Got a family now? Concerned that the next big career opportunity might include an international move? Or maybe you’re already working abroad with children and wondering about the effect it might be having on your little ones’ (or not so little) development and well-being?
Well, the good news is that according to Parenting.com, expatriate children, particularly if they end up being bilingual, might very well grow up to be the savvy, multilingual, open-minded, high-achieving, well-adjusted people you’d always hoped for. The experience of living abroad during some portion of childhood could prove to be a deeply beneficial one that broadens horizons, cultivates a skill set that might prove invaluable later in life, or instills in the young person a life-driving passion.
Dreams of raising the next multi-lingual global citizen aside, the experience of moving and living abroad for a young person can be very daunting. Modern experts, psychologists and even the vast majority of companies these days are aware of the emotional challenges expatriate living places on children. The following is a collection of tips from the top professionals on the subject.
1. There is no substitute for mom. Outdated as it may sound, a mother’s love and stabilizing presence is invaluable when it comes to easing the expatriate transition for young children. And, if mom’s the one who’ll be off at work, having dad, another partner, family member or longtime nanny with the kids is nearly as good. If your company or personal situation affords, keeping one parent home for the first few months – at least until the new routine is set – is the single best way to assure a smooth emotional transition for young children.
2. Be there for your kids. Regardless of age, setting aside extra family time is imperative for the emotional wellbeing of the kids. And you don’t need to lock yourself in the flat. Exploring the new environment as a whole family is a great way to get the kids comfortable and open them up to the wonder and opportunity of living abroad.
3. Seek out community. Expatriate living can be deeply isolating for adult and child alike, maybe even more so for parents with young kids. But the good news is, nearly every city in the world has an expatriate community filled with people who understand your circumstances. Go outside of your comfort zone and join a support group, club or organization. And when it comes to the kids, help them form some community as well by making “play dates” and enrolling the kids in music, art and sports classes.
4. Know what you’re getting in to. Developing an understanding of the culture you’ll be living in is a major key to success and happiness for parent and child. Just as the parent is going to be dealing with some degree of culture shock, so too will your kids. Kids, however, have no ability to discern between the cultural and the personal, and may spend a lot of time with “hurt feelings.” Helping your kids understand things like, “at home we sometimes keep our shoes on in the house, but here it’s the custom to take them off,” can go along way to helping your children develop some cultural fluency.
5. Mind your actions and your tongue. Parents who are depressed and unhappy in their new home, and who express these sentiments in front of the kids, will almost assuredly have kids who feel likewise. Be honest about the fear and challenges you and your kids might be facing – talk with them about these feelings – but work to keep the home open and upbeat. Find things to love about your new home, stuff the kids love as well, and be sure to share that enthusiasm with your kids.
Editor, RW3 CultureWizard
RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information, primarily through the CultureWizard and CulturalTraining.com intercultural learning platforms.