“I am an expat child and I don’t like it”
This Google search term led a young reader to ‘Expat Child’, which was a shock, and gave rise to some soul searching amongst the community.
What is the best way to respond to this comment, and how can we help our children when they are unhappy?
We don’t know if the child who sought answers is alone in their unhappiness, or if they confided in an adult. The fact that they ‘asked’ Google, leads me to believe that they haven’t talked to their parents.
Anyone who has moved to a new town, let alone a new country, knows how stressful the first few months are. We are consumed with questions – Which school is the right one for my child? What area of town is good to live in? Where is the nearest doctor and dentist? DIY store and supermarket? Where can I buy familiar ingredients? Is there a library with books in our native language? The list is endless and in this confusion it is easy to take the silence from our children as acceptance of their new home.
This article will deal with the situation from the viewpoint of the parent, and will give tips on recognising the situation, and dealing with it. We will follow up with tips for children in a separate post.
Recognise that your child is unhappy
Generally the older the child, the greater the risk, so pay close attention to children over 10 years, but even younger children can suffer home-sickness and miss their old lives back home.
Signs that your child is struggling:
- Wanting to be alone, retreating into bedroom
- Constant contact with old friends at home
- Not accepting offers of new friendship
- Withdrawn behaviour
- Aggressive or disruptive behaviour
- Change in temperament – a normally cheery child is subdued
These may seem obvious, but in that initial phase when we seek to normalise our lives, these signs can be overlooked.
Accept the feelings of your child
We often try to ‘jolly’ a child out of a mood, or reassure them that they will enjoy their time as an expat child, but this may feel like we are not taking them seriously. How many of you recognise this conversation?
Parent: Hey, how is it going in school?
Child: I hate it. I want to go home
Parent: Oh, don’t be like that, you will like it once you get used to it
Child: No, I won’t. I will always hate it. It is a stupid school and the other kids are stupid too
Parent: Now, don’t say that. It is a good school. Didn’t we take ages to decide on the right school, we looked at several in the area. It was the one that we all liked best, wasn’t it? Once you settle in and make some friends, you will love it.
Child: I don’t want new friends. I want my old friends. You don’t understand me at all. I hate it here, and I hate you.
No wonder the child feels misunderstood. She has told her parent that she is unhappy, and he has dismissed her feelings as mistaken, and wrong. She feels alone and misunderstood, her parent feels cross that she is not making an effort – after all the work they put in to find a good school. There is no communication.
Now try this:
Parent: Hey, how is it going at school?
Child: I hate it. I want to go home
Parent: Hmm, fitting into a new school is tough, isn’t it?
Child: Yes, it is. I don’t like the school and I don’t like the other kids
Parent: What don’t you like about it?
Child: EVERYTHING! The classes are boring, the kids are mean – they don’t speak to me, everyone ignores me, the teacher keeps saying that I have a lot to catch up cause my last school was not as advanced as this one, which is NOT TRUE.
Parent: Yes, I can see why you are unhappy. I find it kind of tough here too sometimes. I miss my old colleagues and our friends back home.
Thus begins a discussion – an honest and open discussion about the overseas assignment. After a while, you can talk about the more positive aspects of living overseas, and the things you like about living there. It is important that the discussion doesn’t end on negative aspects of your new life, and that it ends with a discussion on how you can improve things.
Have you experienced these emotions, either in yourself or your child? How did you deal with them?
By Lynn Schreiber
Lynn Schreiber 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 , 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.