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How to Help Kids Deal With Culture Shock

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Culture shock is something that everyone has to deal with when moving to a substantially different location. Whether you are moving to a new country or moving to a culturally different region within your homeland, adjusting can be difficult.  If kids have to move to these new places, culture shock affects them too, but in different ways. How can you help children cope with culture shock after a move?

Identifying and addressing culture shock in children can be tricky because a typical child does not have the same everyday concerns as an adult. Young children don't worry about tipping, driving, dating, or workplace dynamics. To identify what changes will upset your kids, remember what is important to them.


The most painful part of moving long distance for children is leaving their friends. Most adults remember, as a child, having a friend move away almost seemed like they were dying. That may sound dramatic, but if the move is far enough, your child may never see old friends again. Culture shock is made worse by being friendless in an unknown world.
  • Allow them some time to say goodbye. If you give kids enough warning about a move, they can inform their friends and say goodbye. You may want to set up a going away play date for your children.
  • Don't give false hope. Children have difficulty understanding time and distance. They may think that they will be able to see their old friends as frequently as they used to before the move. Don't promise visitors from home unless it can actually happen. Also, make it clear that the move is permanent and not a vacation.
  • Be honest but not harsh. You know that given time, your children will make new friends and mostly forget their old ones. Don't tell them that because it may make them cling harder to old friendships and resist new ones.
  • Tell your child to have an open mind and attempt to make new friends. These new friends may not look like them, act like them, or even speak the same language, but getting a local friend is the best way to end culture shock.
  • Understand how children's friendships are treated in your new region. Having children visit schoolmates' homes is very rare in some cultures. You need to research just how much coordination between parents of friendly children is typical in your new area. You'll have to tell your children how to be guests in another person's home as well.


Kids are usually picky eaters. The food they like in their home country may not be available in a new country if you moved overseas.  If your child doesn't particularly like fish or rice and you move to China, the culinary culture shock could be tantrum-inducing. There's even regional differences in food availability during domestic moves, as well.
  • Try to pack some of your kid's favourite dry food, like cereal. It is difficult to get many foods through customs during international moves, but unperishable items are often allowed. See if you can get friends or family to ship familiar foods after you use your initial supply.
  • Make kids excited about the local cuisine. Do some research and try to find a local food that falls within your child's taste palette. There has to be something, right?
  • Let them expand their tastes. Children hate trying new foods, but with a little convincing, and maybe some trickery, you can get them to enjoy foods they thought they would never try. Mix some local food into a known dish and see if it passes the taste test.
  • If all else fails, chains usually exist everywhere. This may not be the most healthy or cost effective option, but it is preferable to having your children starve if the local food makes them gag. Even McDonalds now has some healthy options (such as a happy meal with apple slices and milk) do what you can to keep your kids fed and healthy. Of course, some chains have altered menus in different countries, so at some point your kid is going to need to adjust.


School is work for kids and can be as stressful for them as your job is for you. Different cultures teach their children in drastically different ways, so it shouldn't be surprising that school is a huge source of culture shock for children.
  • Research schools on an individual basis. Some are more accommodating to outside cultures than others. If the local language is different than your child's, look for courses that teach that language as a second language. Not only will that class be helpful, but its presence should indicate that a school is open to outsiders.
  • Warn your kids that they may be teased for being different. Don't give them anxiety about it, but let them understand that some kids may unfairly resent them for being from a different culture.
  • If the school's strictness is vastly different from what your child is used to, let him know. For example, a child raised in relatively relaxed Western schools will suffer severe culture shock when faced with the regimented style of most Asian schooling.

Additional tips for helping kids deal with culture shock

  • Research the new location with your children before the move. Let them begin to understand what the cultural differences will be before they have to face them.
  • Explain to children that there is no right or wrong way to do some things. A child may look at a new culture as being "wrong" when it is just different. Teach your kids to understand and tolerate foreign cultures without compromising their morals. This can be difficult since adults struggle with this constantly.
  • Allow them to stay in touch with friends and family back home using the internet.
  • Try to get kids excited about the new house and yard. Children are sometimes extremely upset by the loss of any item, so the loss of a home and a fun yard can be difficult. Consider the safety of outdoor activities in the new location. If the culture allows for a safer environment for kids to play outside, let your child know about this positive change.
  • Keep their immediate surroundings similar. Let children's rooms be their sanctuary of sameness to retreat to when the culture seems too foreign to them. Paint the rooms the same color. Bring a lot of the toys and stuffed animals from home into their new rooms. Pieces of home can help anyone deal with culture shock.

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on November 13, 2014 - Moving Expert
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