How to Help Kids Adjust to an Overseas Move

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Helping Kids Adjust to an International Move

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Moving can be a trying time for children. They often are moving against their will and naturally despise change. Moving to another country is even more of a jarring transition in their young lives. What can you do to help kids adjust to an international move? This guide will give parents and other caregivers some strategies for helping kids adjust to international living.

What concerns kids who are moving to another country?

Before a child can adjust to an international move, they need to accept that the move is happening. Moving overseas is often hard for kids because the natural fear and anxiety about going somewhere foreign and leaving everything you know behind is often intensified for them. We often idealize our youth, but if you take some time to really remember your thoughts as a kid, you’ll recall that the world was full of irrational fears. Moving overseas scares adults, so just imagine what it may mean for children who can be deathly afraid of ghosts or scary-looking cartoon characters.

As a parent or caretaker of a child who is moving, you must sort out the irrational and rational fears. Younger children may only partially understand what going to another country really means. Unfortunately, as their classmates hear about their relocation, they may get that classic grade school misinformation. 

Here are some irrational fears that you may have to address for children who are moving overseas.
  • The country you are moving to is “evil” or dangerous
  • They will not be allowed to speak their native language anymore
  • They are getting kicked out of their home country because they did something bad
  • They will no longer be citizens of home country when they move
  • They can never come back
  • Any number of stereotypical rumors about the destination that children may come up with 

Things for kids to work on

It is important to calm children about these fears without misleading them about the real challenges that lie ahead. The fact remains that moving to another country means adjusting to a new culture and routine. These are all real things than can be intimidating. Tell the kids in your care to focus on the following things to make the transition easier for them.
  • Learning the language. If the destination country primarily speaks a foreign language, it is important that the kids start learning it before the move. Knowing the local language will make school much easier for children, and if they are young enough they may still be in the prime language learning years. Usually children learn a second language much quicker than their parents.
  • Understanding cultural differences. The concept of culture may seem strange to some kids, so it is important to stress to them that different is not the same as wrong before they move to a foreign place. This works both ways. They should be prepared to accept that they will be different from everyone else in school and most social situations, but should also not harshly judge the local children for being culturally different from what they are used to. 
  • Balance staying in touch with making local friends. One of the most upsetting things about moving for children is being taken away from their friends. The internet and cell phones make the world smaller than ever, however. If kids are old enough to use these devices, they can keep in touch with their old friends. However, for a child to truly adapt to living in a new country, he or she must also be willing to interact with local kids and make new friends. It may not happen right away, but once a kid gets at least one local friend, the entire experience will seem better to them.
  • Realize that you can maintain your identity. Children may be upset that they’re no longer Canadian when moving to another country. Explain to them that they are always going to be Canadian (or wherever they are from) but that being in a new country makes them a part of another identity that isn’t mutually exclusive. If the child is having difficulty adjusting to the local culture, remind them that at home with the family, they can always be themselves without worrying about foreign cultural rules that they are just learning.
  • Focus on the advantages of the new country. There has to be a reason for your move. Share that with your child. Appeal to their sense of adventure and exploration. Traveling the world is cool, let your kids know it. Offer to go to local landmarks (preferably kid-friendly fun ones) and try to get them interested in the culture and history of the country before they even get there. Reading and learning about a place beforehand could get them excited about seeing it in real life.
With a little preparation and refocusing, children can adapt to anything. They may be more vocally opposed to big changes, but in reality they are a bit more adaptable than their adult counterparts. It is important for caregivers to remember this when stressing out about their kids adjusting to an international move. In the long run, they’ll probably adjust better than you do.
 

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on January 15, 2015

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