Key challenges to raising children abroad
Choosing to raise a child in a foreign country comes with its own unique set of challenges, but many British expats make the decision to do so every year in many countries around the world.
How easily children adapt to a new lifestyle in a different country can depend on their age, as younger children, particularly pre-school, will often find it easier to make the change than older children who are settled at school.
In this article, we look at some of the key challenges parents may face when bringing up a child abroad, and how to help children to settle in to their new home.
There are many practical issues to deal with. One of the biggest can be whether there is a language barrier when relocating. While many countries will have a good expat community and plenty of English speakers, it can help children to integrate and make friends if they can understand a little of the local language. This is why some expat parents will choose bilingual or local schools, rather than a British international school. It could also be a good idea to introduce a few lessons while still in the UK and in comfortable surroundings, so that there is a level of familiarity from the outset.
For school-age children, leaving behind education that they understand, as well as the friends that they have made over the years is very hard. Starting again in a new environment is overwhelming and some children may act out or exhibit a change in behaviour upon moving. But school is important for establishing routine and structure, which help with settling in to a new lifestyle. International schools will have plenty of expat children who are, or have been, in the same situation. It is often possible to find a school that follows the British curriculum or offers an International Baccalaureate for some continuity of education.
It’s also important to try and keep some consistency in lifestyle between home and abroad. Sticking to the same routines for day-to-day life can help children to feel more secure. Research places they might like to visit or find local parks while still in the UK so that they start to get to know their new home and feel some familiarity with it. Let them get involved with choosing days out, places they might like to eat and so on. If they have hobbies that they engage in in the UK, have a look for classes or groups in the new location and book taster sessions so that they can continue their hobby as well as make new friends.
Relocating can be very difficult for children emotionally. It’s important to be there for them and empathise with what they are going through. They are leaving a lot behind – friends, family, familiar places and their home. It’s a lot to take in, and they may feel a sense of loss when first moving. It’s important to let them talk about how they are feeling and to help them through it. For example, set aside time to video call family and friends back in the UK so that they feel connected, and spend time together as a family doing activities that have always been done help to build security.
While it is difficult, there are so many benefits to be had from raising children abroad. Children are often more confident and sociable, as they have had to adapt and learn to settle in. They may also be exposed to more diverse cultures, which gives them a better understanding of the world that we live in. They are likely to learn tolerance, understanding and openness, which are traits we can all aspire to.