Kids are funny – they hate change and yet they are generally much more flexible and adaptable than adults when it really comes down to it! As a parent planning a move, one of the biggest worries is making sure your children are ok. Am I forever screwing them up by taking them out of their familiar environment? Will they make friends? Will they get along at school? There is of course no way of knowing how an individual child will react. However, one thing you probably can count on is initial loud protest. And this is true whether the move is going across town or across the ocean to foreign lands.
In my own experience the protesting can be quite vigorous: “You are crazy if you think I’ll ever leave here! You are ruining my life!” are some of the words I have heard from my own children. But somehow, a little preparation and exploration can go a long way when trying to spark curiosity and interest. And, if you are really lucky, your children may even get into it and start feeling like they are headed for an adventure.
Good preparation is key in getting your kids on board. Most experts agree that open communication and making sure your children are part of the process is vital. Talk about the place you are moving to and familiarize your selves with it. What does it look like, what’s the weather like, what is there to do? Will you have to learn a foreign language? Maybe you can prepare with your children by taking a language class together?
There are different opinions among experts on the usefulness of taking your children on a quick ‘look-see’ trip. If it is truly a quick trip, chock-full of appointments where you will be darting from place to place, then it may very well be better for the parents to go alone. You want to make sure you get a chance to do and see all the things on your agenda, and doing so with kids in tow can be difficult. Younger kids are not likely to benefit from a trip like that, but will only be stressed out and may even come away with negative feelings. If you have more time then perhaps taking the kids is a great idea, especially if they are a little older.
What else can you do to make sure your kids get settled? One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to expect their children to ‘come around’ quickly. So, remind yourself to give time for adjustment. Make sure they understand that it’s ok to miss home, let them know that you miss home too. It’s likely that for some period of time, talk of home and old friends will be commonplace, and that should be ok. Engage with your children about what it is they miss and why. For most, as time goes on, focus will shift to what is going on presently, with new friends and new activities.
But what do you do if the relocation really isn’t working for your child? If you have given it time and your child is still unhappy? This is a difficult family discussion to have and resolutions will be different depending on your circumstances. I have friends where the non-working partner left the assignment early to go home with an unhappy child. I have family members who decided to have the accompanying partner stay behind a year so that one child could finish high school at home. In both scenarios the families made it work. It wasn’t ideal for everyone involved but it was what was best for the child.
As all parents know, watching your child struggle and not knowing how to help is heartbreaking. Letting your child know you are listening and taking him/her seriously is an important step in figuring out what to do. As I keep telling my homesick son who went overseas for college not long ago: “coming home is always an option!” He knows I mean it, and it gives him enough comfort to carry on for another week, and then another, and then another – at least so far!
By: Felicia Shermis