By August 5, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

How to help your child manage a move abroad

My husband Dave and I were elated. We were moving to the Netherlands! European culture and travel opportunities awaited our family. Our children would be exposed to new ideas and gain a global perspective.

Our dream come true was a nightmare for our nine-year-old son Christopher. Europe sounded like the dark side of the moon to a kid born and raised in small town America. Chris’ response to our news was a prolonged and heart-wrenching, “Nooooo!”

Chris and his 11-year-old brother Nathan were very happy in the life they already had. They had deep-rooted friendships, a roomy house in the woods and extended family nearby.

Meeting people from all over the world and traveling to exciting places seemed poor consolation prizes to Chris, who mourned the comfort and security of familiar people and surroundings.

A year and a half later, Chris agrees that he has gained much more by living in another culture than he lost. He has made friends from every continent except Antarctica. Our European travels have enriched our lives immensely.

We all attempted to smooth the transition period as much as possible, but it was still challenging. Based on our experiences, here are some suggestions for helping children adjust to their new lives abroad.

Become Educated

Many parents have trod this road and the voice of experience can be invaluable. Several good books have been written about expatriate children. If you plan to send your children to an international school, contact admissions to ask if there is someone who can spend some time answering your questions via e-mail.

International Life Coach and psychologist Simone T. Costa Eriksson believes that children should feel empowered to ask adults questions about anything that worries them.

“They need help to understand what is going to happen and it is okay to ask for help from their parents, relatives and teachers,” Costa Eriksson says.

Have a Goodbye Party for Your Child

Moving abroad involves a tremendous amount of work and preparation, but helping your children properly take leave of the people that are important to them is far more important than change of address cards at the post office or giving away your house plants.

An exceptional resource for expatriate parents is the book ‘Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds’ by Ruth van Reken and David Pollock. Among its many words of wisdom for expatriate families are some wonderful ideas on saying goodbye.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Leaving friends and family is probably the hardest aspect of an international move. Happily, modern technology makes keeping in touch very manageable. E-mail, web cameras for video calls and social networking sites are easy ways to communicate. Inexpensive telephone services are now readily available, so the boys are able to call friends at home as frequently as schedules and time differences permit.

Staying connected is essential in the expatriate world, where transition is the norm. Goodbye for now doesn’t have to mean goodbye forever.

Pack Special Belongings

Pack a suitcase filled with things that are special to your child and that make him or her feel at home long before your other household goods arrive. Photographs, stuffed animals and special collections lend a personal touch to a new space.

Keep a Record

Kids adore using digital cameras to capture exciting adventures and new friends. Mistakes are easily erased and it is simple to e-mail photos or even create a blog.

A journal is also an excellent way of recording experiences and feelings, both positive and negative. This can be a healthy outlet for many children during a time of upheaval.

Become Educated About Your New Home

Read books and watch travel videos about your adopted country together. Observe the locals at leisure and adopt some of their favorite pastimes. Knowledge inspires interest.

Keep an Open Mind

Encourage your kids to expand their horizons, whether it is attempting a few words in an unfamiliar language or taking a cautious bite of an unusual food. They will most likely pleasantly surprise you with their adventurous spirits.

Tell Your Children They are Not Alone

Costa Eriksson believes that children need reassurance that they are not unique in their experiences. “They are not alone. Many children go through similar challenges, so their fears and doubts are normal,” she says. This knowledge is greatly comforting to children.

A few weeks ago, Chris asked, “Mom, are we ever going to live in Europe again after this?”

“Maybe someday. But what do you think about Asia next time instead?”

Chris considered the idea for a few moments and then nodded. “Yeah, I’d do that.”

Both Chris and Nathan have gotten exactly what we had hoped they would from moving abroad. They have made the most of the experience and are interested and involved citizens of the world. Well done, kids.

Editor’s Note:

Simone T. Costa Erikkson was so determined that kids be able to find answers to their concerns that she co-wrote a book with Ana Serra to address these concerns. See Susan’s review of the book here.

Posted in: For Moms, Identity

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