Dr. Gindis, many adoptive
parents are confused about how long to wait when coming home from a
foreign country and enrolling their child in school. Some adoptive parents
begin sending their child to school right away and others keep them
home for a while. What's your recommendation on this?
You have asked a good question,
the answer for which is actually not as simple as it may look, because
the best time for entering the American school on arrival is always
very different for each child. There are at least 4 factors to consider
deciding when to begin schooling, assuming your child is somatically
1. First and foremost is the age: the older the child,
the more important it is to send him/her to school without extra delays,
in fact -- as soon as the jet lag is gone. The reason for this is not
the undesirable delay in the educational process (your child will be
behind initially anyway and will need time to catch up with everything
American). The real reason is that post-institutional children, especially
those, who had been exposed to schooling back in their native country,
are used to a rigid structure and are in general more comfortable with
the external control and discipline than with any necessity to manage
their time and activities at home on their own. In addition, their acute
need for the peer communications will be addressed at school, and your
need to have a break and some time for yourself is served.
If you feel that your child may have attachment issues or, on the opposite,
displays some separation anxiety; and staying in close proximity affects
the child's emotional well being, it certainly makes sense to keep them
at home a bit longer, allowing time for resolving at least some concerns.
In this respect, it's important to understand that if you personally
can't stay with your child at home and must work and are thinking about
hiring a part-time nanny or a tutor, you should consider taking the
child to the school instead, rather than invite attachment to another
person (not his/her mom or dad).
3. An upcoming initial screening
appointment for an appropriate school placement often causes the same
question: should parents wait until the results are known before taking
the child to the school? If your appointment is soon after the arrival
of the child, than it's a good idea to wait with the school appearance,
because the chances are your child will need placement that differs
from the initial chronological age placement, and you will have to make
changes in his/her environment, which the child has already accepted
as a permanent situation. If the assessment is delayed for several weeks,
than you probably do not have a choice and will have to place the child
as the school sees fit and than change it later. Try at least to give
the child the idea that the changes are possible in the future, and
the current placement may be temporary.
4. Holidays typically
break the continuity of the educational process, so if your child arrives
not long before a major holiday or school vacation, it may also be a
good idea to enter the school after the holiday, not before it.
As you see, there are many things
to consider about the school placement time of the child. The outcome
of all considerations will be your unique decision. Just keep in mind
that the initial adjustment can go on for months, so just sitting at
home and waiting while things settle down may not be an adequate solution,
while the earlier you introduce the structure and predictability into
your child's life, the less stressful it should be.