7 Ways to Help Your Kids Adjust to Expat Life
Published on: April 12, 2016 | Author: Starwood Animal Transport
If your entire family is moving to another country, there are so many things to think about and take care of. It’s an exciting time. But it can also be fraught with worry or sadness about leaving friends, relatives and familiar surroundings behind. And that’s just for adults. Look at your impending move through your children’s eyes, and you may feel even more overwhelmed.
Good news: you aren’t alone.
More and more people are working and living as expatriates around the world, and an increasing number of them are making it a family affair. Whether your expat experience will be temporary – just a year or few – or you expect it to be permanent, there are lots of things you can do to help your kids adjust to expat life.
- Remember that the age of your children can profoundly affect their response to a move overseas. The younger they are, the easier it will be for them because they have the least to “lose” in the way of memories and relationships.
- Start to re-acclimate your family now, so you’ll feel at least a little bit “at home” when you arrive. If your new home features a different language, start to learn it now. It’s generally easiest for young children to pick up a new language, but make it a whole-family activity.
- Investigate education options. Do you want your kids to attend an international school with other expats, or the local school where they will have to learn in their new language? Choices may be limited where you’re headed, and each child learns in their own way. Consider how long you’ll be in-country, too. With shorter stays, kids often do better in an international school or even connecting with a top quality American online middle or high school.
- Invite your kids’ friends to a “goodbye” party, to formalize the separation in a fun, positive way. Make sure older kids have up-to-date social and email connections they can use to stay in touch. Establish a Skype account the whole family can use.
- Find out if there are local expat groups online, on social media or in person. These can be comforting for kids and adults after you arrive, but equally valuable as a source of information and advice ahead of time. Who better to help you find schools, baby-sitters, the best grocery stores and other necessities? You may even get savvy tips on where to live.
- Assimilating into your new culture is good, but hang on to important family traditions and routines. Mom’s secret-recipe pot roast and Monopoly tournaments on Sunday night may seem weird to others in your new setting, but so what? They matter to your family. Don’t stop speaking English to your children, especially if they’re younger. Learning a new language is great, but so is mastering and remaining fluent in their native language. And don’t forget key American holidays.
- Watch for behavioral changes such as wetting the bed or tantrums in young ones or withdrawal or acting out in older ones. These may indicate your child is having a tough time, so make an extra effort to talk it out. Let them know it’s OK to have doubts and fears.
Are pets moving with your family?
The ability to take their beloved Lily or Muffin along will be a big boost for your kids. They’ll have one or more 4-legged friends already in place to provide comforting familiarity and companionship. Pets give your kids a way to meet and interact with new friends in their new community, too. And when the kids are feeling down or scared about the move, pets are the ultimate in good listeners.
So ask your kids to help your dog and/or cat learn the new “tricks” necessary to fit comfortably into their new life, too. Planning your pet’s move can help take their mind off their own move-related concerns, and you need to research this information anyway. Where can they walk the dog? Are there dog parks or other play areas nearby? What about a new vet and a store to buy pet food and supplies? What are the pet-related laws in your new city?
If your youngsters are too young to research these questions, have them help with packing your pet’s belongings.
Above all else, present the move and all its details as a positive, exciting opportunity for your kids -- before you depart and after you’re in place. You certainly may have misgivings or fears, too, but you’re the adult here so it’s up to you to lead the way. Be there for them – to discuss the move and listen to their worries. When you feel frazzled yourself, take a time-out. Pet the dog or scoop up your kitty for some lap time.
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