Five ways to help prepare your child for a move abroad

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Moving overseas with children – emotional preparation

When you’re planning your overseas move and there are children involved, the planning is so spectacularly complicated that it’s almost impossible to think of everything. No doubt you have lists as long as both arms, which are a constant work in progress – and you’re still worrying about what you might have missed. Here are a few of the most common oversights to help you out, drawn both from my own experiences and the anecdotes of friends and colleagues…

1) Give your child a voice

One of the easiest things to overlook, while you’re rushing around putting plans in place, is that your child has ideas of his or her own. All too often an overseas move is something that happens to a child, instead of being something that involves a child. However, letting your child have some input will make life much easier in the long run.

Please don’t misunderstand me on this. I’m not saying your child must have a say in whether you move overseas or not! That is not their decision to make, and they need to know that. What they do need is to be secure in the knowledge that as adults, and parents, you are making that decision based on what you truly believe is best for the whole family. Own your decision. The more you make that decision yours, the less your child has to worry about and they can carry on being a child. Being secure in your decision imparts a sense of security to your child.

Obviously, I’m not advocating giving your 9-year-old unlimited powers over major life changing decisions. But having a say in which school they attend, how they want their bedroom decorated or perhaps even whether the house will have a garden or not, can make a massive difference to their sense of security and wellbeing. It’s simple to control too. Only offer limited choices that are pre-approved by you. So, a choice of two schools, for example, or even simply a paint chart!

2) See things from a child’s-eye view

“Slow down – everything is moving too fast and I’m scared! One minute I’m secure in my home, with my family and my friends and the next I’m off to the ‘other side of the world’. What will happen to my cat? Will I be able to take Teddy? Will Sarah next door still come and play? Won’t we fall off into space? Are we taking our house? Will the postman still bring me my letters from Grandma?”

The world of a child is unexpectedly complex and the things they worry about are not always the things we might expect. Added to this, their understanding of time, distance and space is very limited, so the concept of moving to a new home, in another part of the world, for a defined period, can be totally alien. By being aware of this, you will be able to help them understand it all a little better.

3) Friendships are important

We’ve all heard the saying ‘friends are the family you choose’ and this concept starts at an early age. Your list of things to do will include plans to keep in touch with family – but how thoroughly have you considered your child’s need to stay in touch with friends?

In reality, any child under the age of 12 won’t maintain a long-distance friendship for a prolonged period of time but feeling that they are able to do so is vital. Contact their friend’s parents and swap addresses, Skype and social media details, depending on age suitability. Promise your child that you will help them to keep in touch and keep that promise until they lose interest of their own accord.

4) Set clear expectations

If your old dog isn’t coming with you, then make sure your child understands that right from the start and keep explaining as necessary. Make clear lists together of what can come and what must stay behind and put reassuring plans in place for the ‘left behind’ things. You are excited about the move, but your child may get stuck on the perceived abandonment of the cat, dog, or even your house.

Set aside plenty of time to listen to their questions and to provide honest, straightforward answers. Don’t be overly elaborate – and don’t make up stories that you think will make the news easier. The key is to provide easily understood facts that provides much needed reassurance. Sometimes the truth can be hard to hear but finding out later that your parents lied to you is so much harder!

5) The emotional preparation

There’s so much to do, so many practicalities to think of, that who could blame you if emotional preparation has taken a bit of a back seat? After all, it’s adult human nature to ‘block out’ things that we don’t want to think about and hide our feelings under layers of planning and practical actions.

Not so for a child. Children do not have the ability to put fears, anxieties or thoughts to one side. Their feelings are their driving force and can change from one minute to the next. Answer their questions, spend lots of time talking about the move and observe your child’s behaviour whenever you can – an unusually quiet child can be a sign that something is weighing on his mind.

Taking that little extra time to make sure your child is emotionally prepared can save a lot of time further down the road when the child becomes emotionally exhausted.

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