Raising children abroad, in one or more other countries, is an exciting adventure, but it can also be a challenging task.
- How well will your children adapt?
- How will they cope with the cultural differences?
- How well will they learn the new languages?
The wellbeing of your children during their life in different countries pretty much depends on their age when they experience transitions. Many parents don’t consider the impact that international childhood has on their children. Constant changes on many different levels can be disorienting and can have a detrimental effect on the child’s sense of belonging and identity.
1) The age matters more than you think
Moving with a baby or toddler is quite “easy” compared to moving with a school aged child or teenager.
Babies and toddlers don’t fully understand the changes they’re going through, although parents shouldn’t underestimate that they will notice the change of food, smells, flavors, habits and routines etc. ,and can have a strong reaction to this too – some toddlers might need diapers again, others might react with aggression or by turning silent.
The older the child gets, the more he will feel at home among peers. Moving away from them means for these children, loose their “world”.
Many parents focus on transmitting their heritage culture, neglecting to foster also the local culture which, for their children, is “their” culture they grow up in!
Older children are much more aware of the different cultures they are familiar with and will develop a sense of belonging to all of them.
It is the parents’ task to help them deal with these different cultures and all that comes with it!
If your children are teenagers when you move abroad, i.e. they grew up in one country, they will probably have a quite firm cultural identity which will make it a bit easier for them with the new culture but: they will miss their peers, they might struggle with the new school, the expectations from teachers and peers, they might not understand the language and slang.
If you move with teenagers who already lived in different places before, it might be that they are ready to move, that they even long for a change, but it can also be that they are tired to move, that it is not the right time for them… Make sure that you help them prepare for the move and consider their needs!
2) Need of a stable background
Growing up in different cultures will NOT make your children feel rootless and unsure of their cultural identity. Being asked to choose one culture over another will make them wonder if what they experience is different from what those who ask consider “normal”… When they experience that they are not fulfilling other peoples expectations when it comes to cultural categories or “boxes”, they will start feeling unstable and question their international upbringing. This is when parents should be there to help them find the beauty in their diverse background!
Being separated by their friends is the most painful aspect for teenagers. Feeling isolated and not belonging is very common at least in the first months and most of the children will need approximately a year to “function” in the new life.
It is essential to provide children with a stable background at home, to give them constant emotional stability and help them to understand and appreciate the cultural differences!
3) Learn the other languages!
Non-English speaking families usually do this naturally. They learn the local language and improve their English when living abroad as this is often required to work and live in another country.
Enrolling your children in local schools can be the only option if you live in rural areas or count staying longer. Please be aware that it takes some time to adjust to the new language and school culture! Make sure teachers allow your children to talk about previous experiences, shares pictures and stories about the places they have lived and, in the best case, have buddies who help them adjust easier in the new setting.
Many schools assess children’s language right at the beginning, which is not always beneficial for the children’s adjustment as it often puts them in the wrong “group” and labels them – once again – as “not enough”…
Ask if the new school has a solid transition program at hand!
Get in touch with me if you have any question or issue regarding this.
Also, it is better that before your move, you and your child learn at least the basics of the country’s language and culture!
– If you are moving to The Hague, I also offer cultural trainings for individuals and families designed for internationals who want to adjust easier and quicker to the new place.
4) Adapt and gain self-confidence
Adapting to the local culture means not only learning the local language and understanding the local culture, but also getting in contact with locals.
Your children will adapt much easier if they see you doing the same.
Try not to stay in the “international or expat bubble” for too long! I have seen families stuck in that bubble for many years, never really adapting and never really enjoying their life in the other country to the fullest!
The inter-cultural awareness and acceptance will give your children much better chances of succeeding in their studies and career. Navigating in different countries and cultural settings will boost their self-confidence!
Raising children abroad requires constant support and dedication from the parents! Like other Third Culture Kids – and Third Culture Adults or Adult Third Culture Kids! – they will build up their own cultural identity.
In my in person and online workshops on International Life I focus on all the important aspects to consider when moving abroad and living abroad with children!
– Please contact me if you want me to hold a workshop in your area or if you would like to be informed about my next online workshops.