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Moving Abroad with Children: Easing the Transition

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Moving Abroad with Children

Moving to a new country is daunting- even the most prepared adult can find themselves dealing with difficulty in transitioning from one country to another. New places are intimidating, new people, new cultures, new way of life- there’s no denying that moving abroad is already a massive change that takes courage, wisdom, and determination. Imagine an international move from the perspective of a child and it is easy to see why parents face especially difficult considerations when moving internationally. This article aims to take a look at expert’s opinions on how moving abroad with children affects their mental and emotional health, and to offer helpful ideas which can help to ease the transition when moving to a new country.

 The Good News…and the Bad News:

We will start with the not-so-good-news, and then take a look at the benefits that can come from moving abroad with children.

The not-so-good news:

We have already done a little research into the subject which can be found in a previous post from our blog about Culture Shock – but as a quick recap: culture shock can be defined as a Sense of confusion, discomfort, disorientation, and uncertainty felt by those exposed to a different cultural environment. There is definitely more to it than that. Culture shock is believed to occur in certain stages- much like grief- and unchecked can wreak havoc on our anxiety.  This graphic from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry has a great article on the subject which you can read by clicking the graphic below



Children are not immune to these stages, and it is important to be aware of how culture shock can affect both you, and your children.

Additionally- a study published in the Journal of Social and Personality Psychology states that frequent moves are tough on kids and disrupt important friendships- especially for those children who are introverted, or whose personalities tend to lean more towards anxiety regarding change. Fortunately- these results can also be attributed to the reason for moving. More specifically- one reason kids tend to be negatively affected by moves is that moves are often precipitated by problems – a divorce, job loss – that are tough on the family.  Or the family moves because one parent’s job requires it, but this mean the other parent (usually mom) loses theirs.  When parents are stressed and upset (and trust me, moving is always stressful) their parenting suffers and the kids always, always always notice.  Moves are also hardest on kids in the midst of other transitions – like puberty and school changes.  Middle school seems to be the toughest time to make a transition.

 The Good News

One of the most notable areas in which children who have moved abroad differ significantly from their peers who have not lived abroad is their level of education. According to a study by  Professor Emeritus at the Michigan State Univ. Institute for International Studies and a pioneer researcher in the experiences of internationally mobile children, which drew conclusions based on the self-reported comments of 696 respondents, people who spent at least one year of their childhood outside of their home country were four times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. Of the 81 percent of these now adults who completed a bachelor’s degree, half earned postgraduate degrees. Respondents credited their academic achievements to the high quality of overseas schools and to educated parents.

Additionally- the study suggests that children who have moved abroad make different choices in their fields of study than children who have only lived in their native countries. A quarter of respondents majored in areas with a clear international slant, such as foreign languages or international relations. A number also chose majors based on a potential to provide future opportunities to work abroad—usually as educators, businesspeople, or development professionals. More than a quarter acted upon this interest by studying abroad before graduation.

 You Can Tip The Scales

Like most other areas of psychology- there is no blanket answer. Whether or not moving abroad with children is detrimental to long term development varies on a case-by-case basis. There are certainly ways that you, as a parent, can take the reins and heavily tip the scales in favor of success for your child or children. Here are some helpful tips for easing the transition when moving abroad with children:


 1.) Involve Your Children in Some Decision Making

Ultimately- you make the decision when it comes to relocation, but there are smaller ways to help your child feel as though they are part of the decision instead of a victim of it. Small things such as involving them in deciding which of their possessions to take and which to leave behind, or researching a few different extracurricular activities and allowing them to choose one can truly give your children the sense that they have some say, and some hand in the move and what is happening to them. Often times in big life changes- the feelings of frustration in children come from the feeling that they have no control over their lives- things are done to them and not with them.

2.) Research Your New Country With your Child

Spend time looking at photos, magazines, activities surrounding your residence, histories, popular TV shows, online communities so that when the move comes- they don’t feel as if they are moving into some big unknown. Researching together not only creates one-on-one time which is so crucial to bonding and offering effective comfort and emotional support- it also opens the floor to conversations and again- helps them to feel as if they are part of the moving process

3.) Set a Concrete Plan on How They Will Communicate with Friends Left Behind

One of the biggest fears from children when moving to any new place is the uncertainty of seeing friends or family members. Children often feel like a move so far away means they will never see their best friend again- and in adolescence, those relationships between friends or, in older years, budding relationships are incredibly meaningful to them. Setting up concrete plans such as creating a Skype profile with them and setting a specific time of the week or month that they will communicate with loved ones can greatly ease that anxiety and fear.

4.) Prepare For Language Barriers

Hire a language tutor or actively learn a new language with your kids before the move. Being able to communicate will reduce their feelings of isolation and anxiety if you’re moving to a country which does not speak the same native language.

5.) Try not to let them see you stress- instead create an air of excitement around your move

This is probably one of the most crucial things you as a parent can do to ease the stress and anxiety of moving abroad with children. Our kids watch us very closely- they learn about many aspects of life by watching our reactions to situations. Basically- if you seem like you are dreading the move, or that moving is a huge stress or burden to you emotionally- you child will follow suit. Instead- look into fun and exciting activities or places your new country offers. Use positive verbs and adjectives. If you’re excited- they’re excited.

6.) Let them ask a million questions

Kids have a million questions about everything as is- and they often come at the least opportune moment… like when you’re sitting in traffic.. and suddenly junior wants to ask you a thousand questions about something that seems completely irrelevant and trivial. When it comes to moving abroad with children– let them ask anything they want to ask- and answer honestly. Don’t fib. Don’t fudge, and if you don’t know an answer- look it up together. Your honesty is their security– so in this aspect- transparency is key.

7.) 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?)

8.) Make time for saying goodbye

Let them spend time with loved ones from which they will be moving. Prepare in advance for goodbyes- let them happen over time instead of all at once. Helping children to actualize and realize the idea of moving will help them come to terms with moving. There may be things which you don’t see as valuable or important- but your children may think differently. Ask them what they will miss most, what places they want to visit or activities they want to do before leaving. If possible- find the equivalent in your new country.

9.) Ask them how they feel often

Talk to them, as much as you can. Even toddlers, encourage them to ask questions, actively participate in the move, and ask them how they are feeling about the idea of moving, what their fears are, and try to address them earnestly. Often times we as adults get very caught up in our own stresses and worries and can unintentionally put less value on the stresses and worries of our children. Moving abroad with children is a huge life change- and keeping yourself informed about how your child is feeling can catch problems early- or more importantly- help you to quell fears before they become problems.


 In Closing

Moving abroad with children is a big deal- a life changing event, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. With your honesty, open communication, involvement, and support- moving abroad can be an exciting and positive experience for your kiddos. It takes work, and it takes time, but in the end- the time and effort you put in can mean a world of difference for your little one.



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