How to help your expat teen cope with moving

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How to help your teenager relocate overseas

Being a teenager can be wonderful and testing at the same time. Being an expat teenager can bring additional blessings and challenges. Expat teens go through the natural developmental challenges of adolescence while subject to a transient life and adjusting to a move may take time. Another relocation, another goodbye to friends, another school to adapt to… But a move is also an opportunity to make a fresh start, learn more about another culture, learn a new language and develop an expanded worldview.

So how can you help your teen embrace the transition and cope with any difficulties along the way?

This is a complex topic and there are several parameters to take into account, such as number of moves, age of the teen, how smooth the transition is, how much time there is/was to prepare for the change, family set-up, if the parent(s) is/are happy with the move…

Here are some brief pointers on how you can begin to help your teen:

  1. Ask your teen to describe his expat experience in three words. Use this question as a way to discuss his feelings/thoughts. Listen to your teen, even if what he says is difficult to hear.
  2. Use the knowledge gleaned from the above-mentioned step to think together of coping tools and ways to help reduce his painful feelings. Avoid giving instant solutions to your child.
  3. It is important to pass on the message of embracing and celebrating the blessings of expat life. It is also essential to convey an optimistic message: that these uncomfortable feelings will lessen in time. This too shall pass… Every thought, form, feeling and situation in life is temporary. Isn’t it comforting to know that one’s sadness will have an end? If you’d like to tell your teen a story with this pearl of wisdom, please check my previous blog:
  4. Remind your teen that friendship and love are not gone; all the important people in the previous country/school are not gone. Your teen can still communicate via email, Skype, telephone etc. Encourage your teen to take advantage of online technology.
  5. Put up photos of your previous life so as to give a sense of stability and continuity (assuming, of course, that your teen is ok with this).
  6. If the painful feelings persist over time and affect your teen expat’s functioning (disturbed sleeping pattern, poor academic performance, isolation, high levels of anxiety, to name but a few), get professional help at once. Counselling can be very effective in helping your teen deal with this transition.

I would love to hear from you. In your experience, what has helped your teen cope with moving and embracing this transition? Which of your strategies has really worked?

By Vivian Chiona

Vivian Chiona is the founder of Expat Nest (, the leading online counselling service for expats. Vivian is a registered psychologist with Masters degrees in both Child & Adolescent Psychology and Health Psychology. She is school counsellor at the British School in The Netherlands and a taskforce member of the International School Counsellor Association. She also does project-based training for the Council of Europe’s Pestalozzi Programme and is a facilitator for their online Community of Practice. A multilingual bicultural and expat with family all over the world, Vivian herself feels most at home in the international community and is inspired by its diversity.

Expatability Chat Podcast

If you’d prefer to listen to me talk about this topic, here are a couple of my podcast episodes about Moving Abroad With Teenagers

Moving Abroad with Teenagers

Moving with Teens with The Teen Confidence Coach

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