Expat Survival Guide : Helping Children Cope
Expat Survival Guide
Children: seen and heard
Their happiness is your happiness. Be honest about the move and avoid making promises you can’t fulfil (like their friends coming to visit).
Before the move, encourage them to research online (or view photos); keep your attitude positive and treat it like an adventure. It will be impossible for them not to feel excited.
Avoid showing any stress you may be feeling in front of your children; they will pick up on it and it will fuel their own anxieties. It’s a good idea to ask them straight up about their own concerns, since you can then tackle each worry head on. Let them know that it’s ok to feel frightened by change and encourage them to share their feelings.
Involve them in decision-making and let them share their opinions. They’ll feel more secure knowing that they’re being heard and treated as equally important family members.
School and Friendships
Before you arrive, try to make contact with another family in your new destination whose children are the same age as your own (or a little older). A few short email exchanges will initiate a sense of anticipation for your own children and the ‘security’ of knowing at least one other child on arrival.
Where you have the opportunity, take children with you to visit potential schools and allow them to choose. This will help them take ownership of their new life.
Friendships are vitally important, so do all you can to encourage those: hobby and sporting clubs are a great way for your children to boost self-esteem and gain confidence in meeting new pals.
Allow them to email old friends. It’s a security blanket. In all likelihood, those friendships will fade naturally with time, being replaced by local friends.
Needless to say, children like the security of the familiar, so don’t expect too much from them too soon. It may take a year – or longer – for them to fully adjust to their new home (after a relatively easy early transition when they may view the move as a holiday).
Pack favourite DVDs, books and toys in your immediate baggage, so that these ‘comforts’ are to hand as soon as possible, and try to preserve existing bedtime / morning routines. If they are particularly attached to a particular snack or cereal, you might want to find room for that in your suitcase, to ease them through the first week.
If your child is having trouble adjusting, it’s likely that this will manifest itself as anger. Whether aged 5 or 15, they probably won’t be able to articulate exactly what’s upsetting them: it may feel like everything is ‘wrong’ and they’ll undoubtedly request a return to their ‘old life’. This is more common than you might imagine.
Their resentment and frustration can cause them to behave quite out of character; you might even feel that the child you knew has become lost to you. Trust to time and continue to give your love and support (no matter how vile your offspring chooses to be). It’s at times like these that they most need you to be strong for them.
If your partner takes the attitude that they are working, while you ‘only’ have to deal with the home and family, it can feel like a massive burden to ‘fix’ your children. Of course, there are no magic answers and it’s easy for you to feel that you’re failing. Try not to take every tantrum personally, lead by example (remaining calm and positive) and do seek support from other parents; everyone needs a listening ear now and then.
Ultimately, this is a situation you’ll be tackling alone (or, hopefully, with your partner’s support) but it helps to know that others empathise (most expat parents will be able to offer some similar stories). Some weeks may feel darker than others but a day truly will dawn when you’ll realise that you’ve come out the other side. When that time comes, you’ll also realise that you are more resilient than you gave yourself credit for.
Great sites for forums, articles and support:
Images reproduced from Wikimedia Commons
I have almost 20 years experience as a primary school teacher in the UK but I don’t have all the answers. Who does where children are concerned?
Please do add your own tips and experiences below.
Part One – It’s Life … But Not as You Knew It
Part Two – The Truth About Saying Farewell to Friends and Family
Part Three – Infidelity and Relationships on the Rocks
Part Five – Little Beasties – When Not to be a Welcoming Host