4 Reasons Expat Kids May Be Unhappy (Are Yours?)

Did your expat kids start off on the right track in their new foreign life but after the first few months and once the initial excitement wore off, they had some setbacks?

Or what if, from the get-go, your kids just weren’t excited about the move? And even six months later or more, they still haven’t embraced the idea of this new life.

First off, it’s OKAY!

Do they truly hate their new life and new country? Most likely, NO. The emotional ups and downs all expat kids experience are completely normal. But as most parents do, we feel a responsibility to solve our kids’ problems – find the solutions, right?

We carry their emotions on our shoulders.

So, ask yourself if the below list of reasons why your expat kids might be unhappy sounds familiar at all and what you can do to help!

Are you pushing the new language too hard?

Learning a new language hasn’t been easy for my husband and I. The whole “can’t teach an old dog…” thing. But we knew the kids would absorb the Spanish language much quicker. What we didn’t realize was how.

Spanish TV? Spanish tutor? Spanish babysitters? Nope. None of these things, while they may have mildly contributed, really made a huge difference. Once we stopped forcing the language onto the kids, they began learning it more naturally.

Social time on the playground and in the lunchroom was where they picked it up the most. They came home singing songs, playing games and speaking phrases we’ve never heard of.

And that’s what made us realize, our kids will learn at their own pace and in the way that best suits them. And while they may not be fluent today, they certainly feel confident enough to chat with other kids on the playground or an adult on the bus.

So if this sounds familiar, take a step back from turning your child into a bi/tri-lingual mastermind overnight. Alleviating the pressure can help the learning process to happen more naturally.

Are all of their friends from your native country?

It’s easier than ever today to connect with people from all over the world. Or in our case, connect with other Americans on this side of the world. And while there’s nothing wrong with finding “your” people in a foreign country, you want to avoid living in an expat bubble.

If you and your kids are only befriending fellow natives, you’re cheating yourself. Of course, I love bumping into other Americans here – so much so that I practically bear hug them! But for my sake as well as for my kids, I make sure not to stay where it’s familiar.

This is the main reason we chose not to send our kids to the American International School in Barcelona. We wanted a more global experience for them where they wouldn’t be surrounded by kids exactly like them from the same familiar surroundings of back home.

Otherwise, what’s the point really? The whole fascination with moving abroad is discovering and connecting with people of other cultures. Failing to do so would only be limiting the potential of you and your childrens’ experience abroad.

So, if this sounds familiar try expanding your social circle. No, you don’t need to be fluent in the local language in order to do this! Start with Facebook Groups as I mention in my post How To Prepare Your Kids to Move Abroad https://theexpatchronicle.net/how-to-prepare-your-kids/. Use keywords: playgroup, parents in ‘x city’, children in ‘x city’, family activities in ‘x city’. You’ll be amazed at the people you can connect with and how easy it is to schedule meetups.

You get the point. Put yourself out there. It can be scary and intimidating at first, sure. But think of how enriched your social circle and that of your kids will be!

Are there too many changes all at once?

New country, new school, new friends, new language. The experience is overwhelming for most adults, so imagine what it’s like to be a child processing it all.

And as a parent, it’s our job to keep a pulse on this. All kids are different and while one may be more easy going and open to change, the other may find his/her world rocked at any adjustment to their routine.

Understand that your kids will adjust at different speeds. Introduce new things when the child seems ready, excited even. You’ll know when the right time is.

Be sure to pack special reminders from home – photos, books, toys, stuffed animals. But know where to draw the line. It’s important that our kids feel a connection to where they come from but also have enough space (in the emotional sense) to allow new experiences in. If we spend too much time dwelling on life “the way things were”, we’ll find ourselves and our kids stuck there.

Does that make sense?

If this also sounds familiar, try turning the tables. Put yourself in their position. Think back to a time when you were young and overwhelmed by a new school or even a job. Now dial up the experience by about 10 notches – and that’s where your kids are at!

Relating to our little ones at their level is the best way to reassure them and build their confidence.

Are your expectations unrealistic?

The number one thing we heard from people as we prepared to move abroad was, “Kids are so resilient, they’ll adjust right away!”

Hearing that over and over set the expectation in our minds that within a matter of weeks, the kids would be right at home in their new country.

And in some respects, this was true. They loved trying new food, visiting tons of new places, taking different methods of public transportation and learning about the history here. They embraced our new apartment and made it their home.

But other things took longer than expected. They missed our spacious home in NJ, extended family/friends and the comfortable neighborhood. The language didn’t happen overnight which in turn impacted the kids’ ability to forge immediate relationships with people. Once school began in September, this improved a bit – but absolutely took time.

So, if this sounds familiar, take our advice. Keep your expectations realistic. You’ve left home and moved to another part of the globe! Some people will take a year or more to truly feel at home in their new surroundings. Your children are no exception and as long as you know this going in, the process will happen naturally.

So simply put, slow down and enjoy the ride as a family. Support one another along the way and be patient with your little ones. They’ll be just fine…

Tell me about your experience moving abroad with kids in the comments below! Did they adjust immediately as expats or take more time? How about learning a new language? Love to hear your story!