuting time needs to be taken into account.
We Made Our Decision
In the end, we did move them.
Was it smooth, you ask?
No, it wasn’t. But it wasn’t disastrous either. It’s manageable.
How We Helped Our Children Cope with Switching Schools
Here are the things we did to make sure our children were comfortable before, during, and after the move:
(1) Open communication
We included Michael and Nina in our plan from the beginning. They’re big enough to participate in decision-making activities. We researched, compared notes, and asked questions. We listed out the pros and the cons of their old schools and the new one, and we discussed every item. We were open with them from the start, no sugar-coating. Our kids knew what was going on and what was about to happen. They had time to prepare themselves. They trusted us.
Open communication with their new teachers was also critical. For the first three months, we kept a close eye on our children’s academic performance and their non-academic/social life. If we detected a drop in their grades, any distress or behavior inconsistencies, we were quick to set up appointments with relevant teachers or staff at the school.
We do not aim to be helicopter parents, but it doesn’t mean we let them go completely. Balancing this role is hard—the older the kid, the harder it gets—but it’s not impossible. The key is to listen first, act second. It also helps that when we talk to the school and other third parties about our concerns, we also listen to their side of the stories and be respectful.
(2) Different approach for different kid
Put two kids in the same situation and they react and feel differently.
Nina, with her easygoing and talkative personality, has no problem whatsoever in making new friends and adjusting to the rhythms of the new school. She doesn’t need anyone’s help. It took her less than a week to say, “This school is great. I like it here.” Everywhere she goes, she’s surrounded by friends.
It took Michael months to say, halfheartedly, “I guess this is alright.” Before that, he complained about everything, even when the thing he complained about was a good thing. He just needed to vent. We understand it’s not easy for him to reach out. Our son is shy. It takes a relatively long time for him to warm up to strangers or to new stuff. He’s also sensitive and quite hard on himself. That’s why any type of achievement he makes, big or small, must be celebrated.
Words of encouragement need to be told on a daily basis. Emotional check-ins need to be done regularly and discreetly. We also understand that social interaction in high school is way more complicated than, let’s say, in kindergarten or elementary. Tough peer pressure, wide social gap between the popular kids and the rest of the students, high level of self-consciousness are only a few factors that contribute to the complexity of high school life. This could make adjusting hard after switching schools.
As tempting as it is to take one favorable parameter in one child and use it to measure everyone else, comparing one kid to another is never fair, and it’s harmful. What our son needs from us is different from what our daughter needs. Our parenting approach must be tailored to each child’s needs.