Living overseas, as an expat, usually means your children will be exposed to some magnificent wonders of the world. Not only will they be immersed in different cultures, witness unusual customs and fascinating traditions, they’ll meet and learn about people from all walks of life. But moving isn’t always smooth sailing. Just like us adults, it takes time to adjust and feel at ease with your new surroundings.
Having moved from Hong Kong, to the middle of China and back to Sydney with our small person, here are a few handy tips when it comes to moving countries/cities with your children.
Let’s face it, parenting is hard enough at the best of times….but when you add a new environment into the mix, a different language and culture, it can be tough to keep everyone on the happy bus!
In all reality, there’s never a “right” time. Each age brings its own challenges.
People will say it’s much better to move them while they’re still little. And while there are definitely positives for this as far as their ability to go with the flow and adapt more quickly, it doesn’t mean they won’t struggle. Of course, the younger a child is, the easier it is to learn a new language, if they’re immersed. Older children can be more resistant to a move away, not wanting to leave friends and of course their education needs to be taken seriously. At the same time, being older means they’ll potentially gain much more from the experience and remember it.
Every child is unique and only you can help decide when you think it’s a good time. Often you may not have a choice, so don’t sweat it….each age has its pros and cons.
If it’s possible, have a farewell party/get together that makes saying goodbye special and memorable. Experts say acknowledging what’s about to happen, sadness and all, can help little ones start to process the move. Reassure them it’s perfectly ok (and normal) to miss someone, at the same time keep talking about the exciting things that are going to come with living in a new country. Don’t over promise and under deliver.
It’s important to ‘close the chapter’ properly. I was never more thankful for the teacher’s quick thinking, when the last day of term was suddenly brought forward by an entire week, due to severe pollution in China and she sent someone out to buy a cake, to farewell Ava in style. It meant the world to her (and mum who was silently in meltdown mode).
At the same, time be sure to let them know it’s not forever, it’s just “see you later!” Help them to keep in touch with their good friends. Thankfully, today, technology means they don’t have to seem a world away.
Send voice messages on Whats App, or even have a Skype or FaceTime session. My little girl and her bestie in China recently skyped for an hour and a half and after some initial awkwardness, ended up playing together, like they were in the same room!
Pack lots of memories. Photo books are a great idea for them to look back on and keep memories alive.
Involve your children in the move as much as possible!
As soon as you arrive in your new country, no matter how small it is, start a routine of some description. Even if it’s just breakfast and walking to the local shop. Even though it’s no doubt tough for you as a mum or dad trying to hold it all together and adjust to this new life, it’s vital to keep a close eye on your child’s needs. Together, try to learn as much about your new country as possible. The more you feel settled, the more likely your kids will too. Check out my post here: Through the Eyes of My Expat Child: Lessons Learned.
Experts don’t recommend returning to the place you’ve come from too soon. Allow at least half a year before going back to help them transition more smoothly.
Don’t pack all of these in the shipping, keep those things that are special to them around to make them more comfortable during this crucial phase. When Ava moved from Hong Kong to China, for about a year, she took a particular doll everywhere with her. It became a case of “Where’s Wally!”
Depending on how permanent your move is, it may be easier to find a school with a similar curriculum to the one back home. If not, the International Baccalaureate (IB) system is taught in many countries, so it’s a great option. If you can, act early so you can get into the school of your choice. Depending on the country, there can be huge waiting lists or specific zones you’ll need to live in, to be accepted.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know which school year they should be in in a foreign country. Get some advice early on, but if the outcome is different to what you envisaged, play it by ear, you can always change them later, if necessary.
If you can choose a school that’s not too far from your home, it certainly makes life easier, as far as getting to and from school and having their friends around for play dates and catch ups. Living in the hotel in China, meant we were a good 30 to 45 minutes drive from Ava’s school, which definitely made things harder and sometimes isolating.
#Be a Present Parent
Try to be there when they first start their new school, before and after – to talk through the day and all of the new things they’re experiencing.
If they are somewhere where the language is not familiar, help them with extra tutoring. Set up play dates with new friends, if they’re keen to have one. Don’t force the issue if they’re older and not interested yet. You can’t choose you children’s friends (as much as sometimes we’d like to). 😉 Try to go to school assemblies and important events in those early days so your child sees a familiar face in the crowd.
There will probably be days when your child doesn’t want to go to his/her new school and is pining for their old world. Talk with their new teacher and let him or her know the situation, so they can keep an extra eye out for your small person.
If your child is struggling, (psychologists say it can feel like a death to a child who is separated from their friends and/or family) communication is critical. Acknowledge their feelings and listen to their frustrations. Create a stable network and help them feel understood, validated and loved. Culture shock is real, so navigate this new country together. If you’re repatriating home, that can be just as unsettling, especially if your child hasn’t lived in your home country before. Don’t expect them to settle back in smoothly just because it’s home for you. Everything around them will probably feel quite alien.
Remember every child is different and will experience the transition with different coping abilities and strategies.
Good luck, everything will fall into place, eventually.