Expat Child Syndrome (ECS)

What is Expat Child Syndrome and what causes it?

Expat Child Syndrome is a term that has been coined by psychologists to describe the emotional stress in children caused by a move abroad.

ECS is most commonly found in children who are aged between 10 and 15. During this period of a child’s life, they undergo significant emotional and physical changes and will often utilize their social circles as a means of coping with these changes. Adolescence is a difficult period in the lives of all children, but when children are removed from their close circle of friends they can often find it even more difficult to deal with the mental and physical changes they are experiencing.

How does Expat Child Syndrome manifest itself?

Expat child syndrome manifests itself in many different ways and may impact some children more than others. Common symptoms include seclusion, loneliness, withdrawn behavior and uncooperative or even disruptive behavior. In the majority of the cases children will eventually settle down and will begin to understand some of the benefits of their move abroad.

However, some children may find it much more difficult to fit into life in the host country and may develop psychological issues over a longer period of time. If they are unable to develop a social circle in their new country this may lead to a longer-term issue with making friends and fitting in with social groups and they may also harbor longer-term resentment towards their parents for making them move away from a home they loved.

In what circumstances is ECS more likely to occur?

1) Older children will generally be more impacted by a move away and are therefore more likely to suffer from expat child syndrome. They are more likely to have developed strong friendships in their home country and will be unhappy at the prospect of leaving these behind.

2) The country that the child is locating to will also impact the degree to which the move impacts their psychological state. If the host country is dramatically dissimilar than their home country they will find the transition extremely difficult. If the host country is a very long way away from their home and their family and friends they are also more likely to feel excluded and isolated.

3) The school environment will have a significant impact on a child’s ability to fit into their new home. If they are able to attend an international school they will be more likely to have an opportunity to interact with children from a similar background to themselves and it will be easier for them to adjust to their new environment.

4) The rate and frequency at which they relocate. ECS is more likely to occur in children who are relocating more than once. They may become frustrated at having to move countries again having worked hard and established new social circles.

In order to avoid expat child syndrome occurring it is essential that parents carefully plan and implement the move abroad. Further information about ways in which parents can assist their children to prepare for their move to a new country can be found in our Moving Your Family Overseas section. If you have already relocated and are experiencing issues with your children please see our section on Living Overseas With Children.

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