Child psychologist Kate Berger gives her advice on making a move to France easier for your children
What are the most common problems children face when they move abroad?
One of the main challenges many expat children face is feeling lonely. They may struggle to make new friends while missing those they left behind and often their parents are preoccupied with the logistics of moving and their own adjustment process.
Integrating is an even bigger challenge when you can’t communicate with your peers and learning a whole new language might seem an impossible task at first. Becoming accustomed to a new culture can also be scary, as expat children must learn the etiquette and social expectations to help them fit into the community.
Finally, being separated from friends and family and missing the comfort and familiarity of their ‘home’ surroundings can sometimes lead to children feeling a strong sense of grief.
Is there anything parents can do before the move to make the transition easier?
The key is to be prepared. Discuss the move and include your children in planning your new life in France. Listening to what they have to say about their feelings of anger, happiness, sadness, guilt, grief, excitement or confusion towards the move is essential to pick up on the issues and things that may be worrying them.
Are there any signs to look for that your child is not settling well?
Children might not always tell you if they are finding it hard to cope with their new life in France. Young children who can’t yet express themselves verbally may show their anxiety in other ways: refusing to sleep in their own bed, becoming unusually aggressive toward other children or not enjoying the activities that they used to love. Changes in eating, sleeping or going to the loo are also good ‘red flags’ to watch out for.
Older children may find it easier to tell you how they are feeling, but watch out for signs they are becoming more insular or losing interest in the hobbies or activities they enjoyed in the UK.
What are the best ways to ease them into their new life abroad?
First and foremost, keep talking to your child and make sure they feel supported and listened to. Be prepared for all circumstances so that your children don’t feel alone in an unfamiliar place and try to remain positive. Keep links with home alive, not just through Skype and email, but also by celebrating family traditions: cook foods you all used to enjoy before the move and celebrate British cultural events. At the same time, embrace the customs and culture of your new home in France and create new family memories of your new surroundings.
Interaction with children their own age is one of the more daunting challenges that face children moving to a new country, but it’s also one of the most important. Help them by becoming socially interactive yourself. Meeting new people in the community will help you settle in to your new home, but will also inspire your children to have the confidence to do the same.
Remember that you are giving your children an amazing opportunity by experiencing life in a different country. Try not to feel guilty if your children take a while to settle in. This is only natural and kids are more resilient than you might think.
Kate Berger is a child psychologist and child development specialist who focuses on helping children integrate into foreign environments.
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