Dare to Prepare
Whether you and your family are about to move overseas or to a neighboring country, preparing your children in the best possible way is key to success. But how? What do we need to prepare them for? Especially when it’s your first time moving abroad and you feel left out in the dark yourself. An important starting point in this process is communicating what remains the same and what will be different in their new place.
Moving with kids is hard on you as a parent; not only are you busy with all the errands, you are also going through a roller coaster of emotions; excitement, fear and perhaps sadness. All this takes its toll on your energy and attention which can cause short tempers, mess in the house, and affect your ability to assist your kids. Recently I facilitated quite a number of trainings for youth who were for the first time moving abroad with their parents. I noticed how often parents struggle in their attempts to prepare their children for the BIG unknown. Often they feel uncertain, puzzled and confused about ‘the best’ approach. So here my top suggestions for all you empathic and awesome parents. I have total empathy where you, awesome parents, are going through my suggestions by no means pretend to be ‘the best’ way, hopefully they just might be useful and help you to gain some insights.
Stay true to your children, stay true to yourself
- What to communicate about the move
- How to communicate about the move
- Some savvyness to prep for the big move
- What to communicate about the move
- Tell your kids about the move as soon as possible. Explain to them why you are relocating overseas, but don’t think you have to provide all the details right away. Give them some time to digest the news and to think about it. Generally speaking children don’t like change and moving abroad is a huge change; so for them it’s receiving bad news!
- Be prepared that your children will receive this news in very different ways, depending on their ages and personalities. The younger ones might take it easier that the older ones, because they already have their own social lives and activities.
- Allow them to react emotionally whenever they need to. They might become emotional about the move at most unexpected moments. They know what they will lose and have to say ‘goodbye’ to without having a clear vision of what they potentially might gain from this move. For them your news just brings lots of uncertainty. Children might rebel – This is their way of gaining some influence in a situation they cannot control. Your kid might also have mixed emotions: one day your child may be thrilled and excited, then blue and depressed the next.
- Only share as much information as your individual children are able to digest.
- An important starting point in this process is communicating what remains the same and slightly shift to what will be new in their new place. In other words, start with a familiar point of reference and ‘build a bridge’ to their different future. An example: review a day at school together and after that help them picture how a day at their new school will look like. What will be the same- all the subjects at school- and what will be different- they will have a warm lunch at the cafeteria. This helps them gain some sense of control in all this uncertainty.
- Make sure the news about you moving will be announced at their schools and sports right after you shared the news with your children. Be optimistic and positive about the expatriate adventure in announcing this news.
- How to communicate about the move
- Start providing them with more information when you feel they are up to it. How do you know when they are ready? One of your children might ‘ignore’ the message about the family moving while the other might start asking questions at some point. That’s a sign you can give some more information.
- Let your kids feel that they can ask you everything, answer all their questions and concerns. Be honest and open, this will help your kids to feel confident.
- Share tangible information with your children. For example if you already found a rental to live in, show them pictures and fantasize about how nice and exciting it will be to live there. Same with the school(s) they will be attending. Show them the websites and the location on Google Earth.
- Show them the city where you are moving to and some activities you know they will like and be interested in. For example: zoo, playgrounds, parks, aquariums, shopping areas, movie theatres.
- Be positive about the relocation. Tell them about the new experiences and opportunities they can expect in their new home. Your kids can feel you: if you are optimistic and positive about the expatriate adventure, then your children are more likely to feel the same way.
- Sometimes its possible to go on a ‘look-see’ pre- departure visit all together as a family. This is an excellent opportunity to explore the new city, go visit the new school and maybe even take a look at the rental. Have them get a sense of their new environment.
3. Some savvyness to prep for the big move
- Help your children plan their goodbyes – Some would prefer having a farewell party, others might want to have a few friends over.
- Help them to find ways to stay in touch with their friends: upon arriving in your place they will long for this contact. Especially when moving to a place where they don’t speak the language, it will really take some time and effort before being able to have play dates or for teens to hang out with their new friends.
- Go create or buy farewell gifts with your children (for example: a magnet with your new address and contact details).
- Update school lists with e-mails addresses, phone numbers, address books etc. You might want to create email- addresses for your children depending on their age. When moving with young children, they might like to make drawings. Send them by snail mail to their friends back home, like in the ‘old days’.
- Let your children decide what to pack for the air shipment as well as in their own little bags or bag packs. They might want to have their favorite stuffed animal or doll, their most comfortable pj’s or their favorite books and some toy.
- Let your kids know they can help with the moving and relocating tasks – children should be involved in packing and unpacking their own room. You can ask them to prepare a special moving box and to include all the essentials they might need during the move. Upon arrival to the new country ask them to be responsible for arranging their new room.
- Saying goodbye to their home: when possible try to schedule this before the movers arrive. For children it is nice to make a mental picture of their home having still with all the furniture in its original place.
Some books on moving abroad
What’s it like living in another country? It can be a little hard to picture. While many readers are satisfied with a vicarious literary experience, a growing number want to live it for themselves. Elisa Bernick offers readers the book she wished she’d had when she and her husband and children were planning their 18-month family sabbatical. This book was one of the first that we purchased as we began our plans. The books covers different family experiences in moving abroad.
Nearly a decade ago, Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds introduced the concept of and has been the authority on the experiences of TCKs-children who grow up or spend a significant part of their childhood living abroad. Early on, TCKs were identified as the rototype citizen of the future. That future is now, as more and more children are growing up among worlds, creating a culturally rich and diverse world. Rich with real-life anecdotes, Third Culture Kids, Revised Edition examines the nature of the TCK experience and its effect on maturing, developing a sense of identity and adjusting to one’s passport country upon return. For many third culture kids, this book will be their first opportunity to discover that they share a common heritage with countless others around the world. This expanded edition profiles the personal challenges that TCKs experience, from feelings of rootlessness and unresolved grief to struggles with maturity and identity.
Club Expat: A Teenager’s Guide to Moving Overseas is a comprehensive guidebook for any young adult or family moving overseas. Written by two former expatriate teenagers, this book is the culmination of experiences of students all around the world and of broad consultations with dozens of experts in the field of international relocation. Covering topics ranging from culture shock to the intricacies of overseas life, this guidebook will serve as the knowledgeable “companion” for young adults embarking on a new journey overseas. Aniket and Akash Shah are brothers who lived with their family in Europe and Asia for several years as expatriates. They were born in Allentown, Pennsylvania and lived in different parts of the United States before moving abroad. Aniket and Akash are members of the Class of 2009 and the Class of 2006, respectively, at Yale University.
The author asked third culture kids around the world to write about their experiences for other children going through similar situations (moving, adapting to a new country, making friends etc.). It is a book by kids for kids with the purpose of helping them to learn from others, reflect and prepare to adapt to new international living experiences.
The only thing you can be sure you can move around the world is your child’s ability to increase his or her interpersonal skills. In today’s global world, each of us is searching for effective tools that can help our children to thrive. Emotional Resilience for the Expat Child provides a step-by-step guide that is designed to increase a child’s emotional vocabulary and emotional intelligence. Doing this will enable your child to achieve his or her fullest potential. The bond between an adult and child is key to the psychological health of the child. For the expatriate child, this bond is more vital than ever. This workbook has been created for you to use together and will provide the perfect place to connect for you and your family. With easily understood and practical steps any parent can apply, you can start to create and enjoy your family’s ’emotion stories’. When a child feels happy and confident, he will be more likely to construct and communicate his emotions. Well-written in an engaging, conversational tone, this book is sensible, straightforward and based on the experiences of expat families. It will give your child what he or she needs to understand and express today in order to grow into a caring, emotional intelligent adult tomorrow.
Moving to a new country is certainly not as hard as it may seem, but it does take a concrete decision, followed by decisive action. This book helps you make that decision, and points you firmly in the right direction to not only move but to live successfully in your new home. Once you’ve read this book you will be able to confidently answer all-important questions such as…
- Is moving abroad really right for me?
- Do I have a temperament suited to the expatriate life?
- Am I considering emigrating for the right reasons?
- Would I be best placed staying where I am?
- Where in the world, home or away, am I likely to be happiest?
What factors should I consider when choosing my new country?