Emigrating? How to help your children adjust

Let's fly
Let's fly

More and more South Africans are picking up and moving overseas, for good, with reports showing that for every professional moving to South Africa, eight professionals are emigrating.

And it’s not just the wealthy who are going: a record number of ordinary families looking for greener pastures are packing up their kids, pets and furniture and moving to foreign countries.  

Do you have any practical tips for families planning on immigrating in 2019? Send us your comments and we could publish them. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous. 

They are doing this for a multitude of reasons, and if you’re one of the many leaving South Africa in 2019, you’ll know what drives you. But whatever your reasons, your kids will need help to adjust, as they cannot always understand why this momentous move is happening. Even if this move is for their benefit, few children would choose to leave everything behind for an unknown future. 

Adjusting to a new country and a new culture, sometimes even a new language, is hard for all and from a child’s perspective the wrench from home can be particularly difficult. The children’s successful adaptation is such a big part of a successful migration, that some countries even offer parental support from official organisations.

Also see: Moving house? You need this checklist! and Help kids cope with moving house

Younger kids 

We spoke to Candice Viglietti, a South African preschool teacher with a decade of experience, who successfully moved with her husband and young daughter to the UK in 2018. She shared her experience of helping Claudia (3) through the move.  

“Once we made the hard decision to go, I started getting Claudia familiar with the idea of England. I looked for a way to introduce her to the place in a positive way, and finally settled on Peppa Pig. Claudia loves the cartoon, and we talked a lot about how Peppa Pig lives in England, and how one day we could visit her there, perhaps even one day we could move there.”

Candice says she reinforced positive feelings about the move and talked often about friends who lived there already. 

During the moving process Candice strived to maintain a consistent routine. “I didn’t pack her things up in front of her. Children equate control with security, if something is out of place they get anxious, so I made sure to change as little as possible for as long as possible.”  

This is a stressful time for each family member, emotionally it can be hard to say goodbye, and tempers can flair. “Don’t let the kids see stress or conflict,” Candice advises. “Try to stay positive and keep it as relaxed as possible.” 

Once they arrived in the UK, Candice says the first thing they did was set up Claudia’s bedroom, and took her on fun activities to local parks and play areas. When she missed her old friends, Candice says they encouraged her to think about new friends. “We would ask “I wonder what their names will be?” and found things she could relate to,” Candice says. 

“I also immediately joined local moms’ groups so Claudia could meet new kids, and we joined a local church to meet other families. Overall, lots of one-on-one attention and positive encouragement made the transition much easier."

Also see: WATCH: This family sold their stuff to travel the world after DNA tests linked them to 32 nations

Older kids

Older children often struggle more to accept and integrate. Studies show that “teenage immigrants have a harder time adjusting to their new country than young children” and that “the experience of immigration at later stages of childhood development leaves a lasting impact on children’s later-life outcomes.” 

This can seem discouraging, but it helps to understand that teenagers tend to build their identity around friends, activities and school, which is now being taken from them. It can be very difficult for them to willingly give this up for an unknown future, although you don’t necessarily have to make them agree with you. 

One common tactic used by teenagers to avoid the move is to insist that if they don’t like the new place, the family will agree to move home again. This, however, provides them with an incentive to make the move fail, so parents should rather offer a positive reward for a successful transition. 

Also see: Why you should think twice about moving your child to a different school

According to New Zealand Now, fitting in is one of the main concerns for children of all ages. They advise that kids are more likely to find their feet quickly if they are armed with information about the new country. 

The site suggests that children be encouraged to read up about the new country before they leave. Families can learn about the new country’s culture together, and parents should provide kids with access to stories, illustrations, facts and positive news sources. This will help them to adapt quicker, as they will be more prepared for the new environment.

There are a number of tactics parents can use to help kids adjust, but your children will pick up on your enthusiasm: if you are excited and positive about the move, the kids will follow your lead. 

Chat back: 

Do you have any practical tips for families planning on immigrating in 2019? Send us your comments and we could publish them. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous. 

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