When parents decide to make the move to another country, children have little say in the decision and may not be able to easily voice their concerns about the changes that will occur. It is up to parents to think of ways to create a positive feeling about the upcoming move and provide information about the new environment in which they will live. Children will express their concerns at their own age level, and parents should be ready to provide reassurance at the appropriate stage of emotional development for each child in the family.
Emphasis the Solidarity of your Family
Maintaining the habits and rituals of your particular family can be a real source of reassurance and support for children in a move to another country. Special care to bringing items that have special meaning, such as decorations that have always been displayed in the house, meaningful Christmas decorations and important photographs, can tell children that many things will remain the same even while other things change. Children can help to pack mementos of school events and special times with friends to ensure a sense of continuity between the past and the future. Involve children as much as possible in the moving plans, at the appropriate age level, to get them comfortable with the idea of change and new surroundings.
Common Concerns of Children
Both parents and children can benefit from learning about the new country in as much detail as possible, in advance of the move, including:
- Language Differences – Parents can learn a few simple terms in the country’s primary language and can help their children learn the terms, to familiarize them with the sound of the language and create a basis for future language skills.
- Different Cultural Habits – Children can benefit from learning the new cultural habits of the country, such as music, dances, traditional clothing and social rules. Books about the new country can be interesting to children and set the stage for more learning after the move.
- Food Changes – Children often have strong food preferences and will not easily change to the different food choices, spices and variations in cooking. Parents may have to import items from their home country for several months, providing small changes in menu selections as time passes, to allow children to slowly become accustomed to the new types of foods.
Helping Preschoolers Adjust
The world of preschoolers revolves around parents, so they often adjust more easily to a change in location. However, they often become clingy for a time or experience sleep problems. Parents should stay as close as possible during the transition time to reassure children that they will always be nearby. Small children can deal with the moving experience by “packing up and unpacking” their toys, so that they are reassured the toys will be available after the move. Viewing pictures of the new home on Internet sites can provide visual images of the new home. See the Beresdord Adams webpage for examples.
Helping Middle Grade Children Adjust
Middle age children may have varying reactions to the idea of moving. They may have developed strong friendships in their home country and may regret leaving their peer group. However, this age group is able to make new friends easily. Getting this age group settled in school and church activities can relieve the ease of upheaval. Parents can encourage these friendships, planning activities that include the new friends and ensuring that their child attends activities attended by the new friends.
Helping Teenagers Adjust
By the time children are teenagers, they have already developed an identity and close associations with their peer group. In this age group, the move to another country can be extremely disruptive, but it can also appeal to the young person’s sense of adventure and novelty. The new technologies make it easier for these young people keep in touch with friends during the transition period. Parents can help the process by inviting the teen’s friends for a visit or having the teen visit their home country over the summer months. The teen can benefit from online teen expat forums and other Internet resources. Adjustment can be difficult in this age group, so parents should be particularly attentive to their child’s needs. However, they will be rewarded with a young adult that has advanced social skills and confidence as a result of their expanded experiences.
Adjustment Doesn’t Happen All At Once
A move to a dramatically different environment can take some time before it can feel like home. Parents should expect some variation in children’s reactions to the move. Some children adjust easily to changes. Some children find changes extremely upsetting. Allow your children to express their emotions, both positive and negative. Be available to talk through the homesickness and anxiety. Provide opportunities to contact friends in the home country, and accompany the children to activities where they can make new friends.
A move to another country can offer special challenges, but it can also expand new horizons. Parents must be ready to offer their time and reassurances during the difficult time of transition to a new environment.
Ellie Hope has lived in a number of different countries and likes to share her insights and experiences on coping with change with a family and related topics. She is a regular online contributor for a number of lifestyle and family-orientated websites.