Although the choice, when moving overseas with kids, is yours to make as a parent, you can and should involve your kids in making decisions about other aspects
of the move abroad. The following are some ways you can help your children feel they had a voice in your family's choices. It's important to involve them sufficiently
and involve them far enough in advance
. They may need more time to process through to acceptance of your new life than you do.
1. Involve them actively in researching the 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.)
2. 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 an answer involve them in finding out the answer. Let them see it's important to you to find out. Don't 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.
3. Prepare them for possible language barriers by getting language tutors or lessons if necessary.
4. 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.
5. 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).
6. 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.
7. 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 (or chat or MySpace) 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.
8. 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. Research phone calling, long distance rates, mail delivery times, internet connections before you go. Discuss a budget. 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.)
9. 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).
10. 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).
11. 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?) Unexpected repatriation results in one of the greatest senses of confusion and loss of purpose and direction among both children and adults. Kids do have the potential to understand this.
12. 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 let's 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 the most (and hear the most from other expat kids, especially if they don't return to countries they leave) is that goodbye's feel like funerals - many of us literally GO INTO DEEP MOURNING with each and every move.
13. Research extracurricular activities your kids might participate in in your host country (sports, dance, theater, horseback riding, volunteering, etc.) Do this prior to moving. Discuss their options with them. This can give them something to look forward to.
14. Let them spend time with the people they will be leaving behind. Do this while preparing them mentally for departure. Participate in talking about your move with their friends. Their friends may be feeling apprehension and sadness 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.
15. 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.
16. Create a sense of excitement and adventure and ward off potential future problems.
17. 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.
18. 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.
Depending on the situation (and again, their age) you can help them to neither detest this or feel bad about it (if you'll be living with less), nor take advantage of it and abuse it (if you'll be living with more). You must also teach your children about savings and money management. To do so is your parental obligation! Period. Your best tool is your example!
Purchasing your child's acceptance of your move by promising them (or giving them) many unearned things will NOT benefit them in the future. You must have a wealth management plan and your kids must know that whether they live with much or little, they will be provided for and they are SAFE with you.
19. 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.
20. Don't assume anything. If they don't ask you, ask them. Initiate communication. It is your obligation to provide for them and any contingency that may affect them. You are the parent. Be responsible in your guidance, your actions, and your ability to provide. These things must never be left to chance.
Moving overseas with kids doesn't have to be a nightmare. It truly doesn't.
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 many. You must prepare them and allow them to participate SUFFICIENTLY and enough TIME IN ADVANCE for them to process.
Your child will trust you if you take the steps outlined on this, and the previous two pages of this section. Trusting you is THE KEY to accepting your decision and learning to live fully, love you and themselves, and feel they BELONG no matter what their destination is.
I'm Charis, your webmaster. I lived as an expat kid my entire life and now I'm the mother of one. I've shared this with you fully from my own experience and it truly comes from the heart. I'd like you to know that you can help your children and yourselves avoid much undue pain and confusion. Read more about me.
Please take the time to talk about these issues with your kids. Identity crises are TOO COMMON among expat kids. You can help them understand your lifestyle, the reasons you move, and that it's OK to be a global citizen. Point out the advantages and privileges of experiencing different cultures and what this can mean for their future. Don't assume they'll love traveling. Don't force them to love it. But do help them find a way to love themselves. They need to know how valuable, meaningful and precious they are.
Your kids should never associate their self-worth with where they live or where they are from (or not knowing how to answer that).