Post-travel adaptation has proven to be massively challenging for Nina.
We started to send her to a casual day care about 10 days after we came back from our trip, 3 mornings a week to start with (despite our intention to go straight full day). The first 2 weeks turned out to be simply disastrous. She would scream, cry, stomp on her feet for a surprisingly long time after we dropped her off – once for 1.5hours straight. She would refuse to get off the car in the morning. She refused to eat and drink at day care (she still didn’t eat after 4 weeks). She simply just hated the idea of going to the day care.
Just overnight, we found our child turned into a monster child. She became so irritable, so angry at just about everything and anything, and so unpredictable. She was no longer the child that I knew of, during the long travel, who was easy to adapt, easy to please most of time, and easy with changes.
As a parent, it’s both heart-breaking and exhausting to see my own child like this.
Then I reflected. She indeed had her fair share of reasons for what she had become of. After all, not only did she find herself surrounded at day care by lots of strange faces except her parents’ with whom she had spent the last 10 months day and night, but also she was not able to understand and be understood verbally.
By the time of coming back to Sydney, we had spent our 9+ months travelling mostly in Spanish speaking countries (6 months), plus a bit of French and English speaking environments. As we spoke only French and Mandarin among three of us, she understood French and Mandarin perfectly and started to express herself in mostly French and also some Mandarin. We were no longer sure about her English comprehension after a while although English expression was certainly close to zero.
Suddenly she was thrown in this strange environment where she lost all of points of references – languages, familiar faces, things to do, setting (group vs being the only kid most of time). It’s a whole new different routine for her. It must have been terrifying, coming to think of it. She must have felt utterly unsafe. She must then have decided to defend herself in a dramatic fashion.
The carers had told us that she spent most of her day observing other kids. She wouldn’t normally participate in group activities. She tended to prefer to spend time with younger kids because ‘they were quieter’. She preferred to stay with an adult (carer) than with other kids.
I wondered how much of these was contributed by the fact of her lack of understanding in English.
When she was really upset during the first week, once the carer managed to get another Mandarin-speaking parent to tell Nina that ‘your mummy is coming soon to pick you up’, Nina smiled for the first time that day.
Then as expected a classic scenario played out. One day when I picked Nina up, one carer made a comment that we as parents should try to speak English to her at home.
I know she meant well. And it sounded logic. After all, Nina was suffering, obviously.
And this was the moment of truth. The moment to test how strong we believed in what we were doing. I have been an advocate of ‘speaking the minority language at home as much as possible’, and has always believed that kids would just get on with the school language so much more easily. Home would be the only constant source of her Mandarin and French input, and we needed to do whatever in our control not to take this source away.
It’s not without doubt, we carried on with our OPOL (one parent one language) approach, and decided to have faith in Nina and ourselves. If we didn’t, who would? At least we should give ourselves a bit more time before changing our gears.
Things have been improving fortunately. She is still by no means a fan of the day care but at least she now comes to accept it as part of her life. A few times we got away from daycare without her shedding tears. She still doesn’t eat anything at day care but at least now she sits down at the table with other kids. She still prefers to be on her own most of time, but she now likes the story time with other kids (although she chooses to stand at the back of the room instead of sitting down with other kids). At home, she started to re-collect herself. Tantrum became less, and more reasonably controllable.
One day Nicolas went to a playground with Nina. She pointed to the slide and said ‘yellow’, in English!
Another day, she came back home from daycare and started to say ‘peekaboo’ while playing the game. That must have been the game of the day at the day care, as we never used ‘peekaboo’ as the word to describe the game.
When I was reading a book with her one evening, with many beads on a page, she surprised me with ‘one, two, three, four …’ while pointing at the beads. I was thrilled. And I was jealous. She had never counted beyond three in Mandarin so far… And then of course, she went on saying ‘… six, seven, nine’.
She sounded very proud of herself. And I think she should be proud of herself. It has been a very dramatic month, and she’s learning how to cope. It’s a big challenge that this little person is taking up.