How to help your expat teen cope with moving
Being a teenager can be wonderful and testing at the same time. Being an expat teenager can bring additional blessings and challenges. Expat teens go through the natural developmental challenges of adolescence while subject to a transient life and adjusting to a move may take time. Another relocation, another goodbye to friends, another school to adapt to… But a move is also an opportunity to make a fresh start, learn more about another culture, learn a new language and develop an expanded worldview.
So how can you help your teen embrace the transition and cope with any difficulties along the way?
This is a complex topic and there are several parameters to take into account, such as number of moves, age of the teen, how smooth the transition is, how much time there is/was to prepare for the change, family set-up, if the parent(s) is/are happy with the move…
Here are some brief pointers on how you can begin to help your teen:
a) Ask your teen to describe his expat experience in three words. Use this question as a way to discuss his feelings/thoughts. Listen to your teen, even if what he says is difficult to hear.
b) Use the knowledge gleaned from the above-mentioned step to think together of coping tools and ways to help reduce his painful feelings. Avoid giving instant solutions to your child.
c) It is important to pass on the message of embracing and celebrating the blessings of expat life. It is also essential to convey an optimistic message: that these uncomfortable feelings will lessen in time. This too shall pass… Every thought, form, feeling and situation in life is temporary. Isn’t it comforting to know that one’s sadness will have an end? If you’d like to tell your teen a story with this pearl of wisdom, please check my previous blog: http://www.expatnest.com/shall-pass/.
d) Remind your teen that friendship and love are not gone; all the important people in the previous country/school are not gone. Your teen can still communicate via email, Skype, telephone etc. Encourage your teen to take advantage of online technology.
e) Put up photos of your previous life so as to give a sense of stability and continuity (assuming, of course, that your teen is ok with this).
f) If the painful feelings persist over time and affect your teen expat’s functioning (disturbed sleeping pattern, poor academic performance, isolation, high levels of anxiety, to name but a few), get professional help at once. Counselling can be very effective in helping your teen deal with this transition.
I would love to hear from you. In your experience, what has helped your teen cope with moving and embracing this transition? Which of your strategies has really worked?
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5 commentsWrite a comment
When we moved from Portugal back to the Netherlands I involved both my children in the choice of future schools. Also we kept in good contact with previous friends and relatives from Portugal and still visit every year. I did encourage my children to use skype and internet but both were not interested. But visits and phonecall make the transition easier. They both went through the changes very well and smoothly. They also were involved in chooosing were to live and create their own special room and safe place. This has enabled them to create roots here. But I do understand a lot of the steps you have written above. I believe the main importance it that you as a parent move with your children and its you who creates the basis for safety and them feeling secure. Its not the place that creates the warm nest but its the parent and the strong bond you have with your children that makes them confident and feel safe no whereever you will go next. They know you are always there as a parent.
Currently my oldest has moved back to Portugal for a trianeeship and again he has adjusted fine he knows his mother is only a phonecall away.
Thanks so much for your comment Nanda and for sharing your experience. I couldn’t agree more with you that it is mainly the people who make the ‘home’ and the deep connection with them. It is so important the children to know that indeed you are there as parent no matter what and wherever you are in the world. I still feel the same for my parents although they live far away. The love is never gone…
Finally, I think you mention one of the most important tips to help the teens cope with moving and this has to do with word ‘choice’. Most of the TCKs report that one of the main challenges is they don’t have a choice or control over their lives. Therefore, giving the expat kids/ teens some freedom to choose when appropriate and possible, makes such a difference in their adjustment to the new place.
Once again thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thank you so much for this article! It helped me a lot with my daughter!
Thank you for your comment and I am so happy that you found the article helpful. All the best to you and your daughter.