With all the research and planning required when considering relocating to Malta, it’s very easy to overlook how the kids feel about things. With plans made and provisional moving dates in place, it’s not sufficient to just tell your siblings they are moving. They need help to prepare them for the transition, especially to a foreign country?
Much will depend on the kids’ ages. Toddlers and pre-school age youngsters are far more adaptable when it comes to any sort of move. With no real child friendships to be considered, if mum and dad are going there, the kids are happy to follow. At primary school age, (five to ten years) bonds are being formed with school friends and early discussion with the youngsters is more important. This allows them to chat with friends about their new adventure, and help them look forward to their new upcoming experiences.
The older the youngsters get, the more difficult it can be to sell them the idea of a new life abroad, especially so when they reach their teenage years. By then they are already beginning to develop strong bonds with friends who have similar educational and recreational interests.
To be pulled away from these relationships at a time when they are beginning to develop into young adults can create profound feelings of insecurity and resentment. Some ideas on how to approach this hurdle are set out below. But there is no doubt that unless handled with kid-gloves, these feelings of resentment will spill over into family life after any move, and more so if the move is to a foreign land.
How you broach the subject of emigrating with the kids, can make the difference between a reasonably hassle free process, or one where a negative attitude from your offspring prevails long after the move. Some relocations are easier than others. If you are emigrating to an area where the kids have spent many happy summer holidays they will remember the good times, and invariably look forward to living there ‘forever’. If however, your chosen destination is an unknown quantity, extra care on preparing them for living abroad will be required to help your emigration go as smoothly as possible.
Doing the Groundwork
Involve the whole family from the beginning. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many parents only think to mention it after everything is organised, especially with younger offspring. Gather them around your laptop and pull up a few pictures of your chosen destination. Ask would they like to live there, then be ready to start answering questions.
Even for adults, deciding to emigrate is a massive decision. Involve the kids; tell them about your own concerns as well as stating the positives. Answer their questions in an honest, but positive, manner. Most importantly, let them know how they feel is very important to you. That you are all in this big, scary, lifestyle change together, and what an exciting adventure it will be for everyone.
Reassuring the Fears
While the initial questioning might have come to a stop, other concerns will begin to come to the fore. Pull up some destination websites. Inside and outside shots of the type of apartment or house they may be living in. Make sure to show them an additional benefits such as pool, beach, cities and points of interest. Talk about schooling, school hours, and how in a short period of time they could become bilingual. Ensure everybody gets together in the evening, and make a game of learning a few common phrases in their new language. This can stand everyone in good stead when you first arrive, and the locals will appreciate the effort.
Providing a Link
Even if you intend to replace furniture, etc. there are always certain family mementoes and personal possessions you will want to take with you. The kids are no different. Whether it´s a favourite teddy, doll, or X-box and games, items from the home help kids accept they are just moving to a new address. Most people sell unwanted goods before departure. Allow the kids to sell their unwanted things and keep the proceeds. Tell them they can use it to buy something they really want in their new apartment. If they appear to regret leaving friends, explain you will be able to install Wi-Fi, and they will still be able to keep in regular contact with their bestie.
Emigration experts agree that saying au-revoir (until we meet again), to friends and family is of paramount importance, and that includes the youngsters as well. While you have your farewell party in the local hostelry, let the kids have their own party in the garden. Friends asking all sorts of questions, and them informing with their new found knowledge, will ensure they continue to look forward to the upcoming adventure.
Wherever you decide to become an expat, the first few weeks will keep everyone busy, including the kids. Sorting out all the legal aspects, buying equipment for your new home, getting used to a completely different way of life will prevent those normal bouts of homesickness from surfacing. Eventually though, a new list of questions will be asked. As hectic as your own life may be, take the time to listen. Often no answers will be necessary. Just being available will help ease niggling fears and anxieties, and assist the kids through what is a relatively difficult transitional period.
As with the original preparations, young teens often prove more problematic. If you notice mood swings or out of character argumentative behaviour, they may well be struggling with the transition. Help will often be available from established expat children, and peer-to-peer sites such as TCkid.com and Teenxpats.com. Sites run for young teens, by young teens who have already gone through this transition.
The Positive Angle
On the positive side, children who have relocated with family and settled abroad tend to develop into more confident adaptable adults. They tend to be more socially adroit, and have a broader outlook on life than many of their contemporaries. Inclined to embrace multiculturalism, they are flexible, self-assured and seem to take change in their stride.
Your chosen destination can have a big impact on how the kids take the news of relocating to Malta. As can their ages and temperament. Nonetheless, to make the move and settling-in period as pain-free as possible, they should be included in the preparation from the very beginning. The extra time taken to allay their fears and anxieties early on, will pay big dividends in the longer term, as everyone settles in to life in a new country.