By Laurel Brown
Parents moving internationally will face many questions from their children. What kinds of food will they eat? Will they be the only ones of their ethnicity? Where will they go to school? How will they make new friends?
The issues vary depending on age: Babies and toddlers won't worry about leaving their friends, for a teenager, this can be devastating.
There are many ways to deal with the new reality, but the most important one is that parents need to talk to their kids about the move before it happens so that all questions get answered, or at least heard. Moving overseas is a hard and busy time -- you're lining up international movers
, checking out customs, trying to organize packing -- and it can easy to overlook the kids.
Older children especially need to feel like they at least have a say in the details, even if they can’t make decisions about the move overall. Younger children often feel general anxiety about a big move. “Many families report that young children worry about being left behind, ” says Patricia Linderman, co-author of The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad
Children older than preschool age will be most concerned about friends. Encourage your kids to collect addresses and e-mails of their closest friends so that they can be pen pals. Help your children find new friends after the move by making connections to other expats with children. There are also several websites, like tckid.com
, that address issues for expat kids. By reading about the experiences of other children, yours can get ready for their own experiences.
Education is a major concern for both parents and children moving overseas. Many times, expat children attend an international or English-language school. These schools tend to follow an American or British curriculum, and the students come from many different countries. Local schools can be a good option for younger kids.
These schools give the best opportunities for learning the language and adapting to the new country. For young children, these advantages outweigh the problems posed by learning difficult subjects in a foreign language.
With any type of school, research each school thoroughly and get references, because schools can vary in their level of quality.
Both children and parents should try to make connections in their new home before the move. Linderman suggests finding a “sponsor” in the new country. “It was easier to cope when I had good information and support from others, especially other international families when I had kids along.” Look for sponsors either by talking to acquaintances already in the country or through your company. You can help a child understand what the move means by doing research as a family on the new country.
The issues involved with taking children overseas may seem daunting, but they are surmountable, and the experience they gain is often beneficial These kids often have greater ease with new languages, and a certain world savvy in dealing with problems.
Also remember that kids are adaptable -- maybe even more so than their parents. If you make sure that their international transition is as smooth as possible, your children should be able to get used to and enjoy their new home.
Laurel Brown is the author of articles on health, diversity education, history, and astronomy. She has a background in international and outreach education, editing, and observational astronomy. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the history of science.