Question

*Our family is moving again. The 12 and 10 year old boys have already experienced two changes of country. I feel this time it is more difficult as they are pre-teens. Any advice on how to help them?»

Answer

International moves are always difficult, especially when the attachment to the home country is strong. However, having lived through two previous country changes can be a protective factor for children to cope better with the transition to a new culture. On the one hand, because they have already experienced what it is like to leave a special place behind.

The strong emotions produced by the “goodbyes” are no longer new. This does not mean they will not appear, but at least the children will be more aware that these emotions will eventually disappear. On the other hand, because they have already experienced new beginnings and adjustment processes. As a result, they may have developed useful skills and strategies to embark on the next change.

However, it is true that the fact that the kids are close to adolescence may pose an added difficulty. During childhood, children have the main priority of being close to their family most of the time. But in pre-adolescence, the peer group begins to gain greater importance. Spending time with friends and doing activities with peers often come to the forefront of their lives. Therefore, it is especially important to be cautious about preparing them for the change, and to be mindful of the relevance of goodbyes to friends.

At the same time, the integration into the educational system of the host country can become more challenging. Academically, the contrast of the educational level may be more drastic than in previous moves. Especially for the older child, who is in transition to secondary education.

At the social level, the boys are entering an age in which the process of developing their identity begins, for which relationships with peers have a great impact. In this sense, pre-adolescent children begin to point out their differences and to share their similarities, creating small groups based on things with which they feel identified (hobbies, tastes, styles…). In this context, it seems important to pay attention to the children’s possible feelings of being «the different ones», «the odd ones» or those who «do not fit in». Social integration is a challenge that must be addressed in order to achieve both their emotional well-being and the proper development of their identity.

In addition, in pre-adolescence, many other changes begin: physical changes, greater need for parental autonomy, increased contact with technologies and social networks…It is possible that, in the host culture, these changes are addressed in a different way than in the culture of the previous country or the culture of the parents. For example: it may happen that in one culture it is more common for children of these ages to play video games than in another. In these cases, it is advisable to adopt the customs (in a flexible manner) of the host country, in order to achieve a better adaptation to the lifestyle and social behavior of that culture.

Other tips to facilitate a better moving experience for your children are:

  • Prepare for the change in advance: ensure a good farewell from family and friends to facilitate the grieving process.
  • Try to generate realistic expectations about what they will find in the host country, emphasizing the positive parts.
  • Communicate with your children, let them know that you understand how difficult it is for them. Provide them with a space to express their emotions and thoughts. Be honest with them and try to make them feel safe.
  • Address possible fears with them: What will school be like? What are the kids like there? What if I don’t make friends?
  • Keep the bond with your culture and family alive to strengthen their sense of identity. At the same time, adapt the routine and some customs to the culture of the destination country to help them adapt.
  • Help your children make new friends by meeting other children who also have an international life experience.
  • Communicate with educational institutions to involve teachers and other professionals in their adaptation process.
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Emma Chancellor Díez
Psychologist
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
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