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Moving Overseas: A Guide to Relocating Abroad with Small Children

Moving overseas is a great undertaking, especially for a family with young children. As a relocating family, you will come across certain challenges as well as wonderful opportunities and discoveries. With the right attitude and proper planning, your relocation could be one of your kids’ most well-remembered early life experiences. Here are some points to consider when planning for your family’s big move.

 

Research Location and Education

  • If you’re relocating for work, you probably know the city or region where you will be living. Research neighborhoods and suburbs in the area to find the safest and most family-friendly communities.
  • Explore the area’s education options and consider different approaches to your children’s education. Depending on where you’re relocating to, your choices will likely include local public and private schools, American schools and international schools, each with their unique advantages.
  • Try to find expat communities in your new country before moving to learn about the life that awaits you. Fellow expats can prove an invaluable resource, and you might even make new friends for you and your kids before your departure.

Communication

  • Finding the best time to break the news to your children is very important. Children are sensitive and can feel that something is stirring, so be sure to let them know before they accidentally overhear something or find out about the move from someone else.
  • Keep communication with your children open and honest. Bring up the subject in conversation frequently and talk about it candidly. Encourage them to ask questions and answer with as much age-appropriate information as necessary. There is no need to pretend that you have all the answers though- your kids will benefit from seeing their parents meeting uncertainty with curiosity and confidence.
  • Focus on the positive and do you best to frame the relocation as an adventure. Your children will most likely experience a certain amount of stress or even anxiety at the prospect of leaving their home and friends behind. It’s natural and inevitable, but the feelings of nervousness can be eased by adopting an attitude of excitement and discovery.

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Preparation

  • To get your kids’ curiosity going, familiarize them with the country you are relocating to in fun and creative ways. You could learn fun facts together and create your own trivia game, make crafts with motifs from the country’s culture and watch movies and TV shows from it together.
  • If you’re moving to a non-English speaking country, learn the language together and incorporate it into your daily life in fun ways, like cooking your kids’ favorite foods together and learning to name the ingredients in the new language.
  • To ease the sadness of parting with special people in their lives, create memory boxes for your kids, with items that remind them of the people they love. A memory box could include a photo album, napkins from a favorite restaurant, a piece of cloth with Grandma’s perfume (or Grandpa’s aftershave), notes and letters, dried flowers from a loved park or garden- anything that would make a meaningful keepsake for your kids.

Younger kids
Younger kids are highly adaptable. This doesn’t mean they will not experience stress, nervousness or anxiety before and upon moving, but their adjustment will likely be short and relatively easy.

  • Some clinginess and fearfulness are to be expected from young children in the midst of a relocation. This is natural and will subside when their sense of security is restored. Give your young ones a lot of attention and try to be patient with clingy and needy behavior.
  • Upholding a familiar routine is key to maintaining a sense of balance and emotional stability. When everything else in their world is shifting, children will feel reassured that some things stay the same no matter what. Rituals and family traditions are another great way of maintaining a feeling of stability. Whether it’s saying grace before a meal, reading a story at bedtime or movie and pizza night, these recurring formalities will help your kids feel at home wherever they are.
  • Make sure to pack some of your children’s favorite toys and books in your carry-on luggage. Having them at hand for the journey can help ease the tension, as well as pass the time.

Older kids
Older kids find moving overseas harder than their younger siblings. They usually have more social ties and a deeper understanding of what this change means.

  • Involve your older kids in the relocation process as much as possible. Listen to their feedback and ask their opinion. Even if you meet nothing but resistance, at least you are affording them an outlet for their emotions.
  • Give them a diary and encourage them to record their experiences while moving. A journal can be a great way to express feelings and capture special moments.
  • Leaving their friends behind will probably be your kids’ greatest concern. Help them set up communications with friends and family left behind via email, instant messaging and social media, if they are old enough for it.
  • Make sure they find a way to say goodbye to their friends that suits their temperament- not everybody is the type for a big going-away party.

 

Draw on some of these ideas to add some more fun to the move, and tell us your experiences in the comments!