How Does Moving to Another Country Affect Children?
Moving to another country is a challenging process that is faced by increasing numbers of expatriates, including children. It is often said that children are resilient, learn new languages easily and adjust to changes in their environment more easily than adults. Sometimes this is true, but there are unique challenges children face when they move to another country. Knowing what to expect and the possible effects of moving can help parents prepare their kids for the transition.
In almost all cases, children are not asked if they would like to move. This can often result in a feeling of powerlessness and sometimes resentment. While parents are excitedly preparing for a move, children may not understand why they have to leave home or what kind of life they will have in a new country. To help children avoid this feeling of powerlessness, many experts recommend parents begin talking with their kids about the move as early as possible, even in the decision-making phase.
Moving to another country undeniably affects a child's education, but whether it is in a positive or negative way varies from case to case. While some children thrive in a new environment and experience enhanced learning in their new country, others might struggle with language issues and cultural barriers. Different academic options exist in many countries for the children of expatriates, such as international schools and home schooling, in addition to attending local schools. Choosing the right kind of school is important, but depends entirely on the available options and the child's temperament.
Moving to a new country has the effect of removing a child's social support beyond the immediate family. Leaving friends, extended family and familiar environments behind can make a child feel lonely and isolated. Openly discussing these feelings, becoming engaged in sports or extracurricular activities and keeping in touch with friends at home are ways to lessen the negative emotional effects of the loss of social support.
Expat Child Syndrome
Psychologists have coined a term "expat child syndrome" to describe the particular psychological effects of moving to another country 2. The syndrome usually manifests in older children between the ages of 10 and 15, and can lead to withdrawn or disruptive behavior. Communicating openly and honestly with children, making them part of the decision process, and spending lots of time with them directly after a move can help keep the syndrome and its symptoms at bay.
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