Ages 6 to 12:
Elementary/primary school aged children are usually most focused on how their daily life will change, and are more aware of the outside world and how it affects them. They will have lots of questions about the school that they will be attending, so find information online, or request a prospectus so they can have an idea of what it is like. Discuss what is similar and different to their current school and how to deal with those issues.
At this age, they are also more involved socially, so if you have internet access, get them to research club, sports teams or music groups that they might like to join. Reassure them that it is a process – the important bit is finding activities that they love, so if something doesn’t work out, you are not going to force them to attend for the next 3 years..
They are also able to independently maintain social contacts, so while you are getting your own contact list together, encourage them to do the same. Open an email address for them to use, and set ground rules for its use. Contact with their existing friends increases their sense of security, so offer alternative ways to stay connected – many online children’s games can be played together from opposite sides of the world, and give them a strong sense of stability while they get established in their new environment. VOIP services such as Skype (www.skype.com) allow you to talk computer to computer via microphone (and webcam, if you have one) for free, with calls to landlines and cellphones at greatly reduced cost, so it’s worth setting this up before you leave, both for your own convenience and for theirs. Finally, if you have a new address before you leave, prepare some stamped, addressed postcards (with your new address!) to give out to their friends – somehow, in this high tech world, receiving a personal letter or postcard is even more special.
Birthdays and religious celebrations away from family and friends are often a source of stress, at least until you have established a social network in your new home. I use an old-fashioned approach to ensure family greeting card compliance – I call and remind them that a birthday is coming up, and failure to send some form of good wishes will result in guilt trips for the forseeable future.. You may chose a more gentle approach, or have a family that is not so easily distracted on the ‘important date’ front, but whatever way you can, try and let people know what a difference being remembered makes. However, bear in mind that it works both ways, so try and send cards to those back home too. Moonpig is a great service that allows you to send a customized card to anywhere in the world, which helps if the celebrations in the country that you live in are not the same as the ones at home. It also has a birthday calendar with email reminders (without which I would be completely lost) and a smartphone app*. The good news is that the expatriate community is very well aware of the potential for disappointment, so let everyone who has contact with your children know that a celebration is approaching, and ask for help if you need it.
On that note, remember to ‘pay it forward’ too. Keep a box of new toys and gifts at home, complete with gift bags and tissue paper, and some generic birthday cards. Whenever there is a gathering, you will inevitably discover it is someone’s birthday, and the ability to present a gift at a moment’s notice is one that greatly appreciated by parent and child alike.
* My personal favorite is the option to take a picture with your phone camera, have it made into a postcard and sent directly to the recipient, all from the phone – perfect for holidays, reminders etc. Moonpig.com have a great one for the iPhone.