Moving is stressful, and the reasons why vary for adults and kids. It is important to help children adjust to the idea of a move to a new country and all it entails. Here is how.
Immigrating to a new country is done for several reasons. Irrespective of age, a move to a new country can be stressful for an adult, and even more so for a child. With younger children, those not yet in formal school, the time taken to adjust to a change of country may be smaller. But, the older a child is, the more they will need your help in coping with the change. While you may see the move from the lens of better future prospects, a kid’s view can be (not always) black or white. They may look at the move as a whole new adventure, or may simply reject anything to do with the idea.
Here is how you can help youngsters cope with an international move.
Make them part of the decision-making process
If your children are old enough to make decisions (even something as simple as what to wear for the day), then including them in the decision-making process related to your move is a good idea. Being made part of the process helps them adjust to the idea of the move. Show them the homes you are looking at, what their prospective room may look like. Let children take a look at the schools around and what they offer. Allowing children to do their research on schools gives them a chance to assess for themselves whether they are okay with one or the other.
Let them know that you are open to listening to their thoughts on prospective homes and schools. Give children veto power in some of the decision-making. It gives them some reassurance that the move is not all that bad and that perhaps they can make some new beginnings here, without being overwhelmed.
Help them with goodbyes and plans for keeping in touch with friends
Especially with children who have well-formed social circles, moving away can be stressful. They will be moving from familiar group dynamics to something new and it can be worrying for anyone, but especially teenagers.
There are two parts to helping them adjust. The first is to help them with their goodbyes. Have fun farewell parties. Allow close friends to stay over and spend some quality time together. Help the group plan catch-ups – the internet and video-chatting has made keeping in touch easier than ever. Encourage your child’s friends to create a small set of videos with a message for your child that you can share with him once you have moved. It may be emotional, but it does work as a way of reassuring them that they will not be forgotten.
Bring in some of the familiar
Adjusting to a new place is easier when there is something familiar. For children, tell them about the activities they like that are available in the area. Find out if some of the fun classes they are currently taking are in the new city that you are moving to. Is there a fast food brand they like that is in close proximity? Let them know this. It makes the move to a new place less intimidating.
Once you have made the move, try setting up your child’s room the way they are used to, right down to the linen and the bookshelves. While the instinct is to get in everything new and make a fresh beginning, the familiar can help a child adjust better.
Prepare them for the first day at school
You know the stress you feel when you step into a new office on the first day? Will you find like-minded colleagues? Will you find someone to hang out with during the lunch break? Will you be able to get into social circles that form in an office? Now imagine the same stress for your child. Irrespective of age, they have the same feelings and their coping mechanisms may not be as evolved as that of an adult.
To help prepare them, try to make your move a few weeks before the start of the new school term. In that time, enrol kids in neighbourhood activities where they will meet and socialise with new children in an informal way. Most kids of the neighbourhood tend to go to the same school and so on day one, your child will have some familiar faces. Speak in advance to teachers and coaches to help your child make the transition. Find out if the school has a buddy system that you can encourage your child to take advantage of.
Explore your new area
On the first couple of weekends after your move, take some time out to explore with the kids. Take them to malls in the vicinity where youngsters of their age hang out. Find out what are the popular fast food joints or activities that kids indulge in and take them there. Show them walking and cycling routes from school and back or to their new friend’s homes and back. Ask for a new school friend to tag along and let them lead the exploring. All this will help a child familiarise with a new place quickly and also give then touch points when their new friends talk about something.
Look for signs of emotional distress
While these are ways in which to help a child or a teen adjust to a new move, you have to remember that each child is different. Despite all your efforts, you may hit a wall and not know if things are alright with your child. Look for tell-tale signs – anger, irritability, unnatural silence, a lack of interest in things that he once liked or anything out of the ordinary. Try and open channels of communication at such times – don’t go on the offensive and demand to know what’s wrong, but rather ease into the subject. Tell children you understand how difficult the move is for them and the fact that you may not always see the effect from their perspective. Ask them to help you understand and this could lead you to the source of trouble and you can address it.
A move to a new place is not just about making a physical move, it is emotional and mental too. Children adjust in different ways and it is important to keep an open mind when it comes to helping them come to positive terms with it. It takes time, but they will make friends, they will enjoy school, and kids are very adaptable and resilient.