From a fellow expat parent, here are my best tips for preparing your little ones to become expat kids!
Planning for a family move can be super stressful and feel like an overwhelming list of to-do’s! So when we talk about moving overseas to a foreign country, well that’s just a whole different ballgame guys. Language barriers, cultural differences, and endless paperwork are all-consuming! It’s easy to loose sight of what’s truly important – and that is how to best prepare your kids for their move abroad and transition into becoming expats.
No amount of online research can truly equip you or your kids for this life changing experience – to leave everything behind that is familiar and comfortable to start new. No matter what, the experience will bring about tons of different emotions for each member of your family.
It wasn’t until 3-4 months after relocating to Barcelona that our family really began adjusting to our overseas life. And that was because we made loads of mistakes and just had to learn the hard way!
So how do parents prepare their children as best as possible for the road ahead into expat life?
Our family of five is now going on year four living in Spain and I can honestly say from experience, there are some things I could have done a better job of before leaving home. I hope these six tips offer you some guidance to make the move as smooth as possible for little ones. And for yourself!
6 Tips on How to Prepare Your Kids for Moving Abroad
1. Connecting Kids’ Emotions
As many emotions as YOU may be experiencing during this journey, your children are too. Yes, perhaps they are too young to understand the full extent of what your move abroad involves or how it will impact their lives. But surely the fear and uncertainty of what lies ahead should not go unnoticed.
Some parents feel if they choose to focus only on the positive aspects of the move, their children will forget the negative feelings. And this is just not true! ANY and all emotions your kids have about becoming expats should be identified and expressed openly. As your kids share, try not to defend or explain. Simply listen and be there. Children feeling supported by their parents will give them the confidence to handle these big feelings in a rational and calm way.
This was the inspiration for writing the expat kids’ book titled A Passport for Bun-Bun, for sale on AMAZON. The story features a 7-year old girl named Anna and her beloved stuffed bunny as they move abroad with their family. Anna and Bun-Bun must learn what it’s like to pack up their belongings, say goodbye to friends and move to an unfamiliar place.
The language is different, the food is different. Even the TV shows are different! And what starts to feel like a far away planet to Anna and Bun-Bun will soon become the home they grow to love.
Kids preparing for a family move will love this sweet tale told from the perspective of Anna as she shares the ups and downs of being an expat kid. And making that first new friend. A Passport for Bun-Bun will allow kids experiencing a move abroad to connect their feelings with story events. And eventually learn to embrace the beauty and adventure that comes from owning a passport and living in a foreign country.
Soft cover and hard cover copies of A Passport for Bun-Bun also include the My Very Own Passport Activity at the back. Children will have the opportunity to create a fun passport with country stamps for their own stuffed animal as they take the journey abroad together.
2. Focus on Kids’ Interests
Give some thought to what your kids are truly interested in and use that info to your advantage. My son enjoys futbol (soccer for you fellow Americans!) and building Legos. My daughter enjoys All-Star cheerleading (not the easiest to find in Europe) and gymnastics. So I made it my mission to find options for them in Barcelona.
Spend some time researching your new city and what is offered in the way of sports, activities, clubs, etc. your kids will enjoy. This will help them to focus on and get excited about a positive aspect of their relocation. If you need personal recommendations, always join Facebook groups! This worked wonders for me as I needed help navigating all the various options for sports in this city.
3. Play the Language Game
The hardest part about moving someplace new is how unfamiliar everything is. So imagine adding a new foreign language on top of that? What has given my children the comfort and confidence adjusting to life in Spain is being able to communicate with locals.
Do yourself a favor and introduce the new language, whatever it might be, to your children before making your overseas move. It will only help them feel more comfortable once you touch ground in your new surroundings. Try making or buying inexpensive language flashcards. Or place signs around your home labeling the objects.
I cannot tell you how many restaurants we go to where the waiter speaks beautiful English to us. When we casually ask where he or she learned English, most of them say by watching American TV shows like Friends! This cracked me up the first time I heard it but has a lot of truth to it for children. Try turning on one of their favorite shows in the foreign language of the country you’ll move to – and after a few weeks watch them absorb words and phrases.
4. Build Early Relationships
It sure helps to have a new friend in a strange, unfamiliar place. In my last article Advice to Future Expats I shared how valuable connecting with other expat moms over Facebook was. The same applies to your kids and helping them to make new friends. There are actual playdate expat groups on social media filled with none other than…you guessed it – expat moms looking to help their kids build early relationships. Genius!
How excited would your kids be to have a new friend in the first or second week of your relocation? Sure you’ll have a million other things to think about once you move abroad, but this should be at the top of the list! You’ll be thankful you made the effort…
5. Make New Friends but Keep the Old
It’s important for the transition of your children to keep existing relationships strong. We printed up “new address” cards for the kids’ close friends so they could share our relocation news with their besties. Technology and social media make it easier than ever today to move abroad but still maintain your ties to home. Facetime, WhatsApp, Instagram and even TickTock help kids feel the connection with friends and family. But in addition, going the traditional snail-mail route is also fun!!
6. Plan the Move Together
Making children as much a part of the planning process as possible is important! It helps them to feel valued and also gives a connection to their new home. For example, let kids decide (to an extent!) what their room will look like, how it will be designed, what personal items/toys to pack. they may choose to leave things similar to their old room or change completely. the idea is, the decision is left to them. Try to reduce the urge to control too much of this process.
You want children to be truly excited about the new space they will call their own…