Relocating to a New Country with Kids
Making the choice to move abroad is a big decision for anyone, but if you have children who will be making the move with you, the emigration process can become even more daunting. The benefits of living abroad at any age are enormous; however, children often have difficulty seeing the exciting parts of such an opportunity in the face of the loss of familiar locations and friends who will be left behind. Ensuring that your move abroad is successful for all of your family members will take significant preparation in advance of your departure date.
One key thing to keep in mind: the age of your kids will play a big role in how you prepare them for a move and what their reaction will likely be to the thought of leaving their home country. While otherwise demanding, babies and toddlers are surprisingly easy to pick up and move to another country; keep up their routine and they may not even notice the difference. Young school-aged children will likely have questions, but this age group is easily adaptable to changing schools and making new friends; these youngsters can also pick up a new language easily if you’re moving to a country with a different native tongue.
Preteens and teenagers, however, may have a more difficult time adjusting to the idea of moving abroad. Their friendships are more concrete by this age, and teenagers, in particular, will not be able to learn a new language with the ease of their younger siblings. With children in this age group, focus on selling them on the positives of the move as well as taking steps to ensure they can maintain connections with their friends back in their home country. If your kids are close to graduating from high school and extremely opposed to leaving their home country, you may consider delaying your move for a couple of years or letting them stay behind with a close family member.
Whatever the age of your children, there are steps you can take both prior to and after your move abroad to make the change go more smoothly for the youngest members of your family.
Before You Depart
The older your children are, the more you will need to prepare in advance in order to make their experience living abroad a positive one. Your enthusiastic attitude during the preparation process can be crucial to getting your family as excited about the move as you are.
Involve Your Children in the Planning Process
You may be tempted to plan your move without consulting–or even telling–your children until close to your move date in order to reduce anxiety over the preceding weeks and months. However, most experts agree that involving your children at all stages of the process is key to helping them adjust, process any negative emotions and arrive in your new country with a positive attitude. Reading picture books with younger children about the process of moving can be helpful; older children can participate in the research process around your new country. Listen and address any concerns that arise during this stage. Where possible, let your children participate in the decision process; doing so can help them become invested in the move rather than feeling as though they have no say in the decision.
Carefully Consider Your Education Options
Choosing the right international school for your children should be one of your top priorities when preparing to move, and doing thorough research in advance is critical. One important decision you’ll have to make involves the school’s language of instruction. If your kids are young and your move is permanent, consider a school with instruction in the local language to make the process of integrating into their new country even smoother. On the other hand, for older children or where the move is temporary, choosing an international school that offers the same language and similar curriculum as your children’s current school may be a better option. In either case, seeking out opinions and information from other expat parents on social media can be valuable in wading through all of your options.
Help Your Children Say Goodbye
Whether your move is permanent or temporary, it’s important to let your children say a proper goodbye to the people they care about in your home country. Such farewells can help mark the transition and make it easier for them to being anew in a new country. Consider planning a going-away party and having your children exchange mementos such as photo albums or friendship bracelets with their friends.
Once You Arrive
Proper preparation is only part of a successful move abroad with children, however. Once you’re actually in your new home, be sure you pay close attention to how they are adjusting–and do your part of help your children flourish in your new country.
Make Your New Home Abroad Familiar
Creating continuity in your new home is important, whether your child is two or 12. Familiar items from home such as stuffed animals or photographs can help their new room feel comfortable and familiar. If possible, bring a couple of items with you in your luggage so that they instantly have a sense of home without needing to wait for your shipped belongings to arrive.
Set an Example
Integrating into a new country and community is difficult at any age. Particularly if you’ve made the choice to move abroad for work reasons, you may be tempted to avoid adapting to your new home’s culture and language. Pushing yourself to do so, however, can make it easier for your children to do the same. Lead by example and let your children see the joy and wonder that your new country can provide.
The benefits of exposing them to a new culture can be enormous, from providing them with valuable language skills to giving them a broader understanding of the world. Although the challenges of moving abroad with children can also be significant, taking steps to prepare your family for the move well in advance–and paying close attention to your children’s needs throughout the process–can help every member of your family reap the long-term advantages of time spent abroad.