How to help your child adjust to life abroad
Moving abroad can be a big adjustment for anyone - and it's even harder when the move wasn't your choice. So how do you help your children settle in when your family makes the move?
Frequently we think of children as easily adaptable – and in many ways, it's true.
But, as any parent who has experienced it knows, moving is hard on them. Starting at a new school, making new friends, adjusting to a new town, perhaps learning a new language...it's a lot for a kid to handle!
So how can you make the transition as smooth as possible for your children? The Local joined forces with Tinitell, a Swedish company which makes mobile phones for kids, to ask expat parents for their best tips. (Use code THELOCALKIDS for 20% off on Tinitell, too!)
1. Set up playdates, but don’t force it
Having to make new friends can be one of the most stressful challenges for kids when moving abroad, and it can be particularly tough in a country where they might not even speak the language. Rather than assuming your child will make friends at school, you can step in and actively plan events.
“Having playdates and parties where your child meets and spends time with classmates helps them find friends that will last,” says Julie, an American mum living in Paris.
But at the same time, remember that you can’t choose friends for your child.
“We learned that we cannot pick their friends and we should not push those connections,” says Justin, an Australian father of two. “Looking back we realize that their current friendships came naturally and it was their effort and their decision. No matter how much you want to make things easy for them, don’t try do it for them.”
2. Keep close contact with your child
Dawid's two sons wearing Tinitell phones. Photo: Tinitell
Letting kids explore their new surroundings on their own is important, but so is maintaining close communication.
Dawid moved with his three children from Poland to Shanghai to Hong Kong and then to Sweden all in the space of five years – and always being there as a parent was key to making it work.
“We make sure they have the freedom to discover the new environment, but we also keep in close contact during the day,” he explains.
But after his two boys – ages 8 and 10 – managed to break several phones, Dawid found a different solution for maintaining “constant communications” with his sons.
“We discovered Tinitell through some friends. It’s a mobile watch-phone with no screen, and it’s easy enough for even our five-year-old daughter to use,” he says. “The boys really have fun playing with it as a walkie-talkie, too.”
“We are always within reach when they need us and we can always make sure they are safe and happy,” Dawid concludes.
Find out more about Tinitell - use code THELOCALKIDS for 20% off
3. Make it their home, not just yours
Kids get very attached to their living place, routines, and the things they know. Feeling safe and at home is of utmost importance to their healthy development, and home should be a sanctuary.
“Moving with a four-year-old, we knew we needed the right setting to build security,” says Ela, a mother from Bucharest. “We tried to make our son feel excited about his new room, and have a mix of new things and things he was attached to.”
Ela recommends involving your children fully in the decorating process, so they can feel it’s really theirs, based on their own preferences.
“We’ve also kept elements from the past that can give him comfort and continuity, like his favourite toys, pictures on the wall, his bedsheets and the nightlight,” she says. “These things all make it so he feels safe at home, especially during the night.”
4. Prioritize your child’s interests
Similarly, involve your child in the moving process and settling in as much as possible.
Nina, who recently moved with her family to Guatemala, has learned that you can excite your child even before the move by researching together.
"If your child likes animals, you can research what animals you can find in the new country," she says.
"Let kids have their say in how they want to live, too, if possible, and prioritize finding their interests in the new country, like finding a new football club right away.”
5. Celebrate traditions from home
While you should definitely try to help your child integrate in their new country, there’s no reason not to include some fun from back home.
”Start your home country’s traditions in your new neighbourhood,” says Cindy, an American living in Sweden. “For example, we started a trick-or-treating event in our neighbourhood in Sweden ten years ago. The first year there were just 20 kids, and now there are 300 involved.”
She adds that it’s also a great way to meet the neighbours – it takes a village, after all!
6. …but don’t go home right away
While it’s helpful to incorporate toys and traditions from home, to make the transition to life abroad easy, it’s actually best to avoid going back ‘home’ too soon.
“It’s easier to totally adjust than partially,” says Sylvie, a Dutch mum. “I don’t recommend going back home for the first half-year to a year.”
If your child moves and then two months later gets to go back and see old friends, chances are it will be even harder to settle in abroad. Ideally you should make sure your child has a stable foundation in your new country, with interests and at least a couple of friends, before you visit your old home.
7. If you’re adapted, they’re adapted
Finally, remember that children’s well-being is largely a reflection of their parents.
“With kids, it’s not about what you preach but how you act,” says Sean, father of two. “If you’re in a good place, they are there with you.”
This was his family’s approach when they moved from Sri Lanka to Sweden.
“We made the effort to understand the culture, learn the language, interact with locals, and get as close as possible to the Swedish way of doing things,” he explains. “It’s easier when parents make the effort to integrate themselves into the community. The more I try, the more my kids try, and it’s like we cheer and help each other.”
What are your own tips for helping children adjust to life abroad?
Get in touch and let us know!
Use code THELOCALKIDS for 20% off on your purchase!
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Tinitell.
Tinitell was created by a young team of Scandinavian designers and engineers, and it's designed specifically for kids from preschool to preteen ages. It comes in a variety of colours and is available both in Europe and the US – click here for more information.
This content was paid for by an advertiser and produced by The Local's Creative Studio.