Moving with kids to South America can be especially challenging but what you'll read below applies to just about any move, anywhere. As a former expat kid myself and now the mother of one, I’d like to share some thoughts with you based on my personal experience, on how you can help make the transition smoother for the family as a whole.
Moving, aside from being a physically monumental task, is usually accompanied by a fairly complex mix of stress, apprehension, excitement, impatience, sadness or loss, and others. For adults this is compounded by the fact that we are responsible for what I call the 5 Ps of Moving: planning, preparing, packing, paying for it and parting ways.
However, we also have the opportunity to process all the details as we're planning. We see and foresee, research and explore our destination, and pretty much know what we're heading into physically, in addition to the fact that, unlike our kids, we’re moving by choice (this is one of the most important points I want you to keep in mind as you continue to read).
Our involvement in each and every detail does partially and gradually prepare us mentally. However, we don't often get the emotional preparation we should. We'll push our feelings out of the way in order to continue forward with details and may not allow ourselves to truly 'process' it all until we reach our destination, find housing, unpack, and finally settle in. Then it hits us either suddenly or manifests itself gradually.
In our hectic rush to finalize all the details, are we forgetting to prepare our kids? Are we preparing them and including them sufficiently
and far enough in advance
Most of us as responsible expat parents do discuss our moves with our children. But are we giving them sufficient mental preparation and providing enough detail - really? Because we are personally involved in every detail of the move, we may forget that they are seeing things in a completely different way and experiencing very different emotions.
In some kids anxiety and fear, loss and sadness can be very strong. Even expat kids who have moved several times can (based on their previous experiences):
a) feel apprehensive about making new friends
They may be thinking “Why am I always the one who has to make the effort?”
b) worry about being the new kid at school
They may be thinking “I'm the new kid again, what if they hate me, what if I can't find my way around, what if I don't know the rules and break them, what if I can't speak the language, what if I don't like the food, what if they don't offer my favorite sport", etc.
c) lose sleep over going to an unknown place
They may be thinking “Mom and Dad have seen it (or photos of it), talked to people there, been informed, gotten language training from their company, etc. What about me?”
d) feel tremendous loss
They may be thinking “I was just getting to know my friends/family, oh great - more goodbyes, I like our house, I can't leave my girlfriend, I'll miss my favorite TV shows, I'll hate the food”, etc.
e) resist forming new relationships and friendships
They may be thinking, as I did many times, “What for? We'll just move again soon...”
f) worry about being able to communicate their needs
They may be thinking “I'll never learn the language, no one will understand me, what if I need help/get lost/get hungry/need the restroom, what if I don't make friends.”
g) worry about their safety
Older kids and teens may be especially apprehensive if they watch the news. Often news from South America deals with strikes, protests, poverty or violence. Younger kids may be afraid of other things - such as flying or new foods or being separated from familiar objects.