Help your expat child to be happy

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Not all expat kids are happy

Previously, we looked at how to recognise that your child is unhappy.

After identifying that your child is unhappy in their new life, by the careful conversation openers we read in the previous post, we are ready to move on to the next stage.

Improve the happiness of your child

First, take a good hard look at your own behaviour and comments. Do you often complain about the country in which you live? It is easy to fall into the trap of commenting on the differences between your home country and the place in which you are living, but making it sound negative.

“Oh, for goodness sake. The Swiss neighbour has just asked me not to mow the lawn because it is lunch time here. Jeez, they are fussy about noise.”


“Hmm, the Swiss neighbour just told me that they don’t allow mowing of the lawns during lunchtime. I will do it later, so we can all have lunch in peace.”

If you constantly complain about the new country, then don’t expect your kids to love it – they take their cue from you!

This doesn’t mean that you have to pretend to love your new life, if you are struggling, but do try to retain an open mind and positive attitude.

Tips to help improve happiness

  • Talk with your children about what you can do to help them settle. If there is a problem in school, would they like you to intervene? What about friends – is there someone in your work who has children of a similar age? Could you encourage your child to invite a school mate to come around?
  • Take the time to go to the school gates (if your child is young enough to still want picked up) and talk to some of the other parents.
  • It can be hard to work up the courage to approach a group of parents, but that is what your child had to do – walk into a classroom filled with strange kids.
  • Go to any activity or parents evening in school, and think about joining the PTA to meet other parents and kids.
  • Make sure that home life is as settled as possible. Keep any arguments away from your child. Stick to the same routines that you had before the move.
  • What is your child’s bedroom like? Is it comforting and familiar, or have you been concentrating on other areas in the house?
  • Have you thought about getting a pet? Walking the dog gets you and your child out of the house, and gives you an opportunity to meet other people in the area. A pet is also provides an ‘open ear’ for your child to talk about her troubles.
  • Check out youth groups and classes in the area. Is there something that your child has always wanted to learn? Now is the time to start.
  • Do exciting things at the weekend. Explore the area.
  • Don’t go home too soon – if you take the kids back within the first six months, you will unsettle them and it will take them even longer to find their feet.
  • Consider staying in your host country for at least part of the school holidays – many expats head home for the holidays, but this can be a great opportunity to see more of your host country and do a bit of travelling.

The most common reason for a ‘failure’ of an overseas assignment, ie a premature return to the home country, is the unhappiness of the family, so speak to your HR department to see if they have any programmes or suggestions.

By Lynn Schreiber

Lynn is a British writer and blogger who has lived and worked in Switzerland and Germany. She has a particular interest in the rights of women and children, and in 2012 launched Jump! Magazine, an online resource for pre-teen girls. She blogs on her personal blog and for Gates Foundation blog
Lynn’s first book ‘Learn Twitter in Ten Minutes’ was published in September 2012.

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