Your relocation is a fabulous opportunity for redefining your world and reinventing yourselves. Sadly, change is never painless, and relocating involves at least 3 factors that rank highly on the stress scale (moving house, loss/bereavement and changing job); not just for you, but your children too. The kids may have very mixed feelings about your family’s move: scared about going to a new school, excited about a new home, sad about leaving old friends or angry about moving and the lack of control that they suddenly have over their lives. Or all of the above at the same time.
Let’s face it – most of those emotions are ones that you are going through too. And you are not unique; in America alone, each year one out of five families move, and as the world moves towards a more global economy, that number is set to grow. So what should we be doing to make the transition easier for our children?
Know what to expect. In addition to our guide, there are some great resources out there, and it’s your job to be prepared for the questions, concerns and emotions that your kids will inevitably express. Do some background reading, talk to other parents, go on expat websites, and make sure that you have an understanding of what the next few months will bring for your kids before you spring the big news on them.
Keep them informed. I have known a number of families who decided that it was best to keep the news of impending relocation to themselves for as long as possible. Let me tell you how that one worked out.. not well. By all means, spend some time getting the tedious stuff out of the way , but once you know that you are moving, tell them immediately. Include them in as much of the process as you can, and if they are mature enough, give them tasks. My own kids are search engine wizards, and if they can find endless talking cats on YouTube, they are perfectly capable of finding out what housing options and schools are available in their new area, and making lists of the pros and cons. Bottom line here is that what you don’t tell them, they will invent for themselves, so be proactive. They need to be able to process how they will fit in to their new life and who they want to be, so the longer they have to go adapt, the more gradual the process can be.
Appreciate that the transition to a new environment is stressful to everyone, and the stress will show in different ways at the differing ages. While young children may cry, misbehave or use other attention seeking behaviors, older children are more likely to become angry, rebellious and withdrawn. Arrange family activities to bridge the gap between leaving old friends and making new, and allow plenty of time for your children to talk through the difficulties they face. Try and put a positive spin on it – whenever we move, during every evening meal we have a ‘what was the worst thing that happened to you today’ competition, with an emphasis on making it into a funny story for the rest of the family. It’s a good idea for a parent to start, at least the first few times, with the other family members making up ‘it could have been worse’ scenarios. The winner so far was an entire day spent in a police station in Karen, Nairobi, with a friend with a broken leg – the ‘worse case’ scenarios included diarrhea, two broken legs, four flights of stairs and no toilet tissue. See how quickly things look better??
As a final note, I am a great fan of the author Robin Pascoe, who has written some great books on relocation and how it affects the various members of the family. Her website can be found at www.expatexpert.com and her YouTube video series is linked on the knowledge section of this site.