Moving to a New Country: Helping Kids Cope

New job, new house, new country! Common phenomena in the international community and even the most well-planned move can be stressful enough to have us swearing we’ll never do it again (until the next contract anyway), so what about the effect on the kids? Hopefully, this article can help you avoid the kids joining the long list of stressors during relocation!

It can be an amazing experience for children to see the world, experience different cultures and mix with peers from all corners of the globe, but how do we make sure such big moves don’t unsettle them? There seems to be a myriad of views on the subject, but without a doubt all psychologists would agree that consistency and honesty must be the guiding principles to minimise your child’s anxiety. Stealing them away in the dead of night to wake up in a new home, then pretended nothing has happened is definitely to be avoided (you think I’m joking but I’ve heard of it happening)!.

Plenty of preparation seems to be the best way to start. Spend time talking to your child about what is going to happen; involve them in discussions about where you might live and what you might do, look up the new destination on the internet together and start making plans for fun activities and how to continue current hobbies. Plenty of information can give the child a sense of excitement about the change, at the very least it takes away the mystery of the unknown which is likely to equal scariness and fear. Encourage your child to make a list of questions and discuss or research the answers together. Do your best to dispel those fears!

Of course, leaving the current location is a big part of reluctance to embrace transition. Buy your child an address book (or perhaps a computerised equivalent!) and encourage them to get the details of all their friends. Perhaps you could set up a Skype account and practice using it before you leave. You could arrange a leaving party as a fun activity to look forward to. It is important for your child to understand that a move does not have to mean losing their current friends, but can simply mean gaining even more.

Belongings can be a very important aspect of the move. Make sure your child takes the most important objects from the house in your immediate luggage; the things that will help them feel at home. This is especially important if your main luggage won’t be arriving until a few months after you! The last thing everyone needs is tears over the favourite teddy’s absence or difficulty sleeping without the night light.

The transition doesn’t end with leaving the old place, of course, they’ve then got to settle into the new place. If you have already worked out how to carry on hobbies and what fun things you can do then you’re off to a head start. if you haven’t then find out, check out parents groups for a useful network of information and potential new friends for both you and your child. The new school should be able to point you in the direction of a group or network.

Next, there’s school, the centre of a child’s life. It’s always terrifying starting a new school. If possible arrange a visit before they start, preferably with an introduction to the new teacher. This can really put a child’s mind at rest that school might actually be fun. Having some friends beforehand can also help – back to the parent group, or maybe even neighbours. If you can introduce your child to children of their age before they start they won’t feel so alone. Brothers and sisters aren’t always a useful substitute here as embarrassing younger siblings are quickly abandoned when trying to look cool in front of your new mates at breaktime.

With a bit of planning and good communication the move can be less painful; but if problems persist and your child doesn’t fit in so well please get in touch with our team to see if we can help.

Dr Angela Simcox, Clinical Psychologist

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