Helping children settle into their new life after relocation

Following an international relocation it is every parent’s wish to see their child happy and settled. As part of an on-going series of Counsellor’s Columns from ACS International Schools, Anneke Theron, Lower School Counsellor at ACS Cobham International School takes a look at the importance of communication.

ACS Cobham parent and child

ACS Cobham

Communication is particularly important when a family has recently moved to a new country, says Anneke Theron, Lower School Counsellor at ACS Cobham International School in Surrey, England.When families relocate, a key factor ensuring children settle quickly and are happy in their new homes is continuity of parent-child engagement - providing a reliable connection despite the changes surrounding them.As a student counsellor, I have found that parents who take the time to share their child’s world without an agenda and make free time to talk and play, can really help the child feel secure in the face of the many challenges that moving to a new home will inevitably bring.   Here are a few of our tips.Keep what you can the sameSo many things change when settling in a new country; it’s tiring speaking a new language or learning a new social language, and parents have to work to behave naturally at a time when everything seems anything but natural. The family home is inevitably disrupted for a period – perhaps waiting for furniture to be delivered, living in temporary accommodation, or simply the process of unpacking and making a new home.At ACS Cobham, we recognise the importance of consistency in parent-child engagement and the challenges families face, so we hold workshops exploring the transitional experience and helpful ways to deal with the different phases of transition, a couple of times every year.First and foremost, we encourage parents to keep whatever they can the same to enhance their child’s resilience over the initial period of change.  Familiar structures and boundaries, even in new surroundings, help make children feel safe.  Also if, for example, you’ve always had ten minutes of one-on-one time with your child, before school or before bedtime, try to keep this going, to impress upon your child the things that won’t change.Talk, talk and talkChildren can sometimes feel alone or isolated in their new surroundings. To combat this, talk, even when you feel you have nothing to talk about.  The topics that we as parents often feel are unimportant or irrelevant are exactly those that matter, because talking about them will help our children feel that we value what they think and feel. There’s also a longer-term pay-off with this approach – time spent sharing now is good preparation for the future when your children are older, face different challenges and are naturally pulling away from you.If you have trouble starting conversations with your child, try some simple questions about the day they’ve had, for example, ask them their favourite and least favourite parts of the day.  Focusing on emotions, such as what made them happy or sad that day, or asking them to describe something they achieved, can also be helpful in engaging in more detail with your child’s experiences.Be present in the moment of time spent togetherAs parents, we often try to fill our children’s schedules with activities designed to help them ‘fit in’ and to encourage them to make new friends. Such efforts are valuable, but it is easy to do this at the expense of time together as a family, and to forget the importance of ‘family time’ as a major constant in our children’s lives.  Due to the world we live in today, we are also sometimes so busy taking pictures or reporting on social media about what we do, that we might forget to be present in the moment.It’s easy to get caught up in our own pressures – work, organising the new home, finding our way around a new area. We all know how to engage with our children, but we sometimes need to take a step back and actually recognise and remove the barriers that are stopping us. We often fill our children’s schedules with adult-led activities that are designed to improve skills and achieve goals, rather than fulfilling our children’s need for time to process and play. Instead of expecting our children to engage with “our world” – filled with responsibilities - let’s take the time to engage with theirs by connecting through play.Start with 10 minutesSometimes parents at ACS Cobham approach us for advice on how to connect more effectively with their children.  Our team works with children and parents, and run parent workshops, along with a monthly “Let’s Talk” session in Early Childhood, where we discuss different topics that concern our parenting.We recognise the busy world that parents live in, and often suggest that they try for just ten minutes of one-on-one time with each individual child per day, although of course, the more time you have the better. With my own children I find the best time is just before they go to bed, as it helps them to wind down and finish the day with a positive togetherness experience.  This time is all about my child and is so different from doing homework, reading or watching television together. It is just a time to play together and let my child lead the way.  I have often noticed that once parents have succeeded in building child-led time into their relationships, they find that it’s so much easier to address wider issues with their children.Stepping into your child’s world can sometimes feel awkward at first, but will very quickly become rewarding.  The older your child gets, the more difficult it can seem to engage and share thoughts, but it’s important to try.  Often it is exactly the very interaction they’ve been craving and will help them flourish!

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