by Expat Focus columnist, Aisha Isabel Ashraf
Moving to another country with children can be a stressful experience. The tearful confession, “I want to go home,” is the last thing any parent wants to hear. Adults will be going through their own period of adjustment and this, coupled with the logistical matters that lay claim to their time in the early days, can leave them ill-equipped to give their children the help they need to cope with the transition.
The good news is that, when properly prepared and supported, children often adjust more quickly than adults. The key to a move with minimum fuss comes down to 3 main things:
Let's look at each one in more detail:
This starts well before departure. Let them know of the impending move in plenty of time so that they are not unsettled by any preparations taking place, but not so far in the future that they have too much time to dwell on it. Parents have the best knowledge of their child to be able to make this decision but, as a guide, the older the child is, the sooner they need to know.
Discuss the new destination, find it on a map or preferably a globe (3D is more fun!) Do some research together about weather, animals, customs etc. so that your child can build a mental image of their new home. The more pictures and interesting information the better; nothing is more frightening than the unknown. If there is a new language involved, learn some key words and phrases together, and have fun seeing who remembers the most.
Once you arrive, do all you can to spend time together. This is difficult for adults who are starting in a new post, but it’s worth bearing in mind that family is your child’s one familiar constant right now. It’s the only thing cushioning them from the difficulties of their new situation. The more time you can spend together, exploring and learning new things, the easier it will be for them to step out on their own when they feel ready. It also helps for them to see that this is a learning curve for everyone and if it seems as though you are enjoying it, they will be more likely to also.
Stay in touch
Help them to maintain links with loved ones and friends back home, whether it’s through letter-writing and postcards or Skype and email. Continue to discuss the new location: likes and dislikes, new things you’ve learnt, favourite places, etc. We used to go round the table at dinner, taking turns to say what we liked about Canada. It keeps the lines of communication open and reminds everyone that they’re in it together.
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