Expat Child Syndrome: What Is It & How To Help?

Embarking on the adventure of moving abroad is an exhilarating journey filled with cultural enrichment, career opportunities, and yet-to-be-known promises. 

For children, however, this adventure can bring about unique challenges, despite all the advantages, lessons, and open-mindedness this exerience offers (see our article on Third Culture Kids). 

Today, ASI Movers explores the concept of Expat Child Syndrome (ECS), shedding light on how families can ensure a smooth transition for all their members!

What Is The Expat Child Syndrome?

The term Expat Child Syndrome was coined fairly recently by psychologists to describe the specific emotional challenges and stress children relocating abroad experience

It’s important to recognize that children often have less control over the decision to relocate, less knowledge of their new environment and may face struggles to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings, cultures, and social norms. However, by knowing more about the roots of this feeling of uneasiness, and by accompanying children in their journey, these challenging times can soon become a thing of the past!

How To Recognize When A Child Experiences Expat Child Syndrome?

how to recognize child expat syndrome

While there is no one-size-fits-all list of symptoms for Expat Child Syndrome, there are signs that parents can watch out for:

  • Behavioral Changes: Children may exhibit changes in sleep or eating habits, younger ones might start biting or hitting as well. These behaviors are an expression of stress and can be due to their inability to express strong emotions. Addressing the root of the issue is often the most efficient way to help a child experiencing these changes.

  • Seclusion: Even typically outgoing teens may temporarily withdraw from social interactions after a move.

  • Loneliness: Children may express feelings of isolation, struggling to form new friendships in their new environment. Helping them find ways to connect with others and maintain relationships from home can ease this transition.

  • Disruptive Behavior: Previously well-behaved children may exhibit disruptive behavior at home or school, which can be a sign of underlying stress or anxiety.

  • Irritability: While irritability is a normal part of adolescence, a sudden and drastic increase in this trait can indicate a deeper distress that needs attention.

Why Are Pre-Adolescents and Adolescents More Prone to Expat Child Syndrome?

Why Are Pre-Adolescents and Adolescents More Prone To ECS?

Teenagers, in particular, may be more prone to ECS due to the significant physical, emotional, and social changes they experience during this stage of life. 

They are navigating the complexities of identity formation while peer relationships take center stage, making them more sensitive to disruptions in their social circles.

How To Address ECS?

How to address expat child syndrome

Supporting children through an international move involves creating a positive environment that nurtures their emotional well-being and helps them adapt to their new surroundings:

  • Open Communication: Encourage your child to express their feelings and concerns about the move. Validate their emotions and reassure them that it's okay to feel uncertain or anxious.

  • Encourage Social Interaction: Help your child connect with others by encouraging participation in extracurricular activities or community events. This can help them build new friendships and feel more at home in their new environment.

  • Maintain Connections: Help your child stay connected with friends and family from home through regular communication. This can provide a sense of continuity and comfort during the transition.

  • Get Familiar With The Topic: In addition to discussing with your child, there are a lot of resources available both online and offline to help you better understand the challenges they encounter. For instance, we recommend Expat Teens Talk by Lisa Pitmann & Diana Smith.

  • Offer Your Child To Talk To A Professional: If your child is struggling to adjust, or simply needs to talk to someone outside their circle, consider seeking professional help. A specialized therapist or counselor can provide additional support and strategies for coping with the challenges of relocation.

Exoat Child Syndrome

At ASI Movers, we understand the importance of a smooth and positive relocation experience for your family. Since 2008, we have been dedicated to assisting families with their international moves, ensuring that your transition is as seamless as possible. 

Our goal is to support you every step of the way so you can focus on what matters the most, because there is so much more on your mind than moving your belongings!