The decision to relocate to another country for work and take on the life of an ex-pat is unlikely to be a straightforward one for anyone, but it’s particularly nerve-wracking when you have children to consider. Annabel Kantaria, author of novel Coming Home, gives us some tips to make the move as smooth as possible for your kids; both when relocating abroad and when the time comes to move back home.
By Annabel Kantaria
While moving abroad – or back home – is exciting and challenging for the adults who’ve made the decision to go, it can be unsettling and frightening for children. As a rule of thumb, the younger the child, the easier it is to move. Parents of teenagers might be required to dredge up the most tact, diplomacy, patience and psychology. Here are 15 tips to ease the process, no matter what the age of your children:
- Always keep in mind that the move was not your child’s decision. It’s your responsibility as the adult to make the move as smooth and painless as possible for your children.
- If your children are of school age, try to relocate at the end of the school year and use the holiday period to get them settled and acclimatised before term starts. Apply to schools as soon as you possibly can and, where possible, pick a school that follows the same curriculum as the one your children already attend so the transition abroad and back can be as seamless as possible.
- Having made such a life-changing decision on behalf of your children, try to hand them back some sense of control by letting them play a part in smaller decisions: which books, clothes and toys they take; which house you rent; what colour their new bedroom is; which car you buy.
- Manage their expectations. Use the internet to show them what they can expect their lifestyle to be like in their new home: show them the type of house you might live in; look at pictures of nearby schools; see what kind of things there are to do at the weekends.
- Help children to brainstorm and explore new hobbies they might like to try in their new country: perhaps the climate means a more active beach life is an option; or cheaper stabling means a pony-mad teenager can finally keep her own horse.
- Never waver: don’t communicate any doubts to the children. A child who’s feeling unsure wants to know that at least the parents know what they’re doing. Maintain a united front with your partner in front of the children.
- Tell your children that you’ll miss your friends, too. Talk about how you can stay in touch with friends while you’re away. If they’re old enough, encourage your children to use email and Skype to maintain friendships at home; agree how many times per year you’ll go home for visits.
- Start a “worry” jar: ask your children to write down their worries and fears about moving and put them in a jar. Open it periodically and talk through them. Start a “happiness” jar, too: end the discussions by reading out loud all the things you and your children are looking forward to in your new home.
- If a new language is needed, set the children up with some lessons and get involved too. Make it fun: try to speak to each other in the new language as you learn it.
- Plough online expat forums and blogs for information: someone else will have gone through exactly what you’re going through and will be a mine of practical advice.
- Once you arrive, get your home up and running as fast as you can – get your duvet covers on the beds and your pictures on the walls. In a foreign country where everything’s strange and new, it’s bliss to come home to familiar home comforts.
And when repatriating:
- Explain to your children that their friends might have changed in the time you’ve been gone; that they’re unlikely to be able to slot straight back in where they left off.
- Emphasise the advantages of being back home: familiar language, familiar food, family ties and long-term friends.
- Once home, encourage your children to talk about their expat life at home with you and with other ex-expats – but not to harp on about it to others: sad but true – no-one will want to know.
- If you miss your expat life, hold expat evenings at home where you can play the music, eat the food and reminisce with photos and videos from your time overseas.
- Encourage your children to view moving home as just as much an adventure as moving abroad was in the first place: it won’t be the same as when you left, so why not turn it into a new adventure?
Annabel’s book, Coming Home, is out on 21st May.