The Impact of International Moves on Children
When an employee accepts an international assignment, he or she must consider many factors, primarily if he or she has a family. When there are children, moving to another country can be exciting, but also a bittersweet and exhausting experience. While living in another country has many benefits, such as learning about other cultures and strengthening children’s adaptability and resilience, there is another side that parents must face: the insecurity of feeling like they don’t belong anywhere.
Let’s look at the list of pros and cons of the impact of international moves:
Growing up in a different country:
Enriching their knowledge with a new culture will always be beneficial for anyone, but children’s curiosity leads them to have openness to new customs, new friendships, and at the same time the need to make their “world” and culture known. In addition, they acquire greater adaptability, resilience, and self-confidence. The ability to know and learn another language far exceeds that of adults because they find innovative ways to solve problems when communicating.
But not everything is positive, there are also risks and these are the disadvantages
Children who move to another country because of their parents’ jobs are called Third Culture Kids (TCK) and may suffer from small identity crises as they do not feel part of any place.
Going through a long period of adjustment in one country can sometimes not be easy as they must move to another place and suffer the process of having to leave behind friends and places where they felt comfortable. Goodbyes and losses sometimes cannot be processed quickly or in a few hours and parents must act to prioritize them and not override their job expectations over the mental health of their children.
What should parents do?
It is not possible to avoid moving to another country when it is part of our job, but we can work on a positive impact on our children.
Making the move a positive experience will help offset the possible negative effects of frequent transitions
Before the move
- Discuss living arrangements in the new country with your children, and research together places to visit such as parks or children’s museums.
- Locate immediate food options before you arrive. Are there stores nearby? What types of restaurants are nearby?
- Pack your favorite snacks or know where to buy them locally; this will give you a sense of familiarity with the unfamiliar.
- If you are moving to a country with a higher security risk than you are used to, talk to your children about how they will stay safe (in an age-appropriate way).
- Before you arrive, consider what you will need for school (uniform, shoes, supplies) and take them or know where to get them.
- During this time give your children the utmost peace of mind and patience to cope with the sad part that this time may entail.
- Always be present, interested, and supportive of your children and all their needs.
- Prioritize the children’s needs over work. Have dinner with them, show interest in their day-to-day lives, and spend regular time together doing things you all enjoy.
- Take care of yourself and your needs.
- Create a sense of belonging within your family. This will be a source of stability and consistency even when you move away and can work to fulfill a need for community and connection.
- Educate your children about this key aspect of who they are.
- Offer them choices when feasible to give them some sense of control in what feels like an out-of-control experience.
With every move, the environment changes a lot and having a stable, safe, and secure family is critical to the healthy development of children.
Well-being, safety, and rest
Children need to know that their physical needs for sustenance, safety, and rest are being met, so they can relax and focus on growing, exploring, learning, and playing. When they sense insecurity, they become anxious. This can be expressed as moodiness, being overly clingy, or crying more, which makes a difficult situation, such as moving to a new country, even more difficult. When they feel that the adults in their lives are in control and are confident with logistics and food, they can relax and focus on adjusting and exploring. Their curiosity about their new home will in turn engage them and further awaken their sense of adventure.
Autonomy, play, and contribution
All children learn through play and need opportunities to do so. Involving them in decisions and giving them autonomy is important to give them confidence that they will learn to do new and challenging things.
A key point is an attitude you have that affects positively or negatively the way they perceive the adventure.
Although parents are stressed by all the details of the move and the fact of settling in another country, they should avoid disconnecting from their tribe, family, and children who have already had to leave their environment behind.
Enjoy the new experience and make the best of it.