Lucille Abendanon

Moving abroad with kids - how to get them excited

27 August 2018

Lucille Abendanon

Written by Lucille Abendanon

In our series of articles about expat life, we’ve asked Lucille Abendanon, a freelance writer, 15-year expat and mother of three children to help us articulate the unique challenges of being an expat parent.

In this article, we examine the challenge of preparing children for their first big move.

Moving abroad with kids can seem like a minefield of unknowns and pitfalls. Will they settle? Will they make new friends? Will they adjust to being surrounded by a new culture and language? As parents, we naturally place our children’s wellbeing ahead of our own, and their happiness is a huge part of a successful relocation.

The process of settling your children begins even before you touch down in your new country. You can begin to create anticipation and excitement in the months and weeks leading up to your departure so that your children look forward to the move as much as you do.

Educate your kids about their new home
  • Show your kids pictures of their new country
    Find out interesting facts about their new home that align with their interests and talk about them. For example, perhaps your new country is known for its good beaches, or has a good sporting culture. Perhaps the sun never sets in summer. Try to identify the novel and exciting new experiences that will animate your child.

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  • Learn through art
    For younger kids, find artwork or colouring books about their new country. Talk to them about the move as they colour: It’s all about building familiarity. Older children may benefit from a moving workbook, which guides them through the moving process. For example, Lori Attanasio Woodring’s My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary Big Move and similar books address the entire moving process, understanding change, how to say goodbye with closure, and tips for making new friends. 

    Such books feature wonderful activities, such as creating a memory box where children can collect things that represent the home they’re leaving behind. This may include photos, coasters from a favourite restaurant, sand or soil from a familiar beach or park, or cards written by friends.

    Keeping a diary about life in their current home country is a wonderful way for kids to remain connected to the place they’re leaving. Encourage your children to write about the little things in their lives that they’ll miss. This could include routines they normally take for granted, the way the air smells after rain, the colourful flowers on the way to school. It’s often the little things that leave the greatest impression. Your child should start the diary before you move, perhaps collect some interesting local newspaper clippings, and photographs of favourite places and people. Whilst it’s important they look ahead to the future, it really does help to be able to look back fondly at special places and people.

  • Make use of technology
    Use technology to ‘visit’ your new country, and if you know where you’ll be living, your new neighbourhood. Google Maps is great for this and your kids can really get a good idea of how things look before you move.

  • Introduce the new language to your child
    Learning a few basic greetings will make them feel empowered and excited to use their new knowledge. Discovering a new language together is fun and exciting. Try to do this as a family starting about six months before you leave. There are many good online options such as Duolingo and Babbel. Rosetta Stone’s language software is another option.

Involve your kids in the move abroad
  • Be inclusive
    Your children may not have a say in the final decision to move abroad, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have valuable input along the way. Make them feel as though they are a part of the process instead of inflicting the move upon them. One way to do this is to ask them to identify the first thing they’d like to do in their new country. It may be to swim in the ocean, or to attend a football game, or it may be to eat a new and exciting national dish. Give them some control over their experience.

  • Allow your kids to have a say in what they pack
    You could be living out of a suitcase for weeks or months in your new country while you’re waiting for your shipment to arrive so allow your kids to choose some favourite toys, music or clothing that’ll make them feel more at home. Children love to pack and pull their own suitcases, so set them up with their own backpack or luggage.

Listen to your kid’s feelings about moving abroad
  • Have open and honest conversations with your children about the impending move
    Children are bound to feel apprehensive or unsure and it’s important for them to be able to articulate those feelings. Sarah Kotzé, a child psychologist with more than 20 years’ experience, says, “children understand more than we give them credit for. Having open and honest conversations with them about the move will help put their minds at ease.” She goes on to add, “children who feel listened to and supported deal with change better, than those whose feelings are not taken into consideration.” 

  • Maintain stability in the face of change
    Many things will change, but many things can be continued in your new country. Ask your children which routines or aspects of your current life they would like to continue abroad. For example, Saturday movie night, family games night, Sunday breakfasts. Routines such as bedtime stories and family dinners will all continue, so reiterate that whilst much will change many valued family moments will remain.

Make connections before you move
  • Reach out
    You don’t have to wait until you’ve moved for your child to make new friends. Contact your child’s new school to ask about any online activities or groups you can join. Join Facebook groups of expats in your new area and reach out to those who have children the same age as yours. Be proactive about setting up a social life. Your children will feel more excited about the move knowing there are friends to be made on arrival.

  • Get social
    If your children are old enough, set up social media accounts for them. A Skype account, Instagram, Facebook (whichever you deem appropriate) will enable them to remain in contact with the friends they leave behind. For pre-teen and teenage kids this is absolutely vital. 12-year-old Kyla Robertson met her best friend when they attended Kindergarten together in Qatar. Kyla has since moved to France and then to the Netherlands, yet remains in touch with her best friend and her wide network of international friends through social media. Kyla says, “Being an expat kid I’ve had to leave a lot of friends behind. The only reason we’re still in touch and I can visit them is because of social media. That’s how we keep the conversations going.” 

  • Create commonality
    Explain to your kids that there’ll be other children like them in their new country, children who are new and who may be feeling similar feelings of apprehension, excitement, or fear of the unknown. There are many kids who move abroad and it is important that your children understand they are not alone.

 

Stay positive. Be a good example
  • Allow your children to feel their emotions, and let them see yours
    Moving abroad is a huge deal, fraught with unknowns. It’s natural to be apprehensive and there’s nothing wrong with feeling a little shaky about the whole thing, but don’t collapse into negativity. If your children see you being honest about how you are feeling, and dealing with those emotions, they’ll have a good example of how to deal with their own feelings regarding the move. Reassure your children that what they’re feeling is natural, and that no matter what you’ll be there to support them. Jessica Monauni moved from Germany to Spain with her husband and two daughters and says, “I guess a really important promise we made was to be there for our daughters, and to support them with the language and school. We’re all in it together. Knowing this made them really happy and calm.”

    Lead by example. You’re striking out into the unknown; you’re feeling stressed and apprehensive. Be honest with your children about how you’re feeling but remain upbeat and positive and they’ll be much more excited about the move. Focus on the exciting opportunities ahead, not what they’ll be leaving behind. Positivity is infectious.

Lucille Abendanon – personal & family profile/professional work

In our series of articles about expat life, we’ve asked Lucille Abendanon, a freelance writer, 15-year expat and mother of three children (all born in different countries) to help us articulate the unique challenges of being an expat parent. Lucille is a British expat currently living in the Netherlands, and has previously lived in Vietnam, Thailand, Turkey and South Africa. Professionally, Lucille is a copywriter who focusses on travel and property. She runs the website Expitterpattica.com, posting on the blog on a range of expat topics, including expat parenting and children’s issues. Via this blog, she has guest posted on HuffPo, Global Living and a number of expat blogs and other sites.