Our Expat's Manual was last updated on Tuesday 4th June 2013.
Moving overseas alone is challenge enough but moving overseas with children can be enough to test even the strongest families. Adequately preparing your children for a move overseas is extremely important and will assist you to ensure that your relocation gets off to the best possible start. You may receive a varied reaction from your children when you break the news that you will be moving to another country as a family. Depending upon the age of the children involved, and their affinity to their home country, this can vary from immense excitement to a complete reluctance to leave their home and social network behind. Eitherway it is important when moving overseas with children that you prepare your children psychologically in advance of the move so that they can be in the best possible mental state when they arrive in their new country of residence.
When preparing your children for a move overseas you need to be aware of the fact that every different age group will require a different level of support during the move. Older children will find it harder to deal with moving abroad than younger ones as they have far deeper roots where they are. However, they will adapt as long as you help and support them throughout the process. The following sections describe how to deal with the different age groups when moving overseas with children. It is intended as a basic guide as no one knows children better than a parent. However we hope the following can act as food for thought and will assist you during the relocation process.
Despite needing constant supervision and, in many ways, being the most demanding of all of the age groups, babies and toddlers have no emotional issues with moving overseas. They are too young to understand what is happening and will likely be the most accepting of all of your children. As long as you continue with their routine, there is unlikely to be any marked differences in their behavior.
During the physical move itself, it is important to leave bottles, comforters and toys out of the main luggage so they have them for the journey. Once you have arrived at your destination, try to keep the routine in place; put them to bed at the normal time and feed them when they’re hungry. The sooner they settle into their routine, the easier it will be for you to start to settle.
As with babies and toddlers, younger children adapt much more easily. They will have made friends at school, but they will soon make new friends at their new school and their old life will be partially forgotten. If you are moving overseas with children to a country where English is not the first language, this age group can start to learn a new language with ease. Obviously you will need to make it seem fun and adapt the learning depending on age and skill level, but children are like sponges, absorbing everything.
They will no doubt have a number of questions and you will need to be patient when dealing with such questions. Reassurance is the key – explain that the move is for the best and that they will have a lot more fun and make lots of friends. They pick up on everything so never talk negatively about the move in front of them, even if you are experiencing second thought or doubts yourself. They may have some worries but it is your job as their parent to make sure they understand everything and are reassured that everything will be okay.
Pre-teens can be a very difficult age group to manage when relocating. They will have many friends at school and there is a chance that they may resent you for taking them away from everything they know and love. Make sure you are always honest and open with them and encourage them to ask anything they like about the move overseas. Involve them in decisions, such as how they will decorate their room and what subjects they want to take at school. Give them a diary or disposable camera to record every detail of the trip and any other details.
It is up to you to ensure that they see all of the positive aspects about the move and that they understand they will still be coming back for holidays and can keep in touch with heir friends through the internet and over the phone. Provide them with an email address and, if they are old enough, set them up on a social networking and instant messenger site. It is also a good idea to get them to research their new country and find out as many interesting facts as they can. It will also help if you enrol them in a club or group that offers activities they have always wanted to try. This will give them something to look forward to and will sweeten the blow of being moved away from their social circle. You will find comprehensive details of clubs and social networking opportunities for children in each Expat Info Desk relocation guide.
The early teens are when children first start to really push the boundaries. They might find it hard to see anything positive in the move so it is your job to talk with them and point out all of the good things. You need to get them excited.
Children who are in their teens will no doubt have a strong social network and will want to spend time with their friends before they leave, so encourage their friends to come round and help them to pack up their room. Offer to throw them a leaving party and make sure you have the internet in your new house. They will want to stay in regular contact with everyone they know; at least to begin with.
You should make sure that you enroll them in a school that follows the same curriculum and uses the same syllabus. This will make their transition much easier. Always try to move at the end of a school year and make sure they complete any work which may need doing before they start at their new school. Our international relocation guides contain detailed insights into the schools and educational opportunities available in each destination. Consult these plenty of time in advance in order to start the search for a school early. See our section on expatriate schools for more information.
Moving overseas with children who are in their latter teens can be the trickiest of all. Many teenagers like to think of themselves as young adults. They will have already been through much of the hormonal change and will be a lot more balanced. You will be able to have good chats with them about the move and they will be able to help with the organizing, packing and babysitting. At this age, if they are very adverse to a move, and you are in agreement, it is feasible that they can remain behind with another family member.
While they may be unsure about leaving, children of this age will generally have the maturity to recognize that they will have many more opportunities abroad. It is a great adventure for children of this age. Many people travel when they are 18 and the move abroad could just be the start for your teenager.
It will not take your children long to settle in, regardless of how old they are. As long as you support each other as a family you will all be fine. Work together and try to keep as much of their normal routine as you can.
It is crucial that throughout the run up to the move abroad that you continually focus on the positive aspects of relocating to a new country, even if you yourself are experiencing doubts. Explain the things that they have to look forward to when they move overseas and focus on activities that they will be able to take part in that aren’t possible in their home country. Keep an open dialogue throughout the process, talk to them about their new life, their own expectations, the role they will play in the move, and their new school. Provide little snippets of information long before you actually move as this will prepare them for a life abroad.
Regardless of the age of your children, educate them on where you are moving to before you leave in order to prepare them for the environment they will encounter. You will be able to find age-appropriate literature at bookstores or on the Internet and may even be able to find documentaries or movies that are set in the new country. If the people in the country you are relocating to speak a different language it will also be advisable to introduce your children to this language in advance of the move. Through familiarizing children with the language and environment of the destination country before you move you will provide them with a sense of security and safety and this will help them to fit in and adjust much more quickly.
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