How Do I Divide My Time Between My Natural Child and My Exchange Student?

Exchange students are typically between the ages of 15 and 18. Although they are young adults who are mature and focused on their studies, they still need guidance and direction. It is important that your natural child know that they will have to share you with the exchange student before you agree to host. You might get a chuckle from them as they might think it to be a good thing to get you out of their hair so to speak. This could change, however, after the student arrives and they see that you are bonding with them. 

Spending Time With Both the Exchange Student and Your Natural Child

Doing things with both of the kids at the same time is ideal. You can find ways to laugh and have fun with them during everyday activities like cooking or doing household chores. Do some retail therapy at the mall, get a manicure or spend a Saturday morning perfecting your golf game together at the driving range. The times that the entire family is together will be the most memorable for your student. 

Personal Time for Your Natural Child and Exchange Student

It is also important to give each of them some personal attention.  However, dividing your time fairly between your natural child and exchange student might not be so easy. Each child will need attention at different times, and early on, your exchange student might feel a little homesick which will require that you focus more time on them. Make sure your natural child knows why you are spending so much time with your student and are okay with it. Always remind your natural child that the exchange student will only be with you for the school year and they’ll have you as their mom/dad for as long as you live.  

You can make both your natural child and exchange student feel secure by giving them both a little quality time.  

  • Give each of the kids a night to help you prepare dinner. Your natural child can be your prep cook on Monday and Wednesday and your exchange student on Tuesday and Thursday. 
  • Take advantage of the times you have the one kid at home while the other is at soccer practice or club meeting. Use this time to catch up on what is going on in their lives. Don’t do anything like going out to eat or to the movies as the other child might feel left out. 
  • Find a hobby or interest that will give you quality time with each teen. Do some quilting with your natural child and go running with your exchange student. 
  • Support their extracurricular activities by attending their games or concerts. Make signs with their names if it is a sporting event or buy flowers to present to them if it is a concert or theatrical performance. This will show them you equally support them and their interests. 
  • Stop by their rooms to say goodnight. No, you won’t tuck a teen in but you can spend some time with them before they go to sleep. Help them go over their plans for the following day or do some yoga poses with them to help them get relaxed. You’ll be surprised how much each child will appreciate your attention. 

Jealousy and Sibling Rivalry Between the Natural Child and Exchange Student

If you sense a problem with your natural child, it might not always be about the time you’re spending with the exchange student. Instead, it could be about other things like not bonding with your exchange student or being upset about having to share their home and space with another teen. They could also be in a rival competition over grades, sports and of course girls (or boys). Get ahead of this problem with the following strategies.

  • Have you heard the saying, “what you do for Molly you must also do for Polly?” It simply means that you must treat the kids equally or you will have a problem. You should adopt this practice when it comes to dealing with your natural child and your exchange student. For example, most families buy new bedding for their exchange student. Make sure that you also purchase fresh linens for your natural child so they don’t get jealous.
  • Divide the chores fairly so that each child is doing their part. You can do this by rotating chores or having the kids pull straws. Keep a chart and address the problem of incomplete chores with kids the same. Again, be careful to treat them equally and show no preference to either. 
  • Your exchange student might be better at sports than your natural child. Make sure your natural child knows that you are equally proud of them and their achievements.  
  • If the students have to share a room, divide the space with a double-sided bookshelf or room divider. This will help give each child their privacy. 
  • Encourage your exchange student to get involved in sports and other extracurricular activities at school. The exchange experience will be much better if they have their own friends and activities and are not always depending on your natural child for their social life.
  • Many host parents will have their exchange student call them “mom” or “dad”. Before you suggest it, discuss it with your natural child(ren) and get their nod on this.  This simple gesture can be the start of a real problem between your natural child and your exchange student. 

Don’t take it all upon yourself. If you have a spouse, you can take turns spending time with the kids. You can also solicit the help and support of others like grandparents, aunts and uncles who enjoy sharing their lives with teens. Contact your local coordinator if you see a problem. She/he will give you good advice on how to better manage and divide your time between the kids. 

Taking an exchange student will be much like having another child. As you would when you have more than one child, you’ll have to be careful to give equal attention, care, and praise to all the kids.