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7 Tips for Helping your Children tackle Culture Shock

05 February, 2013 08:34  EasyExpat EasyExpat

Family unpacking @ FotoliaMoving to a new home, a new environment, always requires a period of adjustment. But when your move takes you overseas, into completely unfamiliar surroundings or a different culture, adjusting can prove very difficult.

There can be new languages to learn, new climates to get used to, new customs and values to observe – all of which make forming relationships and developing a sense of belonging more challenging.  While some people get over the initial culture shock which comes of moving abroad quite rapidly, others find that feelings of anxiousness, loneliness, sadness and frustration can stay with them for quite some time.  In the worst cases of culture shock these feelings build until they become completely overwhelming, often resulting in the person/people affected returning home.

Whilst children generally accept new situations more readily than adults – who have had more time to build up resistance to change – they still experience culture shock. In some situations children can find it even more difficult than their parents to digest their new surroundings. If you’re worried about how your child is going to cope in the face of such a big life change read our tips for helping your children deal with culture shock.

1. Accept that your children may be sad about moving, and let them express it

Often, when parents worry that their children may be unhappy about moving overseas they build up the event, focusing purely on the exciting aspects of it. But in trying to make it all about looking forward they can inadvertently disregard just how much their children’s lives are influenced by certain places/people. Acknowledging all the things your children are leaving behind, all the things they’re going to miss, and letting them say a proper goodbye can encourage a sense of closure and make the absence of these things easier to deal with in the long term.

2. Help them to fit in before the move

Although not every family can afford it, some expatriates have found that visiting the country they intend to live in a couple of weeks before the big move, and setting up things like their children’s schooling/signing them up for extracurricular activities/decorating their bedrooms, can make the situation easier on everyone when the permanent move occurs. By enrolling them in school and signing them up for activities you give your children something to look forward to and by decorating their bedrooms you increase the likelihood of them feeling at home when they arrive.         

3. Research your location

Make sure your children are aware of the good and the bad. Researching your future home before you go is essential; for one thing it means that you are far less likely to encounter any nasty surprises! But don’t see the area you’re moving to through rose tinted glasses – no matter how wonderful it may seem it isn’t going to be perfect. Ensuring that the whole family accept that there are going to be ups and downs, good aspects and bad aspects, will lessen disappointments and encourage everyone to approach the situation realistically, rather than idealistically!   

4. Take time to think about what matters most to your child

Every child has a toy, book, item of clothing or favoured object that has a particular special meaning. When it comes to packing up your old life make sure you leave those items out of the shipping containers. By taking them on the plane/train etc with your children you are making sure they have an easily accessible source of comfort. Also consider what things they like which won’t be available in your new country, food stuffs for example. If there’s a brand of biscuits or a type of chocolate bar you know they are really going to miss arrange with a friend or relative to have some sent out to you on a monthly basis. It might cost you a bit in postage but it will provide your children with a link to home and give them something to look forward to through the first few difficult months. Also, while it’s important to acknowledge how your host country does things, consider how you can keep old, favourite family traditions alive in your new location. 

5. Learn the language

This obviously isn’t always feasible, but if you can make some attempt as a family to learn elements of the language spoken in your new home before you move there you’ll be helping everyone. Even being able to say a few basic words can make a huge difference initially. Learning as a family can be challenging but it can also be fun, and a great way of bonding before the move.  

6. Set aside a time where you can talk through any issues

Once you’ve moved abroad the best way to deal with any issues your children may be having is to tackle them as soon as they arise. The first few weeks after the move will be hectic so make sure you set aside a designated time, at least once a week, where your family can get together and air any problems or concerns.

7. Avoid spending too much time with other expats

In countries with a strong expat community it can be tempting to spend all your time with fellow expats, people who know your culture, understand how you’re feeling and can offer help and advice. As comforting and useful as this may be neither you, nor your children, will ever feel like you truly belong in your new home unless you break out of the expatriate bubble occasionally and open yourself to new opportunities.

Finally, while you may find these tips useful, when it comes to helping your children adjust to culture shock the most important thing you can do is deal with it as a family, supporting each other and communicating as much as you can.

This post was provided by The Expat Hub, a top online stop for expatriate advice, support and information.     


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Helping Children with a big move [Reply]

I think that it is also important to put extra thought into your choice of new home. If you have a choice of living near a play park (for the kids), or a shopping mall(for you), go for the accommodation near the play park...

  Jason Lavis     06 Feb 2013, 02:12

Creating a safe zone for kids [Reply]

I think creating a hybrid 'safe zone' inside the home is really great for children. Sometimes you can't ignore that you are in a different country, even in your own home. But something like a VPN, so kids can watch the television shows they are used to, can be just enough of an escape from the culture shock to help them cope.

A Smith     08 Feb 2013, 13:56