Preparing your children for an overseas adventure
Moving overseas is a big decision – moving overseas when there are children involved is a massive and difficult one. You’ll be only too aware that you are taking them away from everything familiar and starting again in an alien environment, so you’ll worry about how they’ll cope. This is perfectly natural but if the move is handled in the right way, there’s every chance your children will cope better than you do!
Children are amazingly versatile; they adapt quickly to new things and they don’t have the problems of preconception and forethought that we suffer from as adults (the never ending ‘what ifs’!). You can utilise their imaginations to generate excitement about a new adventure and you can empower them to feel positive and embrace change. Here’s how…
Share information: Right from the start your children need to be aware of the move and kept up to date with any new information. It may be tempting to make all the arrangements first and then tell them – to put off difficult conversations – but being upfront really is the best policy. They need time to process the change in their own way and in their own mind.
Use play: For younger children, role-play can be really helpful to overcome fears. Set up a family of small action figures and encourage ‘moving away’ play, in which you participate. Use this to introduce different scenarios (new schools for example) and to practise overcoming doubts and difficulties. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your child can take a lead role in assuaging the fears of his or her charges.
Be honest: Encourage your children to ask questions and give them honest answers. Set aside time to discuss the move and actively listen to what you children have to say. A lot of the time your answer may be that you don’t know but this presents another important opportunity…
When you don’t know the answer, (or when you do but you need a visual aid), get your children involved in doing some research and finding out about their new home. Use an atlas to show them where in the world they will be; use Google maps to show them their new street and local area; find their new school and show them pictures and help them to contact their new school by email or letter to introduce themselves. If possible, establish contact with one or more children in the same age group and encourage regular correspondence. This will give your children a head start on making friends and they will be excited to meet their new friend/s in person.
Utilise the wealth of information online to find out together about local leisure facilities and opportunities. Make a list together of things to do, see and try in your new home and get excited about ticking them off when you arrive.
Practise using Skype – this may seem silly when Grandma is still living a few streets away and your children see her nearly every day but learning to use Skype and understanding that by doing so they can still see those important people daily, will help to remove separation anxieties.
Ownership is important to all children over the age of 4. If they’re old enough to have an opinion and to decide their own likes and dislikes, then they’re old enough to appreciate involvement in decision making.
Moving with a baby or toddler is relatively easy; their home is wherever you are and they have no strong attachments to anything other than you, so they will be easily made happy by maintaining their normal routine even in a different country.
Older children will have more doubts but allowing them to get involved in finding out information, putting together lists of exciting opportunities, packing their own things and keeping in touch with people who are important to them, will help you all to overcome the doubts and look forward to the positives…
Keep your doubts to yourself
If your children sense that you have doubts and anxieties about the move (which of course you do) then it will make it harder for them to get excited about it. Children take our feelings into consideration much more than we give them credit for and our fears and anxieties quickly become theirs. Once this happens it can be difficult to break – you may overcome your worry and move on through logic and reasoning, your child, who lacks these advanced skills, may not. Be honest about the positives and be honest when finding out new information; don’t share negativity.
Let your children make a list of all the things that they want/need to take with them. It’s unlikely that younger children will think of the essentials – that’s your job – but they will list all the things that will help them to retain a sense of familiarity and comfort. When it’s time to pack give them responsibility for assembling all the items on the list and packing them. Tick them off as you go and you’ll have no last-minute worries about whether Ted made it into the suitcase.
Create some continuity
It’s the small things that can make a difference. Continuity in routines, food, toys, games, books, favourite blankets, even pets (if you can) will help your children to settle and not be overwhelmed by unfamiliarity.
If the children are going to be immersed in the language of your new home give them a head start by learning to speak it together before you leave. Engaging a tutor can be very helpful to achieve this.
The most important advice is to keep your children close. Don’t alienate them by making all the decisions for them and forcing them to cooperate; approach the move as a family endeavour and get everyone to have a positive input. Give them some responsibility and ownership, don’t dismiss their concerns, let them talk about it as much as they need to (even if it’s an overload for you) and reassure them at every opportunity. Cooperation, love and respect will make this work.
Lots more articles on this topic can be found on ExpatChild.com.