Scaling The Ladder

Helping your kids to relocate

If you are reading this because you and your family are thinking about living, working or studying in another country, congratulations on considering this brave and adventurous step!

Parenting, not easy even in your own territory, can become particularly challenging in such a situation.

Quite often, the grown-ups themselves are stressed out by the problems of settling in and integrating into a new society.

Yet, amid all the stress, transition and anxiety of their own culture shock, they must provide a sense of stability for their children, who might be missing their relatives and friends back home, find the new school system bewildering and hold their parents responsible for all their homesickness. It is enough to break a family.

Fortunately, kids are extremely resilient, and their cultural shocks tend to be less traumatic and short-lived than their parentsí, especially if mum and dad have done a good job in preparing them for the move and shielding them from most of the worrying.

Many children, especially young ones, show a remarkable speed at adapting to new things, for example, a new language, a local sport or a taste for local food.

And very often, these are the kids that grow up with a globalised sense of the world and are attracted to international studies, jobs and friendships.

They have learnt that people in different countries and cultures may be different but friendships are possible with all.

And if you can survive one move, you can survive another, including the one back home! Indeed, we human beings, no matter where we come from, have more in common than we think.

Here are some suggestions on how you can best help your children to adjust to the relocation:

Discuss the relocation process. Kids, no matter how old, should not be left in the dark as to the whys, hows and whens of the relocation process. While the move might have been necessary for dad or mumís career, stress how they, too, can benefit from the move.

Discuss how you will get there, how long you might live there, when you will be back and who will visit and, especially for older kids, how they can keep in touch with their friends.

For small children, who have a vague sense of distance and time, it is important to explain what this might mean to them.

While you should not hide all your worries or deny that there might be things you will miss, it is important to talk about this as an adventure, a possibility (which almost all relocations are) rather than an unhappy setback, even if you privately view it so.

Invite their input in the moving process. Can they be part of a pre-move trip? If not, can they see pictures of the homes they might live in, the schools they might attend?

Can they make a to-do list before the move and after the move ó farewell party at home, scuba lessons if they are moving to a warmer climate and skiing lessons if they are moving to a cold one?

Can they decide what personal possessions they will take with them and what to leave at home? Should you take the family pet?

Help them become curious and excited about the destination culture. There are many books, magazines, movies and brochures that can help you in this area. You can also eat in a restaurant that serves the cuisine. You might even want to consider a few lessons in the local language. Fear, mistrust and discomfort are often rooted in ignorance.

Find local connections in advance. In the old days, children used to have pen pals. These days, kids can connect easily with young people in other countries through the Internet.

Alternatively, you can ask their future schools to set up a young connection, a mentor, so that your kids are not totally lost when they arrive.

Keep ties to family and home culture strong. This is especially important if your relocation is expected to be a lengthy one. You can suffer culture shock upon going home and feeling like an alien in your own country.

Obviously, home visits during the time away, or having friends and family to visit help a great deal. Continuing a subscription with a magazine or paper your family has always read also helps.

You need to update your knowledge of home ó both the physical developments, like new shops or facilities, and new social developments, like changes in the law and educational system.

On the whole, the advantages of exposing your children to life abroad are many: increased social skills and friendships with a variety of nationals, an increased ability to cope with change, tolerance for different values and opinions, more educational and recreational opportunities and a more intense nuclear-family closeness.

A move abroad, if well-managed, will clarify what is important to you and your family, strengthen your relationships with one another and offer new possibilities in both routine, everyday life as well as for the future. - Singapore Straits Times/Asia News Network

Article by Ming E. Wong, an inter- cultural communication and business English trainer based in Frankfurt, Germany. She is also the author of Singapore, A Travel Handbook For

The Business Jungle and the business columnist for the bilingual magazine Engine.