Thinking Of Moving Abroad With Your Kids? Here Are 5 Golden Rules To Follow

Fancy moving abroad with your family? You’re not the only one.

Fancy a change of scene? You’re not the only one right now. Brexit negotiations are still very much up in the air, but it hasn’t stopped lots of families seriously considering a move abroad.

For some, this isn’t voluntary – one stay-at-home mother with a seven-year-old son and Italian husband told me that when Britain leaves the EU, her husband risks losing his job. “There’s a good chance we will leave the UK and go back to Italy,” she said. “My son will have to leave his house, his school, his friends.”

For others, whatever their views on the UK’s membership of the EU, the idea of escaping the aftermath of Article 50 is an attractive proposition, thanks to the “unholy mess” this ever-lengthening stalemate in Westminster has created.

But even if it’s a choice, the practicalities of moving abroad with young children can be off-putting. Think about it: going on holiday with kids is already a challenge, from restraining your hyperactive toddler with a seat belt during take-off to trying to finding a hire car with baby-safe seats on your arrival.

The logistics can feel as prohibitive as the costs – and those costs can be huge. Once a child turns two, you pay almost the equivalent of a full air fare. If you’re also factoring in how well your child will settle in a new home, how sad they’ll be to say goodbye to old friends, and how the hell you’re going to pack up your entire family’s life, you’ll have a lot of extra stress on your plate.

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But take it from someone who was moved as a child: it will be fine. When I was seven – the same age my daughter is now – my parents upped-sticked the family to South Africa.

I had to go to a brand-new school and make brand-new friends, all with a different accent to everyone else. I took lessons in subjects I’d never heard of before – such as learning Afrikaans on the local beach – and I got an eye-opening crash-course in politics, because this was Apartheid-era South Africa.

One of my earliest memories was seeing signs for ‘whites only’ beaches and I can still feel my shock and horror at witnessing young black kids the same age as me getting hit with truncheons by police officers. The impact of that – and the experience of living in a completely different country on the other side of the world – has stayed with me my whole life. It has also given me an insatiable interest in other people and cultures, as well as an unshakeable sense of what is right, and what is very, very wrong.

If you are planning to move abroad, there are ways to ease the transition for your kids. Here are five golden tips:

Tell Them The Truth

I’ve had friends who avoided telling their kids they were moving away because they were worried about “upsetting them”. Noble, but perhaps a little misguided. Imagine going on holiday, expecting to come back to your home and friends and teachers, but never being given the chance to say goodbye. However tempting it might be, don’t shirk away from telling children the truth. Start long before you move so they have plenty of time to get used to it. Kids are surprisingly tough and adaptable. Give them the chance to get excited.

Get Them Involved

If you can recruit your children to help you with planning for the big move, chances are they’ll feel much more invested in it. Let them look through possible rental homes or apartments with you, and start searching fun things about your new city together so it doesn’t feel quite so strange and overwhelming. You could even make packing fun – because what child doesn’t enjoy an empty cardboard box?

Validate Their Feelings

If they’re feeling nervous, sad or upset, let them. It’s natural to be anxious about going somewhere new, particularly when that involves meeting new people and feeling like a fish out of water at a new school. Chances are, the grown-ups are feeling much the same. Denying those emotions, or urging everyone to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ doesn’t help. Instead, talk together about their fears and reassure them that you’ll get through it, together.

Make A Memory Book

If your children are going to be starting a new school and having to make new friends, think about making a scrapbook filled with photos and drawings of their ‘old’ life – so they can talk to people about it or even just look at it when they’re feeling sad. You can include their old bedroom, their neighbourhood, their teachers, classroom, family, friends and pets.

Watch A Film Or Read A Book

The fantastic Pixar movie Inside Out deals with themes of nostalgia and sadness when an 11-year-old girl, Riley, moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco – watch it together. For younger kids, you could check out The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day, a classic picture book that deals with a family of bears who move from the mountains into a tree house. Find it here.