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Planning Process: Preparing Kids to Move Abroad

The Repat Diaries 
DJ Age 4

Preparing Your Kids to Live Abroad
With all the planning that goes into moving abroad it’s easy to neglect those members of your family that don’t have a choice in the matter. Children typically find out about the big move once the decision is made, and parents seldom know how to help kids make this very important transition in their lives. The child’s age and developmental stage are big factors. Preschoolers locate “home” wherever their parents are and are thus ideal candidates for even the most extreme expat relocation.  It was very important for us to make our move before our son was at an age where it would feel like we were uprooting him. Luckily at the tender age of 4 he has yet to establish a life that would be hard for him to walk away from. Honestly, if children are prepared adequately for the move, they can quite quickly adapt to their new environment and form new social attachments. Of course, some kids will embrace the experience from the first mention of “We’re moving to another country” and in all likelihood will thrive in their new home. But most kids will need a little help to reach a stage of acceptance and positive adaptation.

Below are some of the things that have helped us thus far:

Include Them In the Planning Process
This is a big one: let the children participate in the decision-making process. Involve them from the start so they have a chance to get use to the idea and raise any concerns they may have. At this stage it is vital to be clear and realistic in the information you provide. Not everything is going to be easy, some sacrifices might have to be made. Honesty with an emphasis on the positive is the key to gaining your children’s acceptance. We made sure to talk to our son about what he wanted to take with him and also involved him in the process of selling our things. He said, “as long as I can take my hot-wheels and race track I'm okay.” He is very mature for a toddler.

Communicating the details
The best antidote to doubt and anxiety about the move is information about the destination. Get books and DVDs, login to websites, buy some food from the destination – whatever it takes to get familiar with what will be their new home. For younger kids this can involve teaching them what fruits are good to eat, what animals are dangerous and other important safety considerations. Give them a list of simple words to learn in the language of the destination country. When they arrive these few phrases can generate incredibly positive reactions in local people and immediate feelings of accomplishment.. My husband has been teaching my son “Twi” (one of the local languages spoken in Ghana) for a few months now and he is picking it up so fast even I was impressed. I think this will help him greatly when it is time to make new friends.

Don't Ditch the Routine

Children may feel they are leaving a lot behind when they leave their established home. The transition can be eased by reproducing aspects of home in the expat destination. We decided that following the same eating schedule and bedtime routine would create a sense of normalcy for our son. With preschoolers we've come to realize routine equates to security and drastic changes in schedules can lead to changes in temperament. Another great idea would be to buy a gift for their new room that can only be opened on arrival. This excitement can take the focus off the move itself and redirects it to getting established in their new home.  Get them to bring items from the old home that are familiar and provides comfort. My son will be bringing along his three besties, (his stuff animals) Mr. Frog, Mr. Duck, and Squirt. He can't sleep without them so they are making the move with us.  

Celebrating the positive

The good news is that if handled correctly moving abroad can be hugely beneficial to children. Studies show that expat children are more likely to develop into confident adults, with more adaptable and advanced social skills than their contemporaries. Thanks to their experience of moving abroad they are likely to cope better with change. They are also more attuned to and tolerant of multicultural differences – a useful attribute in an increasingly diverse world. Moving abroad with children is subject to a range of variables, most important of all are the children’s age, temperament and the destination. Some moves will deliver a bounty of new experiences and adventures; others may involve a more constricted, challenging lifestyle. Regardless of one’s circumstances, children of all ages will need preparation. The more attention paid to this process during the early phase of the move, the greater the long-term benefit.

DJ Age 4 

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