While expat parents don’t have to involve toddlers in analytical discussions about adjustment, they should talk to older kids about the changes everyone will experience when moving to a new culture.
Softening the impact
Like adults, your kids will also go through what we call ‘the Cycle of Change’. From the ‘honeymoon phase’ through ‘disorientation’, ‘denial’ and then ‘frustration’ (don’t worry ‘acceptance’ comes next). To soften the impact of what is commonly known as culture shock, talk to your kids about what they may soon experience, and how they can recognise the stages. You can even discuss how you will tackle them together (while keeping some tricks up your sleeve).
A sense of togetherness
For starters, you can tell them an adjustment usually begins with a ‘honeymoon phase’. This can be a good time for bonding. A sense of togetherness will also be very helpful during subsequent (and more challenging) phases of adjustment. So feel free to see the sights (or use that collective adrenalin to unpack and decorate the house). Just make sure everyone is aware that there might be dips up ahead.
During the subsequent ‘disorientation phase’, you might observe a regression. For example, younger kids wetting their beds again; older kids being more dependent. Even sociable and self-confident kids can become less outgoing and sure of themselves. Kids of all ages might suddenly seem drained of all energy. This isn’t the time to lecture the kids on why you moved to another country! What’s needed is some T.L.C. (tender loving care)…
That means snuggling up on the couch and watching a goofy comedy or their most-loved cartoons. Treating them to their favourite comfort foods (and not skipping dessert). Reading to younger kids for a little bit longer. Talking openly with older kids (on any topic they wish). But don’t let the kids take too much advantage of your sympathy! Bedtime is still bedtime! Teeth must still be brushed!
When the denial phase begins, you might notice that your child clings to old ways to give themselves the familiarity they now lack. This is the time to coax them out of their shells. Hit the shops and buy some clothes suited to the local climate (and fashion tastes). Take a day-trip and a breath of fresh air. Eat out and try something local. Last but not least, acknowledge that you have already come a long way and congratulate yourselves for a great team effort.
This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.
More on this topic: Helping your child cope with that first feeling of culture shock