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How to tell your children you are moving abroad

Moving homes can be very exciting and at the same time very stressful. It is a new process for adults and often means a period of readjustments. For children, the change can be even harder as their whole environment changes: home, school, school system and friends. As a family, no one knows what to expect, except to hope and aim for the best.

Schoolfinders is a company that works neutrally and independently for finding the right school path for international and local children. When it comes to moving to Switzerland and/or between cities (e.g. Basel to Zürich and vice versa), every client has a unique and different story to tell. We asked one of our clients to tell us more about her journey and experience when telling her son about moving to a different country. Sibel was a researcher at the University of Rome in Italy. She has more than 10 years of experience in Material and Environmental Engineering. She is married to her husband who now works as an engineer and is the mother of Valerio who is five years old. They recently moved to Switzerland.

«How did you announce the “moving homes” news?»

Sibel answers: “when announcing the big news to your children, you must mention the big changes that are ahead. Make them see the big picture of the situation and all the positive outcomes that this decision will bring to them and to the family. Parents must think about it as selling an adventure or a holiday. In our case, we showed him pictures of Switzerland and spoke about the place and all the activities he could do in order to create excitement and willingness. For me, it was very important that he understood all the reasons why we are moving countries. It is also important for us parents to show decisiveness in the decision, as it helps our children to feel more secure about what is coming.”

«How did you help Valerio to manage the main barriers that moving abroad create?»

“To openly speak about the future with the family is very important. In some cases, children are very often resistant to change their routines and environment due to uncertainty and scariness of not being accepted. But even though this happens, they are normally quicker to adapt than adults and more open to new experiences. A child placed in a local school at the age of 5 years old will most likely meet faster fluency in a new language compared to the time that an adult would need. This learning capacity can quickly remove one of the main barriers to adapting to life in a new country. For this reason, it is important to start the language education process as soon as you know you are going to move. Consider private tutors, online programs, tv channels, cartoons, games and try learning along with your child so he/she doesn’t feel alone.”

«What strategy would recomend to help your family adjust to the new home environment?»

“As soon as you arrive at your new home, it is very important to make it as familiar as possible for yourself and for the children. When we moved to Switzerland we tried to create a familiar environment in the home from the beginning. A few simple things like family photos and favourite pictures or toys go a long way to re-establishing the family home in the child’s mind. When preparing for his first day of the school, we talked to Valerio about his concerns and provided with much support and encouragement as possible. I made sure I spent enough time talking about his experiences over the first days and tried to sort out any concern immediately. Successful adjustment to their new environment is a key reason for their general well-being.”

«How did you help Valerio to integrate? What would you recommend?»

“My recommendation is to take and make opportunities for your children to meet and make friends with local children; invite the neighbours’ kids over to play, spend time in the local park, talk to other parents at school and contact other expats in the area. Making extra efforts to get to know people will be a real boost in helping your kids build up a circle of friends. Look at joining clubs and activities based on your kids’ interests or the new things they would like to try. This is a great way for them to meet new friends. For instance, our son has started to ski, he found friends with the same interests. During winter they all organize skiing adventures and sleepovers in the mountains.”

«How was the post-move period?«

“The post-move period is typically very busy, but make sure you set time apart to spend with the children. Organize activities where all the family can get out to see and experience the new environment. Building up a set of positive and fun memories is a great way for helping your family to adjust and balance out the negative experiences. It also shows them your commitment to helping them discover and enjoy your home (country).”

“Please remember, that during this process communication is very important. Reinforcing your communication with each child and family member is very important especially when moving countries. They — and you — will have some tough moments in the process and it is necessary to be there for them to listen and help them through it. Living in a different country is a fantastic experience for most kids. It widens their outlook and horizons, and provides them with great life-skills for the future.”


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