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How to Help Kids Adjust to an International Move

Parents moving internationally will face many questions from their kids.  Where will they go to school? What kinds of food will they encounter? Will they be the only ones of their ethnicity? How will they make new friends? 

The issues vary depending on the age and world-view of the child. Babies and toddlers aren't going to be particularly worried about leaving their friends, for a teenager, this can be devastating.  It is possible, however, to deal with these issues and ease the transition to a new country.

Most importantly, parents need to talk to their kids about the move before it happens so that all questions get answered, or at least heard.  Older children especially need to feel like they at least have a say in the details, even if they can't make decisions about the move overall.  Younger children often feel general anxiety about a big move.  "Many families report that young children worry about being left behind, " says Patricia Linderman, co-author of "The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad."
Children older than preschool age will be most concerned about friends.  Encourage your kids to collect addresses and e-mails of their closest friends so that they can be pen pals.  Help your children find new friends after the move by making connections to other expats with children.  There are also several Websites, like tckid.com, that address issues for expat kids. By reading about the experiences of other children, yours can get ready for their own experiences.

Education is a major concern for both parents and children going abroad.  In many cases, expat children attend an international or English-language school.  These schools tend to follow an American or British curriculum, and the students come from many different countries.  Local schools can be a good option for younger kids.  These schools offer the best opportunities for learning the language and adapting culturally.  For young children, these advantages outweigh the problems posed by learning difficult subjects in a foreign language. 

With any type of school, be sure to research each school thoroughly and get references, as schools can vary in quality.

Both children and parents should try to make connections in their new home before the move.  Linderman suggests finding a "sponsor" in the new country. "It was easier to cope when I had good information and support from others, especially other international families when I had kids along."  Look for sponsors either by talking to acquaintances already in the country or through your company.  You can help a child understand what the move means by doing research as a family – travel brochures, books on the culture, and Internet sites can all give children a sense of where they are going and what to expect.

The issues involved with taking children overseas may seem daunting, but they are surmountable, and the experience they gain is often beneficial   Research has shown that children raised in multiple countries tend to have greater ease with languages and higher than average university attendance. 

Also remember that kids are adaptable, possibly more so than their parents.  If you make sure that their international transition is as smooth as possible, your children should be able to get used to and enjoy their new home.

Laurel Brown is the author of articles on health, diversity education, history, and astronomy. She has a background in international and outreach education, editing, and observational astronomy. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the history of science.


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