Children thrive on familiarity and routine. That’s why moving abroad with children, no matter how near or far, can be quite stressful and unsettling for the kids. Moving your family to a new country can be an overwhelming, daunting, exhilarating, nerve wracking, and all consuming experience. While you busy yourself with making lists, researching neighborhoods, homes, and schools, selling cars and so on, children’s feelings can sometimes get lost in the process despite your best intentions. Often, parents feel that if they exude excitement and enthusiasm their children will follow suit. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Although it is great to focus on the positive aspects of moving and demonstrate the exciting possibilities of a new journey, children must be allowed to express their own feelings about moving – good, bad, or indifferent. In permitting children to explore all of their emotions, you will open an honest and meaningful dialogue with your children and ultimately ease their transition.
Telling your children
First to consider is when and how to tell your children about the move. Tell children as soon as you know the news is definite. Kids are smart and overhear adult conversations. Make sure to tell them before they find out accidentally. A well-planned conversation that allows time for feelings to be shared and questions to be addressed is paramount. Depending on your children’s age spread and temperaments, you might want to tell them individually to address developmentally appropriate concerns independently. However, the value of sharing the news as a family is that children might benefit from their sibling’s reactions and questions. Create a plan of when and how to tell your children that works best for your family. Be sure to allow time for the news to be digested and to encourage kids to ask questions as they arise.
Research your destination together
Spend time learning about your next destination and make it fun, exciting, and age appropriate. Search the Internet together, get out a map, go to the library, get some picture books, and talk with other families from that location. Children can create a list of questions they have or things they want to do in their new neighborhood.
Change is normal
Reinforce for your children that change is normal and exciting. All things change. Point out other transitions they have successfully made in life that may have been a bit scary such as going to a new grade or joining a new sport or activity. Reinforce their success in these transitions.
All feelings are okay
Allow kids to express their feelings – all feelings are okay – it’s what they do with them that matters! Kids may feel scared, sad, angry, worried, upset, excited, or they may not know what to feel. The more you can explore feelings and talk about ways to manage those feelings, the less likely kids will internalize or act out those feelings at a later time.
Plan your goodbye
Make a plan for children to say goodbye. Make a list of the people and places your children want to see/visit before you go. Take photos or make videos of your old home, neighborhood, school, and friends. Have a goodbye party and allow friends to sign a book or t-shirt. Give out cards with your new address and information. Create a memory box or scrapbook.
Get kids involved
Allow your children to get involved in the move. The more control kids feel they have, the less anxious they will be. Some ideas include: packing their own belongings, choosing the color of their new room, organizing their toys, making a list of things they want to do in their new destination, and packing a special bag or box of their most treasured possessions to keep with them during the move.
Research your new school and neighborhood
Help your children find out as much as possible about their new school and neighborhood. Check out the school website. Plan a visit to the school or ask a staff member email photos of the school and teachers. Set up a phone call or Skype call with the principal and have questions prepared in advance. Contact the parent association and ask for a “buddy family” you can speak with before you move. Research before and after school clubs and other school related events.
Ways to make new friends
In order to make new friends you must join, join, join! Making friends is a proactive process and kids will need your help to do this. Join sports teams, religious groups, expat groups, community clubs, or anything that speaks to your children’s interests. Host a “moving-in” party. Have a lemonade stand or make cookies for your new neighbors. Spend time outdoors, walking or biking around your new neighborhood. Make a point to organize play dates for your children.
Dr Woodring is a licensed psychologist in Connecticut and New York. She wrote this book after moving abroad with her children (4 daughters) to London and back to the USA 5 years later.
Many more tips and activities for children moving to a new home can be found in “My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move: A Workbook for Children Moving to a New Home” available on amazon.com. For more information visit vagabondfamily.org
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
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