Changing your mind
A move abroad can be both exciting and challenging for children. It’s natural for most to be anxious when they first start at a new school in a foreign place, but how do you know when you’ve got beyond initial nerves and your child simply isn’t happy? Mette and Mikkel Julner found that the school which suited two of their children didn’t work for the third.
When Mette Julner’s job took her from Copenhagen to London for a year, she and her husband Mikkel thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for their children to improve their English and find out more about British culture.
“Finding good school places in London was a real challenge,” says Mette, “but we were lucky enough to get places at an ‘all through’ academy school which takes children from age 3 to 18.” This seemed ideal to the couple because it meant their youngest child, then only seven, could be at the same school as her older brother and sister who were secondary age.
After the usual challenges of settling in, the Julners’ older children adjusted well to life at an English school. However, even after several weeks, their youngest, Lotte, was still struggling. “In Denmark children don’t start formal schooling until they’re seven,” explains Mette, “so although Lotte had been going to nursery and kindergarten since she was very young, she really had no experience of a formal setting, sitting at desks and doing lots of reading and writing every day.” The Danish early-years system is play-based, and much less structured than the UK system and these differences, combined with the challenge of speaking English all day, was exhausting for Lotte. “In Denmark there are no school uniforms, and a more relaxed attitude for the younger children,” says Mette, “Lotte found it overwhelming.”
"...you're only as happy as your least happy child..."
All good schools will, of course, make every effort to help a new child adjust and fit in, and the Juelner’s school was no different. “The teachers and assistants were all extremely kind and helpful,” says Mette, “they thought of all sorts of things to help Lotte, from extra help with her English, to giving her ‘buddies’ to keep her company at break time. We kept lines of communication open with the school at all times.”
One of the challenges as a parent is knowing how far to work with a school, and to what extent you feel obligated to a school because of the efforts they are making on your child’s behalf. “The school had made space for Lotte when they initially didn’t think there was room in the class,” says Mette. “We had pushed for this so that all three of our children could go to the same school, but here we were thinking of withdrawing Lotte. It was clear to me that she needed to try a different school, but my husband was anxious about moving her too soon. I pointed out that it was Lotte we needed to look after, and that the school and teachers could take care of themselves!”
Teacher and Education Consultant Joanna Poole says, “It’s usually possible to work with a school and solve the difficulties your child is having, but you mustn't rule out making a change, especially if there are other issues involved like a different education system or a new language. It might be that a slightly different setting will quickly solve what can seem like insurmountable problems.”
Fortunately for Lotte Julner there was another local primary school which had space for her and she moved. The new school had no uniform so felt more familiar, and was much smaller. Within just a few weeks Lotte had settled and began to enjoy going to school again. “It may have simply coincided with her English reaching a better level,” admits Mette, “but she was more at ease again; more like her old self.”
“They say you’re only as happy as your least happy child,” says Poole, “and I agree. It’s impossible for parents to relax into their new role or city if one of their children is unhappy. Change is difficult, and although it’s important to teach children to keep trying when they’re in a new situation, sometimes it simply doesn’t work out first time. Be open-minded about all the options available even after you’ve committed to one of them. A slight adjustment might make all the difference to the whole family.”