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When you have children, getting ready to immigrate is a challenging task. Talk to your children to make the adjustment easier. A smoother transition will be experienced by families who plan ahead.

As a parent, you naturally want to provide your children with the best possible future. In order to do so, it is sometimes necessary to make some difficult decisions including relocating. Immigration is one of the biggest transitions a family can make. While children are generally adaptable, they do function best through routine. Helping your children to prepare to immigrate involves understanding and communication. Consider the following when getting ready to immigrate with your kids.

Children and change
Children become familiar with their immediate environments from a very young age. Home is usually the place where they feel most protected, loved and comfortable. Their sense of security is firmly routed in familiar people, places and possessions. However, younger children are generally resilient when it comes to dealing with change and will surprise you with their rapid rate of adjustment.

Leaving friends
For your children, changing schools and leaving their friends will probably be the most contentious issues to deal with. Younger children may feel some separation anxiety and cling to you more than usual. While they will initially be upset to leave their friends, they will soon become preoccupied with the new ones they make.

However, preadolescent children are going through a period of forming their identities and they will probably find the move more difficult. They will be reluctant to leave their friends and may face more anxiety about making new friends in a different country.
When preparing to immigrate let your children know that they will be able to keep touch with their friends by emailing, phoning and inviting them to visit. Make it easier for your child to make new friends by opening your home to their friends, allowing them to plan small parties, or inviting them to come along on family outings.

Dealing with behavioural problems
Immigrating is a big disruption in your child’s life and may well result in behavioural problems. Children are likely to act up when they are faced by excessive change. This is because they are losing control over their lives. The world as they know it is changing and this may be a frightening thing to handle.

Emotions to expect from your kids include confusion, sadness, anger and sometimes even resentment. They may become quiet or withdrawn or exhibit more childish behaviour than usual. The following strategies may help to limit misbehaviour.

  1. Involve your kids
  2. Kids should feel like they have some say over their lives. Let them feel like they are involved in the plans for your big move and consult them when making big decisions (depending on their age). Involve them in most aspects of the moving process.
  3. Allow them to choose the special toys they want to take with (within reason) and allow them to pack their own things. In order to make the transition less dramatic, stagger the packing process over a few days or turn it into a fun game. Obviously special items like a favourite teddy bear can be packed last, or your child may even want to hold onto that during the long plane ride.
  4. Talk to them about their new room and tell them that they can help with the decoration process. However, your children may feel better if they are surrounded by familiar things. Bring as much of the familiar as possible along when you immigrate. You can try to keep the décor the same if that makes your child feel more at home. Alternatively, make decorating your child’s new room into an exciting adventure where he/she gets to pick out new curtains, furniture, posters and paint.

Communicate with your kids
Your kids often take their cues from you. Therefore, if you act happy about the move, they are likely to be positive as well. Be honest with them about your reasons for immigrating. If your children understands why you are immigrating, they will probably cope better. Make it sound like something fun but let your kids know that things will be quite different. If they have some idea of what to expect, the adjustment may be slightly easier. Younger children are likely to ask lots of questions which may tend to be repetitive. Listen to their concerns and be understanding and supportive.

However, don’t apologise for the move. Your children need to know that there is no room for negotiation and that you are thinking of their needs too. Even if your children do not seem to understand what is happening, they will absorb it eventually.

Be sympathetic but firm. They need to be mature and this will probably turn out to be a valuable learning curve. Do not constantly justify bad behaviour. Disciplining your kids at this time could ironically make them feel more secure as they will be more aware of their boundaries when it feels like everything around them is changing. However, offer them a present or reward for helping out and being mature and co-operative.

Other adjustment suggestions

  • Once you move try to sustain as much familiar routine as possible. Keep the same dinner and bed times, and cook familiar food.
  • Help them to become involved in extra curricular activities, which can help reinforce self confidence and allow them to make new friends.
  • Keep abreast of developments in your child’s new school. Speak to teachers and school counselors.

It may be advisable to plan your move in accordance with the school terms and holidays in the country you wish to move to. Children may benefit from arriving during the term to create less of a stir, although arriving at the beginning of the new school year may make the transition easier. You may also choose to move during school holidays so that children can become acclimatized to their new homes before they start school.
Investigate the educational systems in the country you are moving to so that you can tell your children what to expect. Overall, small children will probably adapt more rapidly than older children who have a more definite attachment to their homes, friends and schools. However, older children will eventually adjust as well.

Final Words
With your support and understanding, immigrating need not cause undue trauma for your children. Ironically, they will probably land up adapting and adjusting faster than you do. By letting your child know what to expect and keeping as much routine as possible, they will soon be acting like natives in their new homeland.

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