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 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 http://positiveparentingconnection.net
Facebook: facebook.com/positiveparentingconnection Twitter: @positive_parent