Any international move is complicated, but moving with family takes even more planning.
The first challenge is to deliver the message to the family. This will require a detailed discussion; they are likely to have a large number of questions but it may not be easy to get them to ask them initially. Children of different ages will require different levels of support, as outlined below. With support, however, they will adapt, especially if you actively involve them in all aspects of the move and focus them on the excitement and opportunities.
Once the news has been received a number of issues will need to be addressed. You should get them to understand the country they will be moving to including the language and culture and the schools that they will be attending (The World of Expats Destination pages provides information that will help with this orientation). This can build their confidence and will help them to settle in more easily when they arrive. Age-appropriate books and research on the internet will help.
Members of your wider family who will not be coming with you also need to be considered to ensure that you maintain your relationships before, during and after the move. They will need to understand your motivation and you should involve them as much as possible. You will also need to agree how you will stay in touch after the move, using services such as email, Facebook and Skype to ensure you are regularly able to share news, photographs and video calls. Visits can also help to maintain relationships and provide something to look forward to.
The impact of a move on different age groups can vary significantly:
- Babies and Toddlers - Although they need constant attention there are no emotional issues for babies and toddlers. As they are too young to understand what is planned the move should have little impact on them. The main issues will be to ensure that bottles, toys and any other important items are available throughout the journey and are not packed accidentally. Once you have arrived routines are important in helping them to settle into their new home.
- Four to Eight Year Olds – Although younger children will have established school and neighbourhood friendships, they will generally be fairly adaptable. If required this age group can learn a new language fairly easily provided it is made fun. You will need to be patient in responding to all of the questions they will have and should emphasize the positives and be prepared to constantly reassure them.
- Nine to Twelve Year Olds – You should expect greater difficulties when dealing with this age group as they have more established groups of friends and are likely to have more emotional problems with the disruption to their lives. They may direct their anger and confusion at you and you will need to be open and honest in handling their concerns and actively involve them in decisions as far as possible. You should emphasize the positive and the new things that they can look forward to, such as clubs and activities that have always interested them. You can also help them to make arrangements to stay in touch with their friends via social media, phone and email and plan return trips.
- Early Teens – This group will have very well established groups of friends and this is likely to be a major issue for them. Even with an emphasis all of the opportunities and positives it may be difficult to get them to be positive. It is important to engage them in the decisions to be made and explain the opportunities available to help get them excited about the move. Communicating with their friends will be vital and the internet will be central to that, as will looking forward to a return trip at some defined point in the future. The opportunity to spend as much time as possible with their friends before they leave and to hold a leaving party will help them to adjust. If at all possible you should move at the end of the school year and try to enrol them in a school that has the same syllabus to minimize disruption.
- Sixteen to Eighteen Year Olds – This group will tend to be more mature and rational but may have just as many concerns about the prospects of leaving their friends and lifestyle. Moving them can also be very disruptive to their education. It is feasible to agree to leave this age group with another family member or at a boarding school. You can potentially get support from them in planning the move and with supporting younger siblings. If it is felt that they can move without disruption to their education they are likely to be excited by the positive opportunities that moving to a new part of the world provides.
A series of positive messages about the move and a willingness to talk through any concerns and issues as they arise will help the transition. A familiarization trip to see their new home can have a positive impact if it is practical to do so. Putting them in touch via social media with children of their own age already there can also help (The World of Expats Community can provide such contacts).