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Supporting Children During An International Move

by Patricia Linderman, Tales from a Small Planet.

Let’s face it: most kids hate to move. The long-term benefits of international mobility – including language skills, cross-cultural understanding and friendships with people around the world – may outweigh the drawbacks over the long term, but our kids aren’t thinking about that when it’s time to leave their friends and adjust to a new school and culture. Here are a few ideas that may help ease the transition:Keep communication channels open. Hold family meetings about the move.

Accept and acknowledge negative feelings, and take your child’s questions and fears seriously. Emphasize that you will face challenges as a family. After the move, stay attuned to your children’s feelings over time, even if they seem to adjust well at first. Remember that family members may hit peaks and valleys of adjustment at different times. Seek out help if anyone in your family seems depressed, or if your child can’t seem to adjust to a new school after several months.

Give children a feeling of control wherever possible. Find ways to let them help with the move and make a few decisions themselves. Let them pack their own suitcase or backpack with their most important possessions. Research your new country’s culture, food, history, geography and tourist attractions together.

Network effectively. Talk to several people who are familiar with the schools you are considering, since opinions vary widely. Ask your colleagues or an expatriate group to help you find families willing to communicate with you before you arrive.

Maintain continuity. Take pets with you if possible. Maintain family routines and traditions throughout the move, and consider adding new ones (such as a Sunday walk or Friday night board games) to provide stability amid the chaos of the transition.

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Emphasize your connections with the rest of the world. Keep children in touch with extended family and faraway friends through phone calls, e-mails, instant messaging, letters and visits in both directions. Consider setting up a personal website where your children can share their international experiences with family and friends.

Make your new home a great place to be. Give children something to look forward to after the move, such as a new activity, privilege or possession. Carry things with you to make your new home interesting and fun, such as art and craft supplies, music players and posters. After you arrive, be proactive in helping your child find new friends – seek out other families, and invite them over even if your home isn’t set up yet. Above all, look for fun things to do as a family in your new environment as soon as you arrive. Take the time to enjoy the adventure together!

Patricia Linderman is co-author of The Expert Expatriate: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad. She is also Editor in Chief of the expatriate webmagazine Tales from a Small Planet, www.talesmag.com.

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