Helping your kids settle

My biggest concern when my husband and I first discussed moving overseas with the kids was how they would adapt. A new culture, lifestyle, school, friendship groups and being so far from home. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that kids are far more resilient and flexible than us adults. Still, I can’t help but worry the older they get, the less they’ll be open to moving around, so I have been thinking a lot recently about what has helped our kids settle during our time abroad and how to continue to support them the longer we stay within international education.

In 18 months, we moved to Peru, back to Australia (for 8 weeks) and then to Korea. Yep, my head was spinning too! 

I hope the below list will be helpful for your kids if you’re preparing for a big move:

Before the move

  1. Be open but don’t go over every single detail. For our first move, we spoke to the kids very openly and early on about moving to Lima. In hindsight, we probably could have toned it down and kept some of the details to ourselves until things like visas and flights were locked in.
  2. Outline the benefits. This worked really well with our girls when we spoke about what an international education could offer that they may not get at their local school. We talked about learning a language, travel opportunities, extra-curricular options and the range of different classes available.
  3. Share your enthusiasm. Chances are (well, hopefully anyway!) you’re excited about the move, so share that excitement with your kids. If they see how much you’re looking forward to it, they’re bound to be more open-minded about the move.
  4. Let them know it’s okay to be nervous. Starting at a new school at any time can be scary, let alone an international school with different curriculums, learning styles and a whole new set of kids from different backgrounds. Let them know that you’re also nervous, but that change and taking risks can lead to amazing outcomes.

Getting settled

  1. Meet other kids. Depending on your school, you may be introduced to a ‘buddy’ before or soon after you arrive. If so, be proactive and ask your buddy if there are expat kids similar in age to your own kids that you could arrange a meet and greet with before school starts.
  2. Check-in regularly. Once school starts, check in with your kids daily about how they’re settling in, and if you’re worried, reach out to their teachers. I find bedtime is a perfect time to check-in without any interruptions from siblings. We’ve also initiated a nightly dinner ritual about sharing what we’re grateful for, which usually gets the kids chatting about their day at school and what they’re enjoying or any concerns.
  3. Spend time 1:1. As impossible as it might seem some days, try scheduling one on one time with each of your kids every day when you’re all getting settled in a new school. Even if it just means reading to them individually at bedtime and having a quick chat before lights out. Having three kids means I don’t always get the chance to do this, but it really does make a difference when I do.
  4. Keep in touch with friends from home. While making new friends is important, it’s also great to keep connected to good friends at home. Both my girls have regular chats (via Zooms or Kids Messenger) with friends in Australia and it’s a lovely way for them to be able to talk with someone their own age about how they’re feeling, and make them feel not so far from home.

Other people have told me they got their child a new pet (dog, fish, cat, whatever) to help them feel settled. Others have set their rooms up similar to back home or taken lots of weekend trips to explore the country they’re in. Establishing family rituals has also been really helpful for us that we do no matter where we are (Sunday is for pancakes!).

Good luck!