Moving is stressful. For everyone. Whether it’s moving flat from one part of town to another, moving to a different city or even to another part of the world, the process is a huge challenge. We tend to think about it in adult terms though- the actions we have to take in order to get all our belongings to the new home, deciding what to keep and what to discard, the problems it causes us. But we are usually the ones who have initiated the change for the family, and so the kids have to tag along, sometimes unhappily.
We can make it easier for them though. Here are a few important pointers on things you can do to make the move less stressful for your children.
- Discuss WHY you are moving; why you considered this the best choice for your family at this time. As I said, we parents are moving by choice. Be clear that THE DECISION TO MOVE is yours alone to make as parents and providers and a time will come when they will be able to decide for themselves where they choose to live. Kids need to understand their parents make decisions based on what they truly believe is best for the family.
- Involve them actively in researching the city or country you will move to. Find photos, histories, online communities. Involve their friends in this (their friends can be your biggest allies or your greatest obstacle to your child’s understanding and accepting your decision) and make it as exciting and special as possible.
- Give them the chance to ask all the questions they may have. Answer these in all honesty. Don’t fib, fudge or fake it. Ever. If you don’t know the answer, involve them in finding out the answer. Let them see it is important to you to find out. Do not promise anything you don’t absolutely know you’ll be able to provide. Don’t lose their trust. Trusting you will provide them a sense of security. If they trust your decisions they will feel less apprehensive. Your honesty is their security.
- Prepare them for possible language barriers by getting language tutors or lessons if necessary. You can take classes too, which will give them a sense that you’re all in the same boat.
- Involve them in deciding what they will take or leave behind. Allow them some decision-making. It will help them feel that they have some say in what is happening to them.
- Ask them what they’ll miss most. Research if those things are available in your new country. Take them with you if possible. Being surrounded by familiar things will comfort them in their new home (this includes favorite foods, toys, books, clothing, games, blankets, and anything else that provides them a sense of security).
- If there are things you must leave behind, talk about saying goodbye to them on several occasions, plan how or when to say goodbye, progressively distance them mentally from the object (or pet or person) over a period of time.
- Get in touch with possible schools and teachers, and involve them in communicating with them prior to your move. If possible, try to establish a pen pal relationship with one or more kids at their new school prior to moving. This is one of the most important aspects for your kids and, given the technology of our times, one of the easiest to accomplish if you are able to choose a school prior to moving.
- Help them make a concrete plan for how they will communicate with their friends and family back home. Assure them you’ll help them make that possible. Skype, WhatsApp… we have many ways to stay in touch now which allow us to see everyone in real time.
- Discuss how you will participate in helping them make new friends and/or adjust to their new school. (You may be surprised to find some kids would rather mom or dad NOT enter with them or hold their hand or kiss them goodbye on their first day).
- Try to help create a sense of excitement about their new home. Find out about fun and entertaining or unique things and places your new country will have. Use verbs, adjectives and adverbs that are positive, make a plan for visiting or finding them once you’ve settled in (keep your promises when you do).
- Help them feel safe by discussing possible situations you’ll encounter in your host country in real terms, especially with older kids and teens. Let them know your family has a concrete plan for staying away from potentially volatile situations, discuss the reasons behind them (such as protests, etc.), let them help research so they’ll understand them. Discuss, plan and practice what you would do in specific emergency situations without alarming them. Explain very matter-of-factly that families should hold emergency drills no matter where they live. Let them know what your decision would be if your host country becomes too hostile to live in (have you even thought of this?)
- Tell your kids exactly how long you will be in your host country (if you know) and when you’ll be returning home. It gives them something to look forward to, and most importantly lets them know GOODBYE’S ARE NOT FOREVER. If you’re leaving one host country for another and know you won’t return help your kids plan how they will communicate with their friends they are leaving behind. One of the things I feel is that goodbye’s feel like funerals – many of us literally GO INTO DEEP MOURNING with each and every move.
- Research extra-curricular activities your kids might participate in in your host country prior to moving. Look for things they will want to do or be involved in when they get to their new home, and think of the things they will want to continue, to see if it’s possible to keep that activity going in the new place. Discuss their options with them. This can give them something to look forward to.
- Let them spend time with the people they will be leaving behind to prepare them mentally for departure. Participate in talking about your move with their friends. Their friends may be feeling sad and apprehensive too. If you can answer some of their questions as well, they may willingly be helpful in preparing your kids (or at least not work against you) prior to departure.
- Most importantly, involve them often in discussions about how they are adapting to the IDEA of moving. Spend time with them and encourage them to ask questions. The more you can answer prior to your move, the less insecure they will feel when they arrive.
- Create a sense of excitement and adventure and ward off potential future problems.
- Read up and learn about TCKs (third culture kids). It’s very important as a parent you learn to understand the fears, sadness, anger, loss, confusion and other emotions your expatriate children may be feeling because they’ll need your help (and possibly professional help) to work through them.
- Your child needs to know you MUST live within your means and it helps to let your child in on what your means are (in a general manner). Don’t stress your kids out about money, don’t show them you’re stressed about money, but do be firm and informative about what your financial situation is, how you plan to live, the lifestyle they can expect to have overseas, and how you’ve prepared or planned your wealth management (inasmuch as your kid might understand, depending on their age). They may be moving into a lower or higher lifestyle than they’re accustomed to. If you think your children don’t think about these things you are wrong.
- Listen to them! Listen to them! Listen to them!There are so many things you can do, as many options as there are children. The best thing you can do (and most important) is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS.
Remember, you are moving by choice. Your kids are not. It is only fair you take them into account in all aspects and let them participate in as many as possible. You must prepare them and allow them to participate SUFFICIENTLY and enough TIME IN ADVANCE for them to process. Don’t assume anything. If they don’t ask you, ask them. Initiate communication.