The good news is that if handled correctly, moving abroad can be hugely beneficial to children. Studies show that expat children are more likely to develop into confident adults, with more adaptable and advanced social skills than students who do not go abroad. Thanks to their experience of moving to a new country they are likely to cope better with change. They are also more attuned to and tolerant of multicultural differences – a useful attribute in an increasingly diverse world.
1. Get settled and into a routine
Whatever the age of your children one of your first and most important tasks will be to help them to settle in.
How you help your child settle in will vary, but routine will play an important part. Along with getting them to explore and become excited about their new home, it is important that you establish a routine as quickly as possible. You may be in a hotel or serviced apartment prior to moving in to your longer-term accommodation, but you can still take meals and get to bed at a normal time.
Children may feel they are leaving a lot behind when they move. The transition can be eased by reproducing aspects of home in your new destination. Set them up with a Skype account to chat with friends, help them build a blog to communicate their new life. If possible, relocate the family pet.
2. Explore your surroundings
With the main breadwinner having to establish themselves in their new work environment, it can be a challenge to spend time with the family. It is essential that you devote time to helping your child explore their new surroundings and feel comfortable and safe in their new home.
3. Be mindful of your child’s feelings
See the world through the eyes of your child. Starting a new school in a strange country is extremely daunting for the majority of children and you need to do everything you can to guide and support them through this process.
Children generally adapt to change very well and it will not be too long before they have settled in and made new friends. However, it is very important to remain vigilant to their feelings throughout the process and continually help them to accept their new home.
4. Age plays a role in how your child adapts
The child’s age and developmental stage are big factors. Pre-schoolers locate “home” wherever their parents are – and are ideal candidates for even the most extreme expat relocation. Between ages five and ten, children can develop strong but flexible attachments to friends and schools. This means that if they are prepared adequately for the move, they can quite quickly adapt to their new environment and form new social attachments.
Teenagers are often the most reluctant expats. Their identity is wrapped up in their social relationships and recreational activities. Leaving these can be profoundly dislocating and can even be experienced as a form of bereavement.
Preparing your children for living abroad is a process. Of course, some kids will embrace the experience from the first mention of “We’re moving to Kinshasa!” and in all likelihood will thrive in their new home. And some expat moves to similar cultural environments will entail far fewer adjustments. But most will need a little help to reach a stage of acceptance and positive adaptation.
5. Involve the children
Let the children participate in the decision-making process. Involve them from the start so they have a chance to get used to the idea, raise any concerns, and – most importantly – feel like their opinions helped shape the decision to move abroad. Show the choices of accommodation and schools and get their input. At this stage it is vital to be clear and realistic in the information you provide. Not everything is going to be easy. Some sacrifices might have to be made. Don’t fudge the details – honesty with an emphasis on the positive is the key to gaining your children’s acceptance. Involve your children with packing – which favourite toys need to travel with them and which can be shipped. Pack familiar bedding so that when you arrive at your destination there is something familiar from home.
6. Research your new home
The best antidote to doubt and anxiety about the move is information about the destination. Do some research about your new destination, introduce your child to the cuisine that will be served there – whatever it takes to get your child familiar with what will be their new home. For younger children this can involve teaching them what fruits are good to eat, what animals are dangerous and other important safety considerations. Give them a list of simple words to learn in the language of the destination country. When they arrive these few phrases can generate incredibly positive reactions in local people and immediate feelings of accomplishment in the expat child.
7. Look to your school community
Our school has a strong community of local families as well as long and short-term expatriates. Your child’s school often becomes a major focus of your child’s life as well as your family’s social life.