Expat Child Syndrome – know the causes so you can help your child
In my previous post about Expat Child Syndrome, I introduced you to the condition, which is the emotional stress children experience when moving abroad. In this article, I’m going to take a look at the situations where ECS is most likely to arise so that you can be more prepared.
It’s vital to stress that ECS is impossible to predict and prevent, as it’s something all children can experience, but not all children will. However, there are steps you can take to help your child during this period, as you will soon discover.
Situations where ECS is most likely to occur
Separating kids of this age from their close social circle can have a big impact.Expat Child Syndrome is most common in children aged between 10 and 15 years old, as they are already going through physical and emotional changes, and they are heavily reliant on their close friends. Separating kids of this age from their close social circle can have a big impact. Older children are much more likely to be impacted by the prospect of leaving their home country, as they will have developed close friendships.
It’s not only age that can have an impact on the likelihood of ECS occurring. If you or your partner are in the armed forces, or you have any other type of job that requires continual relocation, your child will be more likely to suffer from ECS. As soon as they settle into a new location and make new friends, they will have to move again, and this can be frustrating and upsetting when they have worked so hard to fit in.
A lot of it depends on the country you are moving to. How similar is your new location to your home, or previous country? If the place you are relocating to is drastically different, then it will make the transition challenging for the child, which is why it is more likely to have a greater impact on their psychological state. The physical distance between your home and host country also has an impact. If you are moving to the other side of the world it can be very easy for children to feel as if they will never see their family or friends again, which can lead to emotional distress.
Another key factor is the school environment, as moving to a new school can be daunting for any child, irrespective of where the school is. One of the key decisions you need to make is whether to send your child to a local or international school, however, the latter is not always possible in some locations. If your child is young, sending them to a local school may be a good way for them to pick up the language. Nevertheless, sending your child to an international school can make it easier for them to adjust to their new environment, as they will meet children who come from a similar background.
There are certainly different situations that can make it more likely for ECS to occur, with your child’s age, their new school environment, the way of life in their new location and the frequency of relocation being the main factors.
One thing you will notice about all of these factors is that it is very difficult to change any of them, and therefore you certainly cannot stop ECS from occurring, but you can help your child to deal with the challenges that come from moving abroad.
How to help your child deal with all this
Communication is one of the key components to ensuring a smooth transition. You need to watch your children’s behaviour to pick up on any symptoms of ECS. Talk with your kids frequently and actually listen to what they are saying and any frustrations they may be experiencing. It can be easy to get wrapped up in your adjustment process, but your child needs to let out their feelings too. Often simple acknowledgement of your child’s feelings and the struggles they are encountering can be a massive step in helping them to deal with the emotional stress they are experiencing.
When you relocate, your child leaves a support network of close friends behind, which is why it’s important to develop a stable support network in your new location. You should also try to help your child make new friends without putting pressure on them. By encouraging them to get involved in extracurricular activities or inviting neighbours around with children of a similar age you are creating opportunities for your children to meet new people and build their confidence. Getting the balance right between working on new social interactions and keeping in touch with old friends is also important.
While you need to embrace new traditions, don’t ignore old ones, whether it is food or holidays, as this will help your child to ease into their new life too.
Expat Child Syndrome can affect all kids that move to a new place. But it may not.
However, if you know the signs and the scenarios that are more likely to cause emotional stress, you can be better prepared to help your child through this period, so that you all enjoy the new exciting chapter in your life.
Find out how to prepare for the reality of relocation
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Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution. Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.
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