Children And Expatriation: Moving Abroad With Your Kids

When undergoing a family relocation, finding a new home, moving out and in, finalizing administrative tasks, and saying goodbye… this fresh start requires a lot of preparation.

This key step in one’s life, physically and emotionally challenging, is impacting the whole family, particularly the offspring. Thinking that they are too young to understand the ongoing preparation, that they will adapt easily to any kind of environment, and so excluding them from the preparations and the moving process would end up minimizing the impact such an event can have on them. Contrarywise, any expatriation project and its preparation should be thought of with the help of the offspring, to avoid them feeling unwell on their arrival in a new country.

Everyone Has A Different Way Of Experiencing A Move

If the parents could see in the expatriation many opportunities for their children, a “chance” for them to discover a new culture and a new language, the child might not have the same opinion.  With each age comes its expectations and concerns, its reactions to a switched environment.

Indeed, moving will be differently experienced depending on your child being 3, 7, or 14 years old. It is mostly due to already-built landmarks, as some will need to be deconstructed when he/she arrives in the new place.

Toddlers could be easily appeased by some familiar elements, like games or their favorite teddy bear. Nonetheless, they might be destabilized by moving into a new room, or a parent becoming less available for them.

Don’t we say often « 7 years old, the age of the reason?” It is also around 7 years old that children start building their environment and identity, at school or by playing sports or practicing music. Moreover, they start learning foundations, like writing and mathematics. Environmental change could be disrupting and have an impact on how the child will behave at home and out, as well as on its school commitment.

Teenagers, who are also building a sense of identity, might be unsettled by these changes. They might bond more with the nuclear family rather than find new friends, or on the contrary, withdraw from their family circle, looking for more emancipation.

Abnormal behavior might be the result of a delicate expatriation for a child: sleeping and eating disorders, gloomy and irascible attitude, emerging difficulties at school (in their learning as well as in their integration), etc. are a few examples.

Communication & Participation Are Key

woman wearing white sweater carrying a daughter

First of all, it is important for parents to take the time to announce the move to their offspring, to avoid doing it at the last minute and in a rush. Children can easily feel anxiety toward the idea of moving, and need time to eliminate their apprehension. One should give children enough time to get familiar with the idea, for them to make the most of these last moments, and even organize a farewell.

Being a young expat involves many lifestyle changes, that could be stressful. One needs to listen carefully to one’s children’s apprehension and appease any of their doubt, introducing them the positive aspects of this departure, but also being honest regarding the eventual new challenge coming with this trip. Knowing the host country and making the child discover it before the arrival is a plus. It would help him/her to face culture shock and make his/her adaptation easier. Expats associations and clubs are numerous around the world. Contacting them is a good way to forge relationships before your arrival. 

Many psychologists and expat parents acknowledge that involving the kids in the departure preparations is essential. The idea behind it is to not let them feel that the moving decision is one-sided i.e. only made by the parents, but rather letting them understand that their opinion counts, and how it will impact their future. For example, you can together browse information about the host country and its usages, ask his/her opinion about the new home and his/her room layout, or his/her future school and activities there. In some cases, you can even plan schooling at home. Arranging the move with him/her is essential, to let him/her choose what he/she wants to keep.

a person and a child on a bus

Living abroad is a challenge, no matter the age. For sure, children have great adaptability, and being a young expat will make them become “Third Culture Kids”: multicultural and open-minded kids, mostly bilingual or even trilingual, with a strong international background. But this capacity should not be overestimated, and its positive impacts should not make the difficulties invisible. 

Children’s priorities are completely different from adults’ ones, their views differ in many aspects. Children’s participation and parents' support are crucial and will determine the success of this project. Taking everything into account, and involving your offspring will make the best of this meaningful experience: happiness, stability, and cultural fulfillment.

Relocating Soon?