It’s that time of year when schools are about to finish and many expat families relocate.
Studies suggest that up to twelve years of age, children cope quite well with changing friends and forming new relationships. While they do have preferences about who their friends are, their relationships are usually short-lived.
Things change when your children are twelve or older. They develop more ‘mature’ friendships, which emphasize trust, support, common hobbies and goals. These more mature friendships may endure separation. As a result, when relocating, they are in dire need of effective goodbyes what will ensure their emotional well-being and help them assimilate transition and accommodate into a new social circle.
Here are some ways to facilitate those goodbyes:
- Throw a farewell party. Don’t make a big deal out of it as this could underline the enormity of the next step. Just make it something memorable. Have it in a place where your children and their friends usually play or enjoy hanging out.
- Have a common goodbye toy/object. At my son’s school, kids leaving get a teddy bear with a t-shirt, where all children can write or draw something and then of course, the school logo.
- Create a goodbye memoir. It can have lots of photos and children write messages in it or draw something.
- Relocate specific objects or furniture which might help your child feel in their own environment straight away.
- Provide ongoing reassurance, Talk to your child about the new place and, if possible, get him/her involved in choosing the new school and having a say in their future. Even if they don’t have a definitive say, make them feel like their feelings are taken into consideration.
- Procure contact information. Especially when children get older, assure them of the possibility of keeping in touch with their friends via technology which you consider more appropriate. If distance doesn’t matter, consider future visits. They will give your children something to look for and a subject to talk about with their new peers. My son still talks about his best friend and how we’ve visited him and how cool that was.
- Parents must make sure that they, themselves, are prepared for the relocation. Children pick up on stress, anxiety and behavioural changes. The calmer you are, the easier for them to cope with change.
- Communicate! There’s a thing called the ‘expat grieving’ process which says that children usually grieve in silence. Encourage them to speak out, no matter which emotions they might be dealing with. Looks for signs such as loss of appetite, behavioural changes, mood swings, lower school grades and address them as soon as possible.
Farewell in your new adventure!! It’s going to be fabulous!!