Integrating children into a new country 10 tips from experienced expats coach Tali Lichtenfeld
Did you know?
More than 16.5 million people in Germany today have a “migration background”, that’s 20 % of the German population.
International households may have to joggle at least 2 if not more cultures, languages and traditions. How can one raise a child who’s both integrated in his local environment and amongst its peer-group in kindergarten/ school but still maintain its parents’ original culture?
Another amazing fact: In the early 21st century, the number of bilingual children in the world was about the same as the number of monolingual children, who speak just one language.
Some of these families come to Germany for a short period of time, for a relocation assignment of a few years, and some have immigrated here to improve their lives and are here to stay.
In any case, many of these families are concerned about the adjustment of the children to the new surroundings, in a new country, speaking a different language and with different customs.
In addition to all logistical difficulties, moving to a new country often involves feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This is further intensified when moving with children.
When parents ask me questions about integrating their children in the new environment and adapting to the transition, I personally can certainly understand their fears and distress. We moved to Germany in 2011 with a 3-year-old boy, a tiny 3-month-old baby, a dog and a cat …oh that was a circus…
It was challenging. And yet, from my personal experience and experience with the families I support, I can assure you that children are better adapters than adults, especially when it comes to young children. The crisis they’ll experience is usually short and is soon replaced with excitement and joy in mastering a new language, new friends and the advantages that the new environment has to offer them.
Through my own experience and my clients’ experiences, I have collected a few short tips, which could help make the transition easier for your child as well:
Maintaining familiar objects: If the furniture stays at the home country, you should at least take some of your child’s favorite toys with you on the journey: a teddy bear, his pillow and blanket. I took beloved beddings with the familiar smell of home, favorite books and toys.
Try to keep some elements of your routine, for example: continue singing / reading for your child the same song / book before bedtime – on the plane, in the hotel and in the new house.
Share the decision with your children. Of course, this the parents’ decision. And we do not ask for the kids’ permission or give them the feeling that the parents are uncertain of their decision. At the same time, it is recommended to let them know what our family is about to go through, investigate together where this new country is on the globe, according to their age you could search the web for information about this country, show the child on the calendar when the move is planned, etc. It is worth explaining (at an appropriate level to the age of the child) why we made the decision to move, so that the child will not feel loss of control or feel uprooted. When it comes to older children, you can consult with them and create a list of wishes for the new home and the new environment. You can involve them in visits and searches for the new home and new school.
Farewells – plan a farewell party (a fun happy one, not a tearful one) from family and friends. A memoir with pictures of the people and favorite places can be an excellent keepsake. It is also a good idea to include the addresses and e-mails of friends, to make it easy to keep in touch.
Emphasizing the positive and the constant:
Remind the child over and over again of the positive aspects in this move. For example: we will have a beautiful house with a large garden. You’ll meet new friends from all over the world, learn a new language, how exciting! You can also start watching videos together in this country’s language and getting used to the sound of it.
In the new house: use the first few days in the new house to be tourists: take a tour, introduce yourself to the house itself, the neighborhood, the surroundings, the new kindergarten and the school. Explore the city as tourists before you get into a routine. Ask to visit the chosen school, try to meet children who will be with your child in the classroom before the beginning of the school year. I did it with my daughter who entered a new school where she didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak English very well. I found a mother of a girl her age who was also starting school. At the beginning of the meeting, of course, she hid under my skirt, but by the end of that afternoon they had dressed up as princesses together giggling joyfully without any common language. On the first day of school, they immediately found each other and sat together at the ceremony. I’m sure it made it easier for both. You could search through the school itself or through local groups on Facebook, parents’ groups, etc.
Children are excellent emotion detectors. If you yourself feel insecure, frightened, sad and upset – your children will pick it up and replicate your emotions. It is therefore important to mediate the variety of emotions that you all experience, because kids may be overwhelmed. For example: “I’m so sad to say goodbye to Grandma, I’ll miss her very much, but we’ll have a great adventure and Grandma will come visit soon.”
The first year will not be easy, I can promise you that. It is very probable your children will come back home crying frustratingly in the first few weeks or even months. Save yourself a lot of energy by taking this difficulty into consideration as natural. Do not fight it. In this first few months, try not to pause every moment to check whether it’s good or bad, the move was a “success” or a “failure”, you’re integrated or unhappy… Take the frustration, the longing and the tensions into consideration. Do not be hard on yourself. Integration takes time. This is a period of adaptation, and it is exciting but also not always easy.
If necessary, use relocation companies for information and logistical assistance in finding an apartment, school, etc. Also, use the wealth of information on the web and social networks! Do not be shy to ask for information and ask for help from others who’ve done it before.
Remember: only you are the experts of your life and of your children! You know your kids best: what they need and how to make things easier for them. Some children need a lot of preparation, explanations and information and some need a lot of hugs and emotional support.
Good luck! And most importantly, remember: If you feel you ״blew it״- you can always fix it! Especially with kids. Your facilitation of the experiences they are going through is important. If a child feels that the family unit is strong and stable, all other changes are secondary.
A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm,
but the tree can’t grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon”
(The Art of Happiness/ Dalai Lama)
If you have questions and need support in relocation / repatriation / immigration and integration – I am here for you!
Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. (2011). Dual Language Development and Disorders: A handbook on bilingualism & second language learning. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
Pascoe, R. (2006). Raising Global Nomads.
Dalai Lama (2009). The Art of Happiness.