HomeHealth & BehaviorSocial Skills

Ask the Experts

My Son Is Not Adjusting to School in This Country

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My family and I have recently moved to the United States. In our home country he only got A's, but in this country he gets C's or D's. He has become very shy, doesn't like to go to school and still misses our country. My other kids are happy and they're learning English faster than he is. How can I help him?


Immigration and adjusting to a new culture are difficult. It must be very frustrating for your son to have once been such a good student but to be struggling now. Everyone learns at a different rate. If your other children are younger, they are learning more rudimentary language and math skills; whereas your son is beginning his studies at the fifth grade level without the same foundation.

Acknowledging his losses and the challenges he now faces could help ease his frustration. Find ways to honor his culture and memories by collecting and organizing pictures and mementos. Correspondence with friends and relatives "back home" can help him still feel connected.

You may want to work with his teacher to "teach" his current classmates about your family's culture. This might be a great classroom activity for all the students, so they can learn how they're "the same and different" from others. This might help your son experience pride in his heritage. You can also inquire at his school if they have English as a Second Language classroom (ESL) available within in your district. These classrooms instruct their lessons in both the student's native language and in English, to better integrate the transition. If that is not available, the Special Resources Teacher may be able to help assess his needs and provide some additional one-on-one instruction. Extracurricular activities or involvement in sports, may also give him some common interests with others in order to create new friendships.

Depending on your community, there may also be centers where expatriates of your country gather in social clubs or religious institutions that could help normalize his experiences, provide English language resources, and tutoring.

Your son may feel that he needs to choose between his past and present. The challenge for many immigrants is to find a comfortable balance between their original culture and their new environment.

Activities for ESL Students has activities for both students and teachers.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.