Do not forget the kids!
Children tend to prefer the familiar and can find it hard to face the unknown and be uprooted, but with planning and making sure you address your children’s needs and worries, you can make the move a success and set the foundation for a wonderful life abroad.
As a parent, you may be really excited about the adventure or you may be anxious about embarking on such a big move with children.
Are you an excited parent?
Excitement and having an attitude of adventure is great – but a parent who is excited about living abroad may project his or her hopes and aspirations on the children and tend to overlook the child’s concerns.
Be careful you don’t gloss over these concerns. Comments like “You’ll be fine - it just takes time” or “You’ll make friends - don’t worry” will not help the children cope with their anxiety.
The following tips will prepare you to handle what lies ahead.
Are you an anxious parent?
It’s natural for a parent to be somewhat anxious at the thought of having to pack up their children, all their stuff, and move them to a new home in a new country. Children are quick to pick up the emotions around them, so check in with your emotions, and be careful when you are on your own, if you are becoming over anxious or even angry, then it may be time to talk to an expat friend or coach.
Luckily most children are also flexible and accommodating, so as long as you prepare them well and help them adjust to the move, you should be able to keep anxiety levels (yours and theirs) to a minimum.
The challenges for children
Even the most flexible children of all ages face challenges.
Don’t forget that a move involves many changes. When moving abroad, the loss of all that is familiar and the loss of friends are more important to the child than dealing with a foreign language, a new cultural environment and a house which is not yet a home! (A child priorities are not always the same ones as an adult priorities, learning which are your child priorities is vital)
This sense of loss can bring forth anger, a sense of helplessness and resentment.
Fear of change and uprooting can also trigger clinginess and immature behaviour.
Other children, urgently wanting to fit in may become hyperactive.
Reacting with understanding is the first step to help make the move a positive one. Here are some other strategies.
10 Tips for Parents
- Telling the children - Your child should find out about the move from YOU. It seems obvious, but finding out from someone else can undermine their trust in you and the future. Older children can be told earlier than younger ones. As a general rule – take your expected leaving date and count back one week for each year of the child’s age. If you have more than one child, tell everyone at once.
- Get the children involved - Involving the children at an early stage can allay their fears.
Children of all ages (and you!) will feel more secure, the more information and knowledge they have about the place to which they will be moving. Start to look for pictures, maps, stories, videotapes and any other information that will help them learn about the new place.
If you’re moving to non-English speaking country, you can get tapes, or talk to people who speak the language. You children may not actually learn the language, but at least they will become familiar with it’s sound so it won’t be so alien to them when they get there.
Connecting with families living there can make a world of difference too. Explore expat websites and start searching early!
- Take your child’s concerns seriously - Fear of the unknown and being left behind are common among children. Don’t trivialize these. Be understanding.
Hold periodic family meetings about the move to review the progress and how everyone is feeling. In this way the children will feel they have some control and their opinions are respected.
- Talk about things that will be different - Set realistic expectations. Talk to your child about things being different (food, timing, routines, beds). Don’t frighten, but seek the right balance between the familiar and comforting (favourite teddy bears) and the new and exciting – but be careful not to promise the world.
- Talk about what they can take - Remember your child may be feeling a lot of stress. Some children become territorial, not wanting to give up anything. Your children will only care about their own things - their toys, collections, clothes, books, music, video games and anything else that has meaning to them. They may also become resistant to packing up for fear they’ll never see it again. Of course you will have your own stresses as the move approaches so you will have to be particularly mindful not to allow their negative behavior to upset you.
- Keep in touch with old friends - Help your child say good-bye to friends by holding a “good-bye” gathering at your home. Have a book for everyone to sign (or draw a picture, or place their photograph) for your child so he or she will remember that people care about him. Encourage your child to stay in touch with old friends. Not only will your child be appreciative of your understanding that the transition is difficult, he or she will also feel less alone until new friends are made. Email, fax and telephone can all be ways for older children to remain in contact with important friends.
- Get off to a strong start - Provide some familiar things as soon as possible. Keep aside a few important items, such as books, toys, blankets, music and especially favourite food.
The child’s room should be a priority to make them feel save and settled. Get them involved in setting it up just the way they like it!
- Help them make new friends - Don’t assume an easy going child at home will be the same in the new place. It is easiest with younger children who communicate through their play, despite and language barriers. For older children, you may need to enlist the help of other parents or school personnel.
Don’t minimize the importance of fitting in. The investment in a couple of new outfits will be well worth it, if it makes your child feel more relaxed with new friends.
- Start off with a routine and consistency - Structure gives reassurance! It will also help all of the family get through the next adjustment phase of living abroad.
- Plan ahead for fun! - No matter how excited you are about the move, your child will have misgivings. Having something to look forward to will help them put their worries aside. A celebration, a special trip when you get there, a treat or a new bicycle are some ideas. It can be anything that will help your children see the move as positive and special!
Follow these tips and you will be off to a great start. Watch out for more tips that will help you through the ups and downs of living in a new country. If you can’t wait, then go ahead and email Val directly at [email protected]