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You are here: Home Family & Kids Kids Preparing your kids for living abroad
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11/08/2009Preparing your kids for living abroad

Preparing your kids for living abroad How children cope with relocation will be affected by age, temperament and the destination, but all children will need preparation. The more attention paid to this process, the greater the long-term benefits.

With all the planning that goes into moving abroad, it’s easy to neglect those members of your family with the least say in the matter. Children typically find out about the big move once the decision is made and parents seldom know how to help kids make this very important transition.

The child’s age and developmental stage are big factors. Pre-schoolers tend to call ‘home’ wherever their parents are and thus are ideal candidates for even the most extreme relocation.

Between ages five and ten, kids 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 social relationships and recreational activities are a large part of their identity. Leaving these can be profoundly dislocating and can even feel like a sort of bereavement. Some of the strategies below may be helpful but there is no doubt that the initial phase of expat life can be tough on both the teenager and their family.

The key to success
Preparing your kids for living abroad is an essential process if you want your expat move to be a success. Some kids will embrace the experience from the first mention of “We’re moving to Kinshasa!” and will thrive in their new home. And some expat moves, e.g.,  to similar cultural environments, will entail far fewer adjustments. But most kids will need a little help to reach a stage of acceptance and positive adjustment.

The steps below contain ideas and strategies expat parents can use to make emigration as smooth as possible.

Prepare the ground
This is a big one: let the children participate in the decision making process. Involve them from the start so they have a chance to get used the idea, raise any concerns, and, most importantly, feel like their opinions helped shape the decision to move abroad. Show them choices of accommodation and schools, and ask for their input.

At this stage, it is vital to be clear and realistic in the information you provide. Don’t fudge the details. Not everything is going to be easy; some sacrifices might have to be made. Honesty, with an emphasis on the positive, is the key to gaining your children’s acceptance.

Get informed together

The best antidote to doubt and anxiety about the move is information about the destination. Get books and DVDs, visit relevant websites, buy foods from the destination—whatever it takes to get familiar with their future home. For younger kids heading to 'wilder' climes, this can involve teaching them what fruits are good to eat, what animals are dangerous and other important safety considerations.

Get them started on the language, with a list of simple words to learn. When they arrive, these few phrases can generate incredibly positive reactions in local people and immediate feelings of accomplishment and belonging in the expat child.

Create continuity
Children may feel they are leaving a lot behind when they leave their established home. The transition can be eased by reproducing aspects of home in the expat destination. Set them up with a Skype account to chat with friends. Help them build a blog to communicate their new life. Buy a gift for their new room that can only be opened on arrival. Get them to bring items from home to show and introduce to their new classmates. If possible, relocate the family pet.

Saying farewellSay farewell
Experts in emigration transitions emphasise the importance of having a proper farewell. Think of it as a gateway between your new life and the old. Make your children feel they are on the cusp of a great adventure. Hold a going away party and take lots of photographs. Get them to plan their own goodbyes too. Closer to the departure date, why not hold a garage sale to off-load unwanted possessions and let the kids keep the proceeds?

Provide ongoing support
Keep lines of communication open throughout the emigration process. This is especially important while settling in, when the child will have to deal with unfamiliar people and surroundings, and will need plenty of support. Listen to your child; let them express their feelings, without requiring them to come up with solutions. Help your child to see that anxiety and fear are just the flipside of excitement and adventure. Lead them through the tricky early stages and they may soon blossom in their new environment.

Teens are likely to need plenty of empathy and support, even though they may not openly ask for it. Look out for rebellion and mood swings; these are signals that they need help making the adjustment. An important strategy is to join online communities that offer peer-to-peer support. Sites such as TeenxPats.com and TCKID.com are excellent sources of information, advice and networking between kids.

Celebrate the positive
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 flexible and advanced social skills than their contemporaries. Thanks to their expat experience, 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. Expat kids also tend to have confidence and curiosity about their world, standing them in good stead as they make their way towards adulthood.

Further resources:

David Fair
Globe Media Ltd

Logowww.wordtravels.com
pro.wordtravels.com
www.expatarrivals.com




3 reactions to this article

DrewClement posted: 2009-08-11 11:21:52

This is something that most definitely needs to be discussed more. So many kids, teenagers and young adults are opting to move abroad, study abroad and just travel in general. While there is so much they can learn from the experience, they need to be guided into the right direction first. In order to make sure they are prepared for what they will experience. Drew Clement

Laila posted: 2009-08-13 22:55:34

This is a really great article! Many have talked about the importance of grieving, but there isn't much out there on staying connected (and Skype is such a fantastic way) and Facebook. TCKs really need to feel a sense of belonging and being connected is such a great part of that.

Keeping the children involved in the process is also imperative. I interviewed a few TCKs and one girl (who has dealt with her TCK identity in a very positive way--might be a coincidence, but probably not) talked at length about being involved in the decision to move. She felt like a key part in the process, at times convincing her parents that a move would be good for the family!

Talking to parents is a great issue. It's clear that parents are one of the only support systems that children have through multiple moves. I would add one thing, which is that parents might think about PLANNING one-on-one time to spend with their children in order to keep communication open. In the hustle and bustle of a move, it can be tough to find time to talk, but it's important. A nice meal or a walk might be perfect!

K posted: 2012-09-14 09:54:21

Wonderful positive article! Thank you! We're just about to move to Germany from South Africa and I've been very apprehensive. I have realised that my attitude will be reflected by my daughters (7 4) and I must get my head around this soon. I will make an effort to include them in discussions more, too. I love the idea of packing something new to open in the new home.

3 reactions to this article

DrewClement posted: 2009-08-11 11:21:52

This is something that most definitely needs to be discussed more. So many kids, teenagers and young adults are opting to move abroad, study abroad and just travel in general. While there is so much they can learn from the experience, they need to be guided into the right direction first. In order to make sure they are prepared for what they will experience. Drew Clement

Laila posted: 2009-08-13 22:55:34

This is a really great article! Many have talked about the importance of grieving, but there isn't much out there on staying connected (and Skype is such a fantastic way) and Facebook. TCKs really need to feel a sense of belonging and being connected is such a great part of that.

Keeping the children involved in the process is also imperative. I interviewed a few TCKs and one girl (who has dealt with her TCK identity in a very positive way--might be a coincidence, but probably not) talked at length about being involved in the decision to move. She felt like a key part in the process, at times convincing her parents that a move would be good for the family!

Talking to parents is a great issue. It's clear that parents are one of the only support systems that children have through multiple moves. I would add one thing, which is that parents might think about PLANNING one-on-one time to spend with their children in order to keep communication open. In the hustle and bustle of a move, it can be tough to find time to talk, but it's important. A nice meal or a walk might be perfect!

K posted: 2012-09-14 09:54:21

Wonderful positive article! Thank you! We're just about to move to Germany from South Africa and I've been very apprehensive. I have realised that my attitude will be reflected by my daughters (7 4) and I must get my head around this soon. I will make an effort to include them in discussions more, too. I love the idea of packing something new to open in the new home.

 
 
 
 
 
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