Moving abroad with children can be a stressful time but it is also full of exciting opportunities for them. The below articles are a selection of useful advice and experiences for those moving with their little ones in tow.
Charis has lived as an expat her entire life and is now a mother of one. Here she shares her own experiences of moving abroad.
Although when moving overseas with kids the initial decision to move is yours, you CAN AND SHOULD involve them in making decisions about other aspects of the move. Do as many of the following as you possibly can.
1. Involve them actively in researching the country you will move to. Find photos, histories, online communities. Involve their friends in this. (Their friends can be your biggest allies or your greatest obstacle to your child's understanding and accepting your decision.)
2. Give them the chance to ask all the questions they may have. Answer these in all honesty. Don't fib, fudge or fake it. Ever. If you don't know an answer involve them in finding out the answer. Let them see it's important to you to find out. Don't promise anything you don't absolutely know you'll be able to provide. Don't lose their trust. Trusting you will provide them a sense of security. If they trust your decisions they will feel less apprehensive. Your honesty is their security.
3. Prepare them for possible language barriers by getting language tutors or lessons if necessary.
4. Involve them in deciding what they will take or leave behind. Allow them some decision-making. It will help them feel that they have some say in what is happening to them.
5. Ask them what they'll miss most. Research if those things are available in your new country. Take them with you if possible. Being surrounded by familiar things will comfort them in their new home (this includes favorite foods, toys, books, clothing, games, blankets, and anything else that provides them a sense of security).
6. If there are things you must leave behind, talk about saying goodbye to them on several occasions, plan how or when to say goodbye, progressively distance them mentally from the object (or pet or person) over a period of time.
7. Get in touch with possible schools and teachers and involve them in communicating with them prior to your move. If possible, try to establish a pen pal (or chat or MySpace) relationship with one or more kids at their new school prior to moving. This is one of the most important aspects for your kids and, given the technology of our times, one of the easiest to accomplish if you are able to choose a school prior to moving.
8. Help them make a concrete plan for how they will communicate with their friends and family back home. Assure them you'll help them make that possible. Research phone calling, long distance rates, mail delivery times, internet connections before you go. Discuss a budget.
9. Discuss how you will participate in helping them make new friends and/or adjust to their new school. (You may be surprised to find some kids would rather mom or dad NOT enter with them or hold their hand or kiss them goodbye on their first day).
10. Try to help create a sense of excitement about their new home. Find out about fun and entertaining or unique things and places your new country will have. Use verbs, adjectives and adverbs that are positive, make a plan for visiting or finding them once you've settled in (keep your promises when you do).
11. Help them feel safe by discussing possible situations you'll encounter in your host country in real terms, especially with older kids and teens. Let them know your family has a concrete plan for staying away from potentially volatile situations, discuss the reasons behind them (such as protests, etc.), let them help research so they'll understand them. Discuss, plan and practice what you would do in specific emergency situations without alarming them. Explain very matter-of-factly that families should hold emergency drills no matter where they live. Let them know what your decision would be if your host country becomes too hostile to live in (have you even thought of this?) Unexpected repatriation results in one of the greatest senses of confusion and loss of purpose and direction among both children and adults. Kids do have the potential to understand this.
12. Tell your kids exactly how long you will be in your host country (if you know) and when you'll be returning home. It gives them something to look forward to, and most importantly let's them know GOODBYE'S ARE NOT FOREVER. If you're leaving one host country for another and know you won't return, help your kids plan how they will communicate with their friends they are leaving behind. One of the things I feel the most (and hear the most from other expat kids, especially if they don't return to countries they leave) is that goodbye's feel like funerals - many of us literally GO INTO DEEP MOURNING with each and every move.
13. Research extracurricular activities your kids might participate in in your host country (sports, dance, theater, horseback riding, volunteering, etc.) Do this prior to moving. Discuss their options with them. This can give them something to look forward to.
14. Let them spend time with the people they will be leaving behind. Do this while preparing them mentally for departure. Participate in talking about your move with their friends. Their friends may be feeling apprehension and sadness too. If you can answer some of their questions as well, they may willingly be helpful in preparing your kids (or at least not work against you) prior to departure.
15. Most importantly, involve them often in discussions about how they are adapting to the IDEA of moving. Spend time with them and encourage them to ask questions. The more you can answer prior to your move, the less insecure they will feel when they arrive.
16. Create a sense of excitement and adventure and ward off potential future problems.
17. Read up and learn about TCKs (third culture kids). It's very important as a parent you learn to understand the fears, sadness, anger, loss, confusion and other emotions your expatriate children may be feeling because they'll need your help (and possibly professional help) to work through them.
18. Your child needs to know you MUST live within your means and it helps to let your child in on what your means are (in a general manner). Don't stress your kids out about money, don't show them you're stressed about money, but do be firm and informative about what your financial situation is, how you plan to live, the lifestyle they can expect to have overseas, and how you've prepared or planned your wealth management (inasmuch as your kid might understand, depending on their age). They may be moving into a lower or higher lifestyle than they're accustomed to. If you think your children don't think about these things you are wrong.
Depending on the situation (and again, their age) you can help them to neither detest this or feel bad about it (if you'll be living with less), nor take advantage of it and abuse it (if you'll be living with more). You must also teach your children about savings and money management. To do so is your parental obligation! Period. Your best tool is your example!
Purchasing your child's acceptance of your move by promising them (or giving them) many unearned things will NOT benefit them in the future. You must have a wealth management plan and your kids must know that whether they live with much or little, they will be provided for and they are SAFE with you.
19. Listen to them! Listen to them! Listen to them! There are so many things you can do, as many options as there are children. The best thing you can do (and most important) is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS.
This has been edited by MumAbroad. For the full article visit:
The term ‘third culture kid’ has become associated with expatriate children thanks to the coining of the phrase by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem – the term refers to children who have spent a significant period of their childhood or adolescence living in a culture other than their own.
Once a demographic has been identified and ‘labelled’ like this, it seems it’s far easier for research to be centred around it, so if you Google the term ‘third culture kids’ you’ll find no end of reports and studies about the effects of living abroad on children. However, rather than taking a wholly academic approach to the study, we thought we’d draw on our own experiences and those of our readers and bring you the top 10 ways that living abroad will give your children a better start in life.
Many parents worry that living abroad even on a year long sabbatical could damage their child’s education, stunt their development and harm their chances of ongoing social interaction within their peer groups – however, as we will now show, living abroad can actually benefit your child in so many incredibly deep and important ways, you’ll be planning your family’s relocation before the day is out!
1) Your child will be able to integrate more easily
Do you want your child’s first awkward experience of being a stranger in amongst a sea of strange faces to be at age 18 when they leave home for the first time to go to college or university – or would you rather your child was comfortable speaking to and being around all sorts of people from a very young age?
When you move abroad your entire family will be absolutely surrounded by strangers from the word go and your child, along side its parents, will learn how to communicate, adapt to fit and integrate seamlessly. This is an invaluable lesson your child will learn by rote and by your side – in such a non-confrontational or awkward way that going forward in life integration and adaptation will never pose a problem to your child.
2) Your child will have a greater sense of the world
We received a story from one reader about how her daughter became aware of the true reality of poverty when they moved to live in a so-called third world country. Back home her daughter had been involved in fund raising through her school for various charities supporting people in poorer nations abroad, she had donated old clothes and toys for people in a less fortunate position because she had been told to, but when she and her family were approached on a near daily basis by begging children, it was only then that she understood the depth of the real differences between herself and the lifestyle she enjoyed, and others in the world.
Our reader explained that this gave her daughter a very focused approach to generally improving the whole world! From encouraging everyone at home and at school to recycle to pestering her parents to do more in their new community to help – this little girl gained a much truer understanding of the world and the imbalances that exist. In her parents’ opinion she adopted this understanding naturally and rather than overly worrying about it, she understood that she was in a position to help.
3) Your child will enjoy a prolonging of their childlike sense of wonder
Back home every day tasks become chores and we all become blind to the world around us to a degree, and immune to new experiences within our familiar world – moving abroad is a massive wake up for all of us. For adults it means we develop a new sense of wonder, appreciation and of adventure – and for our children it means that they get to extend what is arguably the most positive aspect of childhood, and that is having a sense of wonder, excitement and appreciation of the world!
New sights, smells, tastes and experiences will constantly delight – what’s more it will mean our children passively but positively learn, learn, learn. What could be a better experience for your child?
4) Your child is more likely to become bi or even multilingual
Whilst English is the international business language and there are international schools in almost every nation on earth where English is the language of study, if you move abroad you are much more likely to introduce your child to another language.
There is a whole another argument about whether you integrate your child fully by putting them in a local school or whether you send them to an international school – but if you do decide to educate them locally you will be shocked at how quickly and how well they pick up the local lingo!
It certainly helps if you already have an understanding of the language and if you can introduce them to it before you go – and it will also help if you’re learning the language along side them. But children – especially those below the age of 10 – are like sponges and they will be competent in communicating in no time, and fluent months before you are! This will help your child develop linguistic skills, develop specific areas of their brain, it will help them to understand more about the concept of communication – and it will give them exceptionally valuable skills for life.
5) Your child is more likely to gain a higher level of educational qualification
An in depth study of so called ‘adult third culture kids’ (i.e., adults who grew up as children abroad) completed in America revealed the following findings: “Only 21 percent of the American population (24 percent of men and 18 percent of women) have graduated from a four-year college. In sharp contrast, 81 percent of the adult TCKs [third culture kids] have earned at least a bachelor’s degree (87 percent of the men, 76 percent of the women). Half of this number have gone on to earn master’s degrees and doctorates.” [source: ]http://www.tckworld.com/useem/art2.html] What more proof do you need that living abroad can give your child a better all round education?!
6) Your child will become more mature, more accepting and understanding
Just by the very nature of your life as you relocate, adapt to new surroundings, take on new challenges, meet new people and overcome all sorts of obstacles your child will learn to be more mature, more accepting of their life and the wider world, and more understanding of people and the way the world works. This will be an invaluable education in itself and it will help your child become a well-rounded individual.
7) You and your child will enjoy a closer support bond
When you relocate, initially your child will not necessarily have close friends in the new nation and will be more reliant on parents and siblings for support and for ‘entertainment’ and social interaction – this can have a very positive effect on the family bond. As you go forward with your new life abroad you will all be experiencing new things together, and these shared experiences will help further cement this bond.
Many expats relocate in a bid to improve their quality of life, with expat parents often stating that they want to have more time with their children and that is a driving force behind them moving abroad. Surveys like the Expat Explorer one from HSBC and the Quality of Life Index from NatWest all show that the vast majority of expatriates believe that moving abroad has had a positive effect on their children and on family life in general.
8) Your child will develop superior problem solving abilities
Academic research shows that expatriate managers have superior problem solving abilities, that they are more effective communicators and they are better able to integrate in a new setting – the same will be absolutely true for your expatriate child. Because they face new challenges when they move abroad, they have to adapt, change and integrate, learn a new language and find new and acceptable ways of communication and behaviour they will learn from a very early age how to problem solve in all aspects of their life.
9) Your child will enjoy many new experiences
As mentioned above, back home we become desensitised to new experiences whether they are positive or negative – however by moving abroad and immersing oneself in a completely new and ‘alien’ environment, everything is new and everything is a positive experience in terms of teaching and learning from your child’s point of view.
In a new nation, a new culture and a new climate you will be more likely to come across many new possibilities in terms of experiences your child can enjoy – from new sports to new outdoor activities, from new arts events to new religious traditions. Your child will have so much more to enjoy.
10) Your child will become a cultural chameleon
By learning to adapt and live in a new nation and amongst a new people, by taking on a new language, perhaps learning to live within a new religious tradition and certainly within a different geographic setting your child will see that the world is different everywhere you go. This will make them much more open to adopting new cultures and immersing themselves in new nations whenever they travel – as a result they will become cultural chameleons taking on the best bits of any nation they move to, live in, study in or visit.
We understand parents’ worries about relocating with children, about uprooting a happy and settled child and about stressing children with a move abroad – however, throughout our children’s lives they will be exposed to change whether we like it or not. Moving abroad is a wholly positive change, which if managed well can represent nothing more than opportunity and adventure for your children.
The benefits of relocation and living overseas, of learning a new language and adopting a new culture, of making new friends and having new experiences far outweigh the negatives in the opinions of everyone at Shelter Offshore and in the opinions of the majority of the readers who have contacted us about their own experiences of living overseas with children.
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. Either way 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.
Moving Overseas With Babies and Toddlers
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.
Moving Overseas With Four to Eight Year Olds
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.
Moving Overseas With Nine to Twelve Year Olds
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.
Move Overseas With Teenagers
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.
Sixteen to Eighteen Year Olds
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.
Expat Info Desk