Guest contributor: REA - Ricklin-Echikson Associates
Part 2 of 2
Remember that effective communication involves listening and understanding. Leave pauses in conversations to give children a chance to ask questions. Make sure they know you’re willing to listen to them and discuss their viewpoint. Reassure them that the whole family is moving together; no one will be left behind.
As children react to news of the move, be empathetic and respect their feelings. Perhaps your child will express anger about moving. At first, you might be tempted to point out that you are trying to provide a nicer home and lifestyle and that they should be grateful. That type of comment may alienate a child and induce guilt.
Give your child adequate notice to get used to the idea of moving. Acknowledge their sadness about leaving behind friends and familiar places. Let them know you are sympathetic and that you understand that they might feel nervous about what awaits them- whether it is new people, the new school or the new bus ride. At the same time, tell them you will try to make the move as easy as possible for the entire family.
If you are also experiencing stress about the move, be open with your feelings. At the same time, keep in mind that your own anxiety might rub off on your child. For that reason, try maintaining and communicating an optimistic attitude about what lies ahead. Model appropriate coping strategies and be sure to take good care of yourself.
Talk about the decision. Explain the reason for the move in language appropriate to the child's age. If the move is for the better, explain how it will benefit them. If the move will mean difficult changes, parents should be honest about things that will and will not change. Include older children, if possible, in appropriate decision-making. Although children may not have veto power about the move, allow them control over certain areas of their life such as the color of their new bedroom or their choice of after-school activities.
Children tend to think about the negatives when faced with a relocation. There is the loss of friends and, along with it, loss of a sense of belonging. In the new community the children will be strangers and may need to learn some different social rules. In changing schools they might have to leave behind extracurricular activities - a sports team, a school drama program - that were important to them. Upon arriving at their new school, they may find themselves either academically ahead of or behind their new classmates, depending on the curriculum in the previous school.
In helping your child prepare for your employee relocation, place as much emphasis as possible on the positive aspects of what awaits him. This is an opportunity for your child to live in and learn about a new city, perhaps even a new country and its people. He may be exposed to new cultural traditions and interesting and different ways of life. It also is a chance to meet new people and make new friends. Explain how the family will benefit from the move.
If your child wants to keep his old friendships, help him do so. Host a farewell party with his friends, and take photographs as keepsakes. Encourage him to write letters, email and make phone calls. If possible, visit the old neighborhood from time to time, and invite some of his old friends to spend weekends and vacations with you. Let him know that even though you have moved, he does not have to break the ties that have been so important. Social networking, gaming sites and video chat also provide good communication options for older children.
Connect, Connect, Connect
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help with the transition is to make connections in your new home. This is especially hard to do when you are busy unpacking and organizing, but it is essential to the success of the move.
As you meet new people through local schools, groups or organizations, you can be opening some doors for your child to make new friends. Reach out to people who have children the same age as your own child. Invite them over to make it easier for your child to meet other children. Investigate community sports activities and clubs. As your child sees you finding your place in the new community, he will feel more comfortable and secure doing the same. If you are successful in finding a new friend for your child before school starts, your child will have the security of knowing someone on the first day of school.
If your employer offers relocation and transition services, try to take advantage of the help that is offered. These consultants are skilled in helping families connect in their new communities by matching interests with clubs, schools, recreational options, community resources, etc. A transition coach is specially trained to address the feelings and challenges that moving families experience.
Researchers tell us that adults and children need time to adjust - often as long as 16 months. For some families, the most stressful time is 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after the move. For many families, however, the time of the move is one when everyone pitches in and works together as a team. It is only a month or so after the move that the reality of friends and places left behind begins to sink in. Frustration, anger, and confusion are common emotions at this time. Moving is stressful for adults and is particularly stressful for children, as they have limited coping skills.
Be patient. Some children will jump in, develop a support network of friends, and become involved with school and activities without missing a beat. Other kids may need more time and help to acclimate and feel at ease.
When making a global move, it is important to keep “culture shock” in mind. After a few months of the “honeymoon” period when the new location is exciting and fun, a period of discontent sets in during which the family will slowly begin to accept the new culture. There can be periods of positive feelings during this time mixed with anger and frustration- especially when the new location is compared to the positive aspects of “home.” This normally improves after 9-12 months. Learning the local language and customs goes a long way towards faster assimilation.
Special Needs Kids
For children with special needs, parents should plan ahead for referrals and resources. Maintaining consistent services and proactively setting up systems for children with educational, medical, or mental health needs can ease the transition, help maintain progress, and deal with problems resulting from the move. Current tutors, teachers, mental health and medical professionals should be consulted and asked for recommendations and help in obtaining services in the new location.
If you suspect that your child may have undiagnosed conditions, try to obtain an evaluation and treatment plan before relocating globally. It is important to note that some medications that are commonly prescribed in the US may not be available in all countries. It is also important to find new providers who are willing and able to treat in your child’s native or strongest language.
Ask For Help
Your child may need professional help if she or he is having trouble adjusting. A guidance counselor or professional therapist may be able to help your child make a successful adjustment. Long-term anxiety, depression, significant disruptions in sleep, poor socialization, and falling grades may indicate that children need professional mental health services to help them adjust to their new environment. Seek help early.