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. (At the end of this article I'll list some resources I think are VERY helpful).
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.
But what if we're moving with kids?
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.
Great books you can read about moving overseas with kids and parenting them (one is for teens):
Third Culture Kids is one of the best books written about expatriate children. It defines what a third culture kid (TCK) is and discusses some of the problems and feelings they experience as well as the results of all the moving around!
You can get it instantly on your Kindle here: Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds (Second Revised Edition)
Club Expat: A Teenager's Guide to Moving Overseas is written by two expat brothers who wrote the book while attending Yale. See what readers have to say. It gets 5 stars all the way.
Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World also gets 5 stars all the way. This book specifically for parents relocating with children really hits the mark with readers.
You can find these and many more books about moving abroad and living overseas in the Living Overseas Bookstore.
Be sure to visit our Expat Kids Reading Room, Relocation Reading Room, our Living Overseas, our Repatriation Reading Room and all our other Reading Rooms, at our sister site GoSouthExpat.com all of which contain articles we hand picked for you or were contributed by other expatriates to the site.
One of the best ways to obtain any information you need about expatriate living is to participate actively on the site either through our Expat Chat Room, Country Specific Expat Forums, or by introducing yourself to Our Online South America Expat Community where you can ask questions (or help others out) by contributing our own thoughts.
If you’re interested in exploring options for Spanish lessons for yourself or your children, we’ve listed multiple options and programs available on this page: Learn Spanish. One of the best things you can do to prepare for moving with kids is to provide them at least the language basics. Being able to communicate is one of the most effective self-esteem boosters.
Some individuals and families need a little extra coaching. In fact, read this to see why I, as both an expat kid and an expat mother, believe Culture Transition Coaching is the ONE THING every expat should have access too (and most of us never do!)
When moving with kids, one of the most responsible actions you can take is to store valuable or irreplaceable family documents in a safe place and have your wealth management, will and testament in order. No one likes to talk about this subject but it is your responsibility – it truly is! – as an expat parent to have these things in order. If anything should happen to you in a foreign country, would strangers, your consulate, or the local authorities know what to do for your child? Download this ExPat Life Portfolio Kit (it’s free!) and read it. It’s provided by an American company that serves USA expats, but no matter what your country of origin, read it and get a feel for the type of preparation you should be making to keep your kids safe.
You’ll find many more valuable resources online at GoSouthExpat.com and BoliviaBella.com Please take this opportunity to let us know what topics we can cover that are of interest to you.