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Advice for kids having a tough time starting immersion

August 29, 2012

The original request:

I found your group in a desperate search for some advice of some kind.  My child just started Mandarin Immersion Kindergarten and is having a rough time with the transition.  We had a good first week but now are in the beginning of week 3 and it is getting harder instead of easier.  She does not want to go to school (and she absolutely loved preschool so this is hard on all of us).  She is VERY upset the night before she knows it is a school day and really resisting going in the mornings.  She doesn’t like the school, says the days are too long and school is really boring and she doesn’t like her teachers and is upset that she doesn’t understand what they are saying.  I have every intention of sticking this out but I did not anticipate such a tough transition.  Any advice to make it easier on her?  Anything I have done or said so far does not help.


Parent answers:

Remember that while immersion adds a layer of difficulty to the day, many Kindergarteners have a hard time the first few months. Of the four in the houses around me, three have had days of flat-out sobbing on the sidewalk on the way to school – and none of them are in immersion. It’s a difficult transition, Kindergarten is a lot harder and more structured than preschool, which is more like one long, fun playdate with friends. So don’t attribute all the angst to immersion, though your daughter may think everything would be better if she were just in an English classroom.


*An earlier bedtime – she may not seem tired but she is. I put my girls (twins) to bed one hour early the first couple of months – dinner at 5, bath at 6, than nearly at 7pm I would go into their room and read a story to each (their choosing) with them on my lap – they seemed to need extra comfort.

* More food – I fed my kids as soon as I picked them up from school – on the way home they would eat in the car.

*Lots of playmates with new schoolmates. When my girls were in kinder, I invited as many kids as possible for playdates, every chance I could. Once they had friends and played with them outside of the class/school they became more comfortable.

* I did the following for myself but it seemed to help my girls adjust: I hired a Mandarin tutor to come and help me learn a bit of Mandarin. The tutor incorporated the kids into the lessons and they really enjoyed me having a “teacher” as well.


My daughter was like that-I don’t know if you remember her kicking and hysterics for the first month of kindergarten?

I like to imagine it like an adult would feel at a new job, in a new location, where you don’t know anyone and the boss speaks an entirely different language and the work is much harder then you’ve had to do before. I would hate it too.

I really think for kids with zero exposure to the new language, it’s not unreasonable to expect things to be rough for a few months.  Playdates with new friends are a nice idea and might help.  I hate the rewards charts because I think they get so much of that in school too, but we are about to reinstate one for less grumpy morning behavior. 4 good days of getting ready for school gets something from the prize bucket. I found that with kinder and younger, it doesn’t even matter what the prize is–stuff from target in the dollar bin.

You don’t want your kids to be miserable, but you are asking them to do something new and tough.

Stick to it, it will get better.


This may not be useful right now, but I really enjoyed this article about someone in similar situation. Here a parent questioned throwing his children in a Russian private school for serious immersion, the short-term pain, and the long term happiness with their decision.


As for the near term, I would talk to the teacher and craft some strategies together that might help to ease the transition.  The teacher is an important ally in getting your child over the hump!  Meanwhile, if it makes you feel any better a good friend of mine is going through the same thing with her kid (big bold letters “Kindergarten is boring”)  and he’s not in immersion.



This will be hard but you need to allow her to hate it for a little bit without letting her see any frustration on your part. It is normal for her to be highly frustrated to begin with and may take till the end of the first year for her to become comfortable with such a drastic change. Your continual unwavering support is imperative.

Make use of google translate or any other when you can and find a downloadable Chinese dictionary app, many are free. I allowed my son to watch a movie every night in the target language to help him through the process and we did it together. I also took on the task of trying to learn the language so he could see how well he was doing compared to me. I go to him for help all the time and he loves the role of teacher, but be sure not to appear completely clueless and reverse that role at times when she needs help. She will advance much farther than you quickly.

I purchased books with the pinyin so we could read together after I learned the tones and downloaded animated stories on my phone for him. Also I got a couple of games in the target language to play with him. has a variety of things to choose from.  Pimsleur has the Little Pim series DVDs in Chinese as well.

Once he started getting homework, I copied it and we have a contest to see who could finish first, he always beats me. Now my son sings in Chinese while in the shower and prefers journaling with Chinese instead of English. Another important thing is to keep the lines of communication with her teachers open, with their cultural differences in mind. You can also get books about Chinese culture at the library. The days are long, so I try not to have too many activities scheduled during the week and reward him as much as possible for working hard. Patience is a must because the road is long haul, but worth every trying step.



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