Talking to Your Kids about Moving Away
Here are some tips to keep in mind when it’s your family's turn to say goodbye.
Posted April 9, 2019
There are millions of expatriate families across the Gulf and they all have one thing in common: Every year, they say goodbye to family and friends who are packing up to go home or shipping off on a new adventure. This process repeats itself every year until it's eventually our turn to go.
Some people are looking forward to the next chapter of their lives, others are dreading the impending move, and a third are caught in between. Regardless of your circumstances, sharing the news can be difficult, especially when children are involved.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if it’s your family's turn to say goodbye.
Tip 1: Be upfront about the move
It's a difficult conversation to have, especially when you know that your children are happily settled into their life. This is why some parents put off this conversation for as long as they can. At the same time, it's important to remember that children need some time to process such a big change. Share the news as early as you can.
Tip 2: Use age-appropriate language
Be clear, direct, and straightforward. Anticipate the questions that your child will ask you and come up with age-appropriate responses beforehand.
Tip 3: Focus on the positive first
There is always a positive aspect to every move - whether it means that you'll be moving "home", exploring a new place, or taking advantage of a great opportunity. Outline the positive changes that you are anticipating before talking about how sad or difficult the move might be.
Tip 4: Give your child time to process
Children, like adults, need time to process big news. Let them know about your plans and then give them some time and space to think about it.
Tip 5: Allow your child to feel upset
None of us like to see our children upset. At the same time, it's important to remember that this is a totally normal reaction. Allow your child to be sad, to cry, to feel angry. These "negative emotions" are part of the process.
Acknowledge and validate their feelings. A simple, 'I can see that you're sad - it can be tough to leave your friends behind' shows your child that you understand and empathize with what they're going through. Sharing your own sadness around the move can help you connect with your child through this difficult time.
Tip 6: Talk to, but most importantly, listen to them
Your children will probably have a lot of questions about the move. Talk to them, but more importantly, listen to their concerns (and their opinions, whether you agree with them or not). Many of us try to rationalize with or convince our children of our decisions. This can be helpful, but often what our kids need is someone to just be there for them.
As mentioned above, your kids might not be ready to talk at first and that's ok. Resist the urge to fill the silence. Rather, embrace it and wait for them to approach you.
Tip 7: Problem-solve, when they're ready
The move can be a great way to develop problem-solving skills and ultimately, resilience. Come up with a plan on how to stay in touch with your nearest and dearest when you leave. Let your kids generate the ideas, and resist the urge to point out the flaws. Instead, ask them follow-up questions that will allow them to either refine their strategies or discover the potential flaws.
Tip 8: Organize some special keepsakes
Let them pick out some souvenirs to take on their new adventure. Ideal keepsakes are portable and somehow reflect their experience.
Tip 9: Involve them in the move
Show them pictures of their new neighborhood, house, and/or school. Talk to them about all of the exciting things that they have to look forward to.
It's important to read your child's cues - they might not be ready to hear about these things if they are still processing the move. Give them a bit more time and then try again.
Tip 10: Deck out their new room
Decorate their new room with some familiar favorites, along with their keepsakes. Allow them to buy something new and exciting for their room. It will give them something to look forward to when they touch down.
And a tip for parents...
It is natural to question your decision to raise your children as "Third Culture Kids" (TCKs) when it's time to move away. Many parents worry that their TCKs don't have the same roots as people who are born and raised in the same place. Contrary to what many people believe, there are a number of strengths associated with international experience. For example, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, found that TCKs grow up to be mature and well-adjusted. Further, multicultural engagement is linked to higher levels of resilience, adaptability, and well-being. Remember that when you question yourself.
Best wishes for the move!
Abe, J. A. (2018). Personality, well-being, and cognitive-affective styles: A cross-sectional study of adult Third Culture Kids. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 49(5), 811-830. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022118761116