Deciding whether or not to move abroad when you have children comes with different challenges than just making the decision for yourself, or for you and a partner. On one hand, you probably realize what a unique and valuable experience living abroad can be for a child. On the other hand, you still have to worry about how well your child will adjust to the drastic change in their living circumstances. Once you've decided that the benefits of the move outweigh the drawbacks, you'll need to start looking into ways that you can help your child settle into their new environment and overcome the challenges of expat life. Here are some common challenges and tips that can help.Lack of an Example
Children may feel stumped by a new language, put off by strange new foods, and shy about introducing themselves to peers in school or in the neighborhood. The thing is, adults can experience all these same challenges -- chances are good that you'll have some of the same challenges yourself.
It's unfair to expect your child to pick up a new language while you rely on others to translate, to eat new and unknown dishes at school while you cook your own favorites at home, or to make an effort to meet new people while you use social media to talk to your friends back home or interact mostly with your spouse, coworkers, or other people you already know in the area. It's easy to fall into the habit of not trying as hard yourself to do what you're expecting your child to do.
Model the behavior that you want from your child. Make an effort to learn the language, try the local dishes, and introduce yourself to the neighbors. Make sure that your child understands that adapting to the new surroundings is something that you're all doing together, not something that they're supposed to do all alone.
Immersion in a new culture can be a wonderful experience if done right, but you don't want to lose yourself in the process. With all of the pressure to learn the language, rules, and social norms of the new country, your child may be feeling that their identity has been torn away. Help them balance the sense of identity they had before you moved with their new life as an expat by retaining your old routines and rituals.
For instance, while it's fine (and fun!) to participate in the local holiday customs, in your home you should adhere to your own family holiday traditions as closely as possible. As time goes on, you may choose to incorporate elements of the local traditions into your home celebrations, but until everyone is comfortable with that, be sure to stick to what you did in your home country.
The same goes for the more day-to-day rituals as well. Read bedtime stories in your own language at night, not in the language you're trying to learn. Bedtime rituals are about comfort, not language lessons. If Friday night was pizza night in your old home, then Friday night should still be pizza night in your new home, if possible. Continuing these rituals helps your child feel a sense of normalcy in a strange situation.Loneliness
Classes or playgroups with other expat children will help your child feel less alone.
Your children to meet others that are experiencing some of the same things they are. The commonality can be an instant bond, and children that have lived abroad longer may be able to help your children through some of the rough spots.
You can find expat groups online with members all over the world, so you should be able to find some in or near your local area. You might also consider enrolling your child in an international school, where they'll meet other expat children from many different countries, including their own. Understanding that they aren't the only kids having this experience can help your child feel less alone.
Even children that are on board and excited about the idea of moving can have difficulty adjusting. It's your job to provide the support your child needs during the transitional period. For more tips on expat living, follow us on Twitter!