Settle your kids into their new home

The Expatability Chat Podcast

How to quickly get the children settled

How to settle your kids quickly into their new home overseas and how to recognise culture shock in children. 

There’s a saying that, “A happy mother means happy children”, and that is true. It's probably more accurate to say, "Happy children means a happy mum!". Another saying is that we (mums) are only as happy as our saddest child.

However, when you first arrive in a new house, it’s much easier for mother to be happy if the kids aren’t playing up...

On the whole, most children are more resilient to change than adults. However, culture shock can strike children in its own special way. 

The more you prepare for the change in life, the better your child – and you – will adapt! 

Moving overseas and potential confusion and culture shock can be challenging for both parent and child. Study up in advance, do your best to find a new community and keep an open mind about the new place. Before you know it, it will feel like home.

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Welcome aboard the Expatability Chat podcast, helping expat parents navigate the challenges of moving and living overseas. With Carole Hallett Mobbs, Expat Life Mentor and Consultant and founder of

Hi, welcome back to Expatability Chat. Today, I'm going to talk about settling your children into their new home and dealing with any confusion that they may be experiencing with regards to the move abroad.

So, the first few days in a new home can be disconcerting. The first few days in a new home in a new country... Well, that's a whole new ball game. There's a saying that a happy mother means happy children. And that is true. Very true.

However, when you first arrive in a new house, it's much easier for mother to be happy if the kids aren't playing up. So to do that, it really helps to get your children settled into their new bedrooms as soon as possible. If you've taken the advice I shared in my Arriving Well episode, you'll be well prepared for this because you will have packed certain special items in your suitcases.

Adjusting to something new is never easy, and although we give children a lot of credit for being adaptable, we have the upper hand in this situation, merely because we have all the information.

One of the phrases that really annoys me is 'kids are resilient' because to this it means that you can just let the kids get on with it without any preparation or assistance and expect them to bounce back. This isn't always the case. Kids have a different kind of resilience, but the more support they can have from their parents, the easier they will find this transition. So some quick tips to help your kids settle as quickly as possible into your new home.

As I mentioned, sort the kids rooms out first. Your first priority is to make up the children's bedrooms. If you can let them choose which room they want. Handing a bit of control to your child is a great way to help them feel valued and recognised. Familiarity is incredibly comforting to them. So make the room as familiar as possible with items brought from your previous home. If the bedding looks the same with the pictures and the teddies and the special toys and books are the same, your child will settle much quicker.

It's also helpful to carry some familiar foods with you, because breakfast in particular needs to be easy, especially for younger kids who may be fussy eaters. After the child's room has been sorted out, make your family areas as homely as possible. In fact, it's not a bad idea to create a little bubble of familiarity in your home for those times when everything becomes overwhelming. Have some well loved DVD's available so everyone can chill out and relax. Yes, you may well want them to integrate fully in their new culture, but everyone needs a bit of down time at some point and it's a great stress relief.

Once all the rest of their luggage arrives, enlist your child's help to unpack their own boxes. As well as making the unpacking easier for you - well, initially you'll still have to sort everything out, let's be honest here - but your child will be suitably distracted with all of their nearly forgotten toys. Six to eight weeks delivery is quite a long time for a child. And it's almost like Christmas when you unpack again.

If at all possible, start your child at school as soon as you can. It helps them make friends and gets them into the swing of their new life. Creating their own social circle and being distracted will help them acclimatise very quickly. And it will also give you the opportunity to breathe, once they're out of the house for a short time.

Make everything fun and exciting, but respect their emotions. It's perfectly acceptable to feel unsettled and anxious and this should be acknowledged. But try to live as normally as you can, keep to the same routines as much as you can remember, it's just the country that's different, not your family.

You know, your children best, so consider what they particularly find homely and comforting and incorporate that into your move abroad. Personally, I find that once all our pets arrive, we all soon feel much more at home. We have the distraction of them messing around to keep us occupied.

So culture shock, did you know that kids experience culture shock too? What is culture shock?

Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary, culture shock is defined as 'the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life or set of attitudes'. Culture shock is generally acknowledged to be a condition that affects expats when they move overseas. Or rather, it's something that may affect expats when they move abroad. And it may affect you when you least expect it in a country you don't expect it.

Now, as I mentioned, on the whole, most children are more resilient to change than adults. However, culture shock can strike children in its own special way.

The obvious time for culture shock to strike is when we first move. Depending on your child, you may have different experiences, of course, and your child will indicate culture shock in different ways. Watch out for changes in behaviour such as becoming more withdrawn, acting out, mood swings.

Often the most common sign is "I want to go back to X country", usually the last country they lived in. The thing is, children aren't really able to look forward in time. They can deal with the now - the present - and they can reference backwards to the past and something that's already happened and to the familiar. They're not so able to look forward at something as abstract as the future.

This is valid for all ages, a child really, but most particularly for little ones. So encourage your child to talk about whatever might be bothering them and really listen to their answers. You may need to read between the lines to discover what the real problem is.

Culture shock in children can be caused by all sorts of things that we as adults may not think about. It actually might be easier to understand this, if we use the word 'confusion' instead of 'shock'. They may be confused about the difference between travelling for a holiday and travelling to move home. They may be confused about whether they can still see their old friends when they want to. They may be confused as to why they have to go to a different school now, depending on their age.

They may be confused that they don't understand what anyone says, even on the television. So, discuss issues and never keep anything from your child. And you'll go a long way to minimising this confusion.

For example, don't tell your child that their friends from home can come for a visit. If this is not feasible, for whatever reason. It may be that their best friend lives too far away, now. It may be a best friend's family doesn't have enough money to come and visit you. So rather than anything for a quiet life, "yes, of course they can still come", be honest and make an alternative option of perhaps seeing them on Skype.

Don't tell your child to be moving back home soon if you aren't. Not understanding the language, what everyone's talking about is one of the biggest causes of culture confusion amongst adults and children alike. If your child learns a few words of the language before you arrive, it will help a lot. And if you intend for them to attend a local school, make sure language learning before you arrive is a massive priority. Your child's integration and social life will depend on it from the very start.

Climate changes are obviously beyond your control. This is more likely to be a physical shock if, for example, you move to the Middle East in the summer or to Canada in the winter. But you and your child will acclimatise in time. Just don't forget the correct clothing.

Different food is another source of confusion for a small child. The unavailability of familiar food is often one of the first things your child will notice when you're in a different country. As I say before, take a box of their favourite breakfast cereal so that's one less thing to wrangle over to start with. They'll soon get used to the new menus and it won't harm them to have a treat from your own home country from time to time. Enlist the help of friends and family back home to send the occasional goodie box. We all like those, to be frank.

The more you prepare for the change in life, the better your child and you will adapt.

Keep moving forward. The worst thing you can do for culture shock and confusion is to stand still and mourn over the loss of a previous place. The sooner you can get out of the house and start exploring, the faster things will become familiar. If you have prepared properly, you should have a good idea of where to go to find things. Work through your list and make sure to blend some everyday activities into your exploration. You'll be surprised at just how quickly you adapt to the new environment.

It's important to note that moving forward does not mean that you need to ignore any feelings of sadness over the move or the trip away. Take advantage of quiet times such as bedtime's or meal's to ask your child how they are feeling. Are they sad? Do they miss the old house? Don't put words into their mouth. Just let them talk. Tell them that it's OK to be a bit sad and that you also miss X, Y and Z. Let them know that their feelings are completely normal and OK. And then close out the conversation with a discussion of the new things that they've discovered that day. It might be something small, like a new park or food or something unusual that you spotted on the street. Or it might be something big, like a nice new friend. Just make sure to end the conversations on a happy note.

Another favourite tip of mine is to focus on three good things that happened that day. I've always done this at night; it's always a good move to go to sleep thinking positive thoughts.

So you can minimise culture shock, culture confusion and upheaval with a bit of preparation. Read up as much as you can about the new location. Don't limit your resources to travel guides and news sources.

Dig deeper. Look around independent media and expat blogs, expat group websites and social media. Look around for other expat parents in the same situation as you and see what routine's other expat parents in that area have. This will give you a very good idea of what to expect in terms of activities and services that will be available. If there are discussion boards or forums ask for advice. Expats do love to help one another and those on the ground insights can be invaluable.

Preparation doesn't stop with the parents. Regardless of how old your child is, you should be as open as possible with them about the upcoming move or trip. Tell them that things will be different and that they may have to eat different food. Perhaps you can find a local restaurant that sells that country's food, just to have a go. They may hear a new language being spoken, but also make sure to balance this out with information about things that will be the same; familiar faces, even if it is just yours, familiar activities, playgrounds, parks, sports, pools, swimming and some familiar foods that you know that you can find or bring along.

Very young children may be confused about what they're able to take and what they can't. They don't always understand what is part of the house and what can't come with them. For example, my daughter was upset that her bed couldn't move with us because our new home was already furnished. She was also upset about the room, the whole room. Obviously, we can't move a single room with us, but you can take the furnishings in that room. So the bedding, her teddies and so on.

Young children also do not understand time or distance. So by all means, tell your kids exactly how long you will be in your new country, if you know. And when, or if, you'll be returning home. But don't expect them to understand this. They don't know what four years is when they're only three years old themselves. And the thing is, don't lie either. If you don't intend to ever return home to live, tell them this. Again, they won't understand, nut you haven't lied to them.

They also won't understand that their best friend from nursery or kindergarten can't just pop over to see them when they want. Again, don't pretend these things are possible just so you get an easy life. Be honest and supportive and understanding too.

Another useful tip is to wait at least six months, preferably longer, before going back to visit your home country. Going back too soon can make it even more confusing for your young children and can make it much harder for them to settle in your new home. The same goes for you as well, if you're having a tricky relocation.

Explain everything and assume nothing. Kids will worry about some very peculiar aspects of the move. Again, talk and listen. Don't dismiss any concerns your child has. To us, these concerns may seem trivial, but to a child they are valid and need to be addressed.

See if you can think like a child. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's really not. But if you look at things as a child looks at them and what's important in a child's life, you may find it easier to help them prepare.

As I say, one of the main problems is the difficulty they have comprehending distance and time. All you can do is be honest, talk it through and use plenty of distractions and encourage positivity towards a new home.

If you're going to be overseas for some time, it could be very useful for you to look up, read and learn about TCK's - third culture kids. This is a term used for children who have been raised outside of their home country and outside of the country of their parents.

So. Third Culture Kids, it will help you understand the fears, sadness, anger, loss, confusion and other emotions your expat child may be feeling because they'll need your help to work through them.

Moving overseas and potential confusion and culture shock can be challenging for both parent and child. Study up in advance, do your best to find a new community as soon as possible and keep an open mind about your new country. Before you know it, it will feel like home.

As ever, if you have any questions or anything I can help you with regarding moving overseas with your children, please do get in touch. The link will be in the show notes, as ever. I look forward to chatting with you again soon. Take care.

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