Overcoming the challenges
Expatriate children may find themselves feeling sad and alone a great deal of the time while being challenged to make new friends and integrate into a new environment that is filled with strange cultures, customs, and unspoken nuances.
Parents are a key component to helping an expatriate child adjust to life in a new environment. Communication is one of the most critical elements to ensuring a smooth transition into a new environment. Parents must talk with their kids, watch their behaviour and listen to what they are saying about the difficulties and frustrations they are encountering.
The simple act of acknowledging and validating a child’s struggle can go a long way towards helping a child who feels lonely and grief-stricken. Children who may not be able to express themselves verbally are more likely to do so nonverbally through behavioural changes, so parents must be cognizant of any sudden behavioural changes that may indicate underlying feelings about life in a new environment.
Younger children might suddenly show big changes in sleeping and eating patterns, or even seem to lose their toilet-training skills right before, during or after a move to a new environment. Older kids might seem to withdraw from activities that usually give them pleasure, and some might even seem to have major mood swings (even more so than what is “normal” and expected for adolescents with raging hormones!).
These sorts of behavioural indicators are important red flags for parents to look out for that might suggest that their child is having a difficult time. By making time and creating a stable support network where expatriate children feel understood, validated and loved, parents give their children a better chance of adjusting to their new surroundings with ease. Parents must be prepared for all circumstances so that their children do not feel alone in an unfamiliar place, and so their safety and emotional health are ensured.
Involvement in positive social interaction is also key for expatriate children trying to adjust. Peer interactions via play dates and becoming involved in extracurricular activities are great ways for kids to make friends and build confidence. Allow expatriate children to find a balance between keeping in touch with loved ones from back home and working on new social interactions. Practising old traditions while embracing new ones is also a good way to ease the transition.
Influential expat kids
Expatriate populations around the world are growing and international interactions are becoming more important in our increasingly diverse and global society. Because of current economic developments worldwide, a competitive workplace environment means that individuals having advanced and unique qualifications make them stand out. Children having grown up in an expatriate environment often possess a skill set that includes additional language and enhanced interpersonal communication skills that make them stand out.
These are our future leaders, politicians and persons in power who will improve society, so take note now and do your part – welcome them and seize the opportunity to interact with these children who are a gateway for intercultural excellence and progress. Do what you can to help an expatriate child in your own community who might be struggling. By doing so you can improve the chances that this future leader is well adjusted and will make positive contributions to society that, in the end, will benefit us all.