When is the best time to move with children?

Some couples start their international journey before having children, some already have one or two. Some families move every 2-3 years and stop when their children start high school, others stop earlier. What are the motives for families to stay put in one place?

When children are still young and don’t attend school, moving is far more easy. Their parents are their main points of reference and wherever they go, they’re happy.
Things become more complicated the older children become. 

When children start school, enter a certain system and get their first friends, feel they belong to a group, moving, change in general, becomes more difficult.

For preteens and teenagers, moving becomes  more challenging and many families decide not to move until their children have finished school.

These are the years when children struggle with their own identity, when they have a strong need to belonging to a group of peers.

If the social setting changes significantly during those years, they can easily feel disoriented, unaccepted and their self esteem and confidence suffers considerably.

Also, during these years, teenagers are under a great pressure at school: they have to decide what direction to take with their studies and they face intense years of testings that lead to their final exams that determine their future studies.

Changing schools, social environment, languages during these years can lead to delays in their academic achievements and their personal growth. 

When parents should listen to their children

I have advised many parents to attentively listen to their children before taking the decision to move once again, not only when they’re teenagers but even when they’re younger.

Feeling integrated, part of a group, is an important achievement for children who grow up with many changes, move often or are left behind on a regular basis.

Children who grow up internationally face more changes during their developmental years than the average adult in his/her lifetime. 

International families are a team: they need to take care of each other, collaborate and work towards a common goal. Although the most important decisions are usually taken by the parents, children and accompanying partners have the same right to voice their needs as the partner that is sent abroad by a company.

I am always surprised to see that parents tend to be more understanding towards colleagues and friends than towards their own children.

  • One would never ask a colleague or friend to do something he or she feels uncomfortable to do, why should one expect this from the own child?
  • Why do parents often expect from their children to blindly and silently follow their lead?
  • Is the new career step, the new experience worth to risk the wellbeing of a child or partner?

Ask your children what they prefer doing: if staying or moving. 

Ask them what their motives are, what they need right now and what their worries are.

Don’t be afraid to face a truth that might not correspond to your expectations.

– Too many parents assume that whatever they decide needs to be ok for their children.

Children will not speak up, unless they’re genuinely asked for their opinion.

They will not tell you how they really feel, unless you ask them and take the time to listen and understand their motives. – This doesn’t mean that one leaves the decision to the child. Sometimes all our children need is some more time, reassurance and empathy to get on the same page. But sometimes they need more…

If for any reason one of the family members struggles with the decision and needs more time, this needs to be taken seriously and plans need to be changed accordingly.

When a child is struggling with the imminent change, one needs to adapt change management strategies, like at work. When I suggested this to a client a few months ago, she said that she doesn’t have time for this. I understand that some families need to pack up and move within a few months, sometimes weeks. If you don’t have the choice and have to deal with the move yourself, alone, because your partner travels: seek help! Don’t be afraid of asking people to jump in and take care of some aspects of the move. You may want to focus on your children and yourself. 

If children would have a say, more than 50% of the moves wouldn’t take place.

Why? Because children need routines, they need to bond with peers, to learn how to make friends and keep friends. They can’t do this if they have to strike camp every 3 years.

It takes on average 1 year to settle in, to fully function in one place, and usually it takes up to 6 months (when we’re lucky to have this time) to prepare for the next move.

This leaves 1,5 to 2 years to children of highly mobile families (who move every 3 to 4 years)  to make the experience of a somehow deeper friendship and to feel grounded.


What is your experience with moves?

How old were your children when you moved? 

Do you plan to stay put until they reach a certain age, finish school?

I’d love to know your opinion on this topic.

Please, leave your comment here below!

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