Help Children adjust
I Am A Mom, Raising Global Citizens And TCK's

8 Ways to Help Children Adjust to a New Country

Help Children adjust

After my post on helping trailing spouses, I am very happy to shar ethis post by Ariadne Brill of the Positive Parenting Connection. I love her thoughtful advice on raising happy and well-adjusted children and forming a good relationship with them. Ariadne is also a fellow expat living in Switzerland with her husband and children. her expertise in all things parenting coupled together with her experience of being an expat mom, makes her a perfect person to give advice to parents wanting to help children adjust to a new country.

As the mother to three young children that have moved quite a few times, I have seen first hand what changing country and culture can do to a family dynamic. While it’s common to say “children are so adaptable and flexible”, the truth is, moving can be scary, and difficult for children and parents alike.  The good news?  There are many simple ways parents can help their children adjust to a new country and culture.

1. Empathize Your child may be very upset, confused or downright angry about having to move. If you are excited and happy about the move, but your child is not, try to step into their shoes and see things from their perspective. From infants to teens, moving to a new country is really not so easy. While the first few days or weeks for some children are exciting and have a bit of a holiday feel, many children experience big feelings at some point about the move.

2. Validate Feelings Try not to minimize or distract your child’s feelings about the move. Instead, try to listen and acknowledge what they are going through. Let your child know, with words or simply with your calm, attentive presence, that  it is safe and ok to feel every kind of feeling, from excitement to sadness, fear and grief. Distraction in the form of candy, toys, or watching a movie does not help the feelings resolve. On the other hand, an attitude of empathy and validation helps children realize that all feelings are normal and therefore they will be able to go through them and then get past them.

3. See Misbehavior as a Signal A move of any sort, far or near can change the way children behave. They may regress to bed wetting, refuse to eat certain foods, become very clingy or have trouble separating from a parent, refuse or fight to leave the house, use more back talk or flat out refuse to cooperate with requests. This misbehavior is often a developmentally appropriate, in other words, totally expected and quite normal way, for children to express their confusion, dislike, fear, excitement about the move. While you don’t need to excuse the bad behavior, instead of punishing it,  try to see it as a signal that your child is trying to express his needs and thoughts about the move and look for opportunities to listen and find  solutions.

4. Model Courage then wait… New foods, new sights, new language? Having the courage  to try it all isn’t always easy. If you feel even slightly overwhelmed, chances are your child might be sharing the same feelings. Have the courage to try something new and see if your child will follow. It may take some time, so don’t put on pressure, simply try what you are genuinely interested or able to do. I remember buying a Christmas tree a few years ago with very limited Italian skills. I was so nervous yet committed to getting it done, I sat in the car rehearsing two sentences over and over until I felt ready. Fast forward a few weeks, my 5 year old son practiced ordering a slice of cake and then did it himself! Cake might have been the key motivator, right?

5.  Keep routines and rituals  As much as possible, try to continue the same kind of routine and rituals that you had before moving. This may require some adapting due to cultural norms, yet most children feel very safe after a big move when they see certain routines and rituals can be continued. For my family, sunday morning pancake breakfast is a ritual we have been able to maintain even after several different moves. Another expat family I know used to have a special dinner routine once a week, they had to change the evening they do this, after their last move, but at least the general ritual is still there.

6. Keep your family language The language we speak to our children is not just about words, there is a lot more deeper feelings connected to how we communicate. Our words and understanding in a shared language from birth create safety and trust. Even if you are fluent in the language of the country you have now moved to, avoid suddenly refusing to speak your family language just so the children will learn the new language. It’s absolutely alright and a great idea to introduce that new language, but try to do so in a playful and fun way. See it as a bonus not as the new obligatory means of communication. Especially, do not use the new language to correct misbehavior or to give a lecture in public. This negative experience with a new language can lead to a child feeling less motivated to learn the new language.

7. Reach out for Help If your child or you are very overwhelmed about the transition to your new home, not learning the community language or having a hard time adjusting to school and other activities, reach out for assistance.  An informal chat with a fellow expat that has been through it might be helpful. Otherwise, a counselor or coach that is able to listen and assist you in this transition might be helpful too.

Children can truly flourish in a new country and new culture. Our job as parents isn’t really to make it all super easy. Rather what we can do is to help our children deal with the new challenges in a way that fosters courage, accepts their true feelings and supports their growth.

Have you or are you planning to move with your child soon? What is one tip you would give to a family that is about to move to a new country?

Peace & Be Well,


Ariadne photo Ariadne is mom to three children aged 4 yrs, 6 yrs and 8 yrs. She has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator and has completed several graduate courses in Psychology, child development and Family Counseling.

Connect with Ariadne at the Positive Parenting Connection page to find resources, ideas,and helpful information for a connected, positive and peaceful parenting journey.

Positive Parenting Connection

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  • Reply Graciela Bareiro June 3, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Very interesting article, thanks

  • Reply Gran Canaria Local June 5, 2014 at 1:11 am

    With three expat kids to our name, we can vouch for this advice. Thanks for sharing. A lot of this we knew already, but most of it we had forgotten.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…Las RosasMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking June 5, 2014 at 8:52 am

      Glad you liked this article, thank you! Yes it’s good to be reminded of this great advice!

  • Reply Paul Graham June 6, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Hi Olga, Good advice and I think much of it applies to helping kids deal with any type of major change
    Paul Graham recently posted…The Friday13 June 6thMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking June 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Yes Paul, this is great advice- thanks for commenting!

  • Reply Top 10 UK Mum Bloggers October 15, 2014 at 3:12 am

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  • Reply Mariella Gambardella December 30, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Hi Olga, greetings from Spain :). I very much enjoyed reading your article. Having moved three times ourselves, I would add one more advice to your list: parents should transmit to their children a positive attitude towards changes. We always tried to avoid saying “This is weird” or “I really don´t like this” and said instead “This is different”. Every country has its pluses and minuses and moving can be a very enriching experience to get to know different cultures and become more tolerant and respectful towards other people and ways of living. Thanks for sharing Olga.
    Mariella Gambardella recently posted…Pieces of magicMy Profile

    • Reply Olga Mecking January 1, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Hi Mariella, thank you for commenting and for your kind words. Changes are normal but they’re not always welcome and not all of them are positive. “This is weird” and “I don’t like this” may be just an initial reaction. We try to listen what the child has to say and why he or she doesn’t feel comfortable with the change, and “change” in itself isn’t positive or negative but it always depends on the change. And some children may have a harder times to deal with them than others. On the other hand, some children may say they don’t like something to be dramatic and that doesn’t mean anything either. And sometimes, the children may have a point…So it always depends.

      • Reply Mariella Gambardella January 2, 2015 at 7:26 am

        Hi Olga, sure, you are right, it always depends on the type of change and on the child. Mine was a general observation, I think keeping a positive attitude as a starting point can help but clearly afterwards it all depends on the specific situation of a family, and how big that change is. Thanks for your advice, good to read you as always 🙂
        Mariella Gambardella recently posted…Pieces of magicMy Profile

        • Reply Olga Mecking January 3, 2015 at 10:58 am

          Thank you, Mariella, of zourse your advice made sense in a general way. It’s just hard to keep a positive attitude towards something that is kind of scary as change is sometimes. But I like the idea of assuming that things will work out OK in the end!

  • Reply Vangie Perez January 25, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Hi olga, i got a 7 year old son born somewhere here in Italy where my husband and I are working.When he was 2, we brought him back home and stayed there for 5 years under the care of my brother and sister-in-law with his family together with mom and other siblings. We chat regularly and we only got to visit him (vacation) 3 times over that 5 years. Only a few days that we brought him back here with us and one of my concern is how to help him cope with these drastic changes he would about to experience most especially the language. Aside from the fact that he literally grew up with my sister-in-law as her surrogate mom, its giving me more stress and worried the emotional attachment that he developed from my family back home would gave him more difficulties to adjust with his new environment.

    • Reply Ariadne January 26, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      Dear Vangie,
      Your situation is quite unique and a bit beyond the scope of just helping a child settle into a new country. When parents are present, they represent the safety net a child needs in order to brace for all the changes… Beyond some of the things listed in this article, the child you mention is likely to also be facing the loss of his person of reference or main care giver. This can bring up quite some grief and behavior may be affected by this. Also, aside from learning a language, making friends, this child will also need to adjust to a new family life and re-create a sense of attachment and safety to his new caregivers. A simple start is to show genuine interest in the child, make time to play together, learn about his preferences, interests, allow him to talk about his past, his experiences. If parenting full time will be new to you, than taking some time to think about how you will be responding to certain behaviors, what family expecations will be in place is also a good idea. More than anything, in such a situation, children need time and a sense of safety. If you observe behaviors that are difficult and puzzling, reaching out to a counselor can be helpful. Best wishes.
      Ariadne recently posted…4 Mindfulness Practices to Move from Surviving to Thriving in ParentingMy Profile

  • Reply Maintaining Your Less Spoken Language January 26, 2015 at 9:36 am

    […] about. Sometimes, the authors are experts in their fields and offer such great advice, like this one from Ariadne of the Positive Parenting Connection or this one by MegSanity! I know most of the […]

  • Reply Natalia .F. May 25, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    I just move with my daughter that is 3 years old to usa and its been crazy. We have been here almost a month and she is been yelling, been upset and cranky… not to mention that is answering me back…well am doing the best I can, so she doesnt feel akward because of all the changes that are happening all around her. I also have a baby that is 1 year old but he adjusted pretty good. I liked the article. specially the part were it says that we have to keep our family laguage. When we first got here my mother was telling me to not speak more spanish to her so she learns english faster, but when I did , my little girl got angry and didnt want to talk anymore, so now am trying to teach her just small word. She has learns some words, but she keeps missbehabing at times. Its just the yelling that gets out of controld, at times I really dont know what to do. I dont want her to be like this, I just want her to be happy.

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