Moving abroad creates opportunities for children like no other experience can. The most notable skills that can develop from the experience are increased communication skills, enhanced capacity to understand multiple perspectives and increased resilience that allows them to adapt quickly in new environments.
A recent poll of 26,871 expats by HSBC, the bank, revealed that more than two in five expat parents found their kids more well rounded and confident following their overseas move. Nearly half said their kids had made a more diverse circle of friends.
Yet relocation also poses challenges. Children who change environments leave behind family, friends, beloved places and, often, part of their identity. Some of the most difficult factors identified in the HSBC survey were: settling into a new school, making new friends and understanding a new language.
So what can parents do to help? Most useful is encouraging children to see such difficulties as achievable challenges. Viewing them as temporary obstacles, not barriers, will set the foundation for children’s willingness to approach them positively and confidently.
Providing validation and empathy is also essential. This means acknowledging that the experiences are hard, and identifying their emotions by asking questions like, “Are you frustrated because you can’t walk to Grandpa’s house any more?” or “Are you scared about making friends?”. This helps children feel cared for. When done effectively, it can actually soothe the stress-response mechanism in the body, allowing for increased thinking and concentrating and making children more efficient with things such as problem solving.
Parents should also prioritise family time and lead by example when it comes to handling the move. Children will be watching closely, and this will help them develop a resilience characterised by persevering when life gets hard rather than handling challenges perfectly. It can even bring families together. HSBC found that 46 per cent of expat parents felt closer to their children after moving overseas.
For children who are settling into a new school, parents can help by telling staff about any specific relocation challenges their family is facing. This way children have better opportunities to build relationships in their school environment, which will improve their potential for learning.
Cultivating a positive attitude is essential. The entire family can reap the potential benefits of relocation, but it is perhaps children who have the unique opportunity to become globally minded, compassionate young people who grow up to influence our planet in important and exciting ways.
Kate Berger is a child and adolescent psychologist and founder of The Expat Kids Club, which counsels young expats and their families.