Planning key for UAE expat parents with children starting at new schools

The Mille-Bey family moved early in August of last year to give the children nearly a month to adjust to their new environment before the start of the academic year.

 Amanda Mille-Bey her husband, Patrick, and children Kenzo, Noah, Nila and Sabah loved moving from France to Dubai. The couple started preparing the children for the family’s ‘new adventure’ as soon as possible when they knew about the move. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // Starting the academic year in a new school is a daunting task for any child – add to that a new country and a different culture and stress could become a major factor.

It need not be, though, said Beat Sommer, head of school at the inaugural Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai.

With a bit of good planning by parents, children’s anxiety over starting a new life in the UAE can be avoided quite easily.

Children are generally quite flexible and can adapt easily to new situation he said – so long as they are prepared for the change.

“As parents you need to prepare the children by talking to them about the new school and creating a positive energy about it,” said Mr Sommer, a Swiss national who has nearly three decades of experience running schools.

“Try to create an atmosphere that is supportive to the new experience.”

That is exactly what mother-of-four Amanda Mille-Bey was determined to do when her family moved to Dubai from France last year.

She and her husband were excited about starting a new life in the Middle East and wanted that to be the overriding emotion her children would associate with the move as well.

“We tried to explain as soon as we could what was going to happen,” said Mrs Mille-Bey.

They would, as a family, look up photos of their new city.

When they knew what school the children would be attending, they looked up its website so that they could all see what it looked like and visualise being there.

They also kept up with school events so that the children began to feel part of their new community before they even left France.

“We really tried to show them the pictures to already move them over there in their minds,” Mrs Mille-Bey said.

“We did that for all things before moving to Dubai – just to give them some idea of what was going to be the new life here.”

The family moved to Dubai early in August 2014 to give the children nearly a month to adjust to their new environment before the start of the academic year.

Mrs Mille-Bey also took the children for a visit at the school so they could familiarise themselves with their way about and get the feel of the new school.

It meant, she said, that their “first day wasn’t really a first day”.

Before they started the school, “they already knew where they were going so they had already been able to imagine themselves in their classroom and everything”, she said.

Mrs Mille-Bey’s preparation worked. The family’s transition turned out to be “quite amazing, actually”.

“Even in the first year, we thought that maybe one day we would have a small fit of the blues about coming out here, some ‘I want to go back homes,’ but no. They actually ask us to promise that we will stay in Dubai forever,” she said with a laugh. “No, really, it’s so funny, they really enjoy it.”

Psychologist Tahir Saeed said that parents really do need to put some time, effort and thought into helping their children adapt.

“Emotionally parents need to acknowledge the feelings of their children as any new situation or environment brings anxiety,” said Dr Saeed. “They need to talk to their children and make them feel comfortable.

“Practical steps could include the parents taking the children to school, with them engaging with the school by participating in different activities, making friends with the parents of other children and inviting those children to their house.”

Swiss International Scientific School head Mr Sommer is preparing to welcome a whole school of new students and advised that parents and children need to be flexible and positive about their new circumstances.

“We don’t expect every child to be totally ready and equipped on the first day,” he said. “They should just bring a lot of positive feelings, a lot of curiosity, a lot of, you know, good vibrations, to start a new phase in their life and that will help them a lot.”