Looking for a better life for your children?
It’s a common reason why families consider moving abroad. The prospect of being able to afford a more spacious house, to have weekends at the beach and days spent outdoors.
In theory it sounds great. But kids don’t always see the disruption to their settled routines in the same light, as an article last week in the United Arab Emirate’s The National highlighted*.
Featuring the cases of several British expat families, and the troubled behavior exhibited by the children following their moves overseas, the article pointed to what psychologists are calling Expat Child Syndrome (ECS).
Classic signs of ECS are said to include uncooperative or disruptive behavior, arguing with siblings, regression in eating habits, a rose-tinted attachment to the family’s home country, and a refusal to see merit in anything the new location has to offer.
And while for some children the effects may only be short-term as they adjust to the transition, for others the resentment and unhappiness at the perceived ruination of their lives can be much more deep-seated and long-lasting.
Of course, there are strong arguments in favor of an international upbringing, even if your children don’t necessarily appreciate them at the time. For instance, it may make them more culturally open-minded and knowledgeable, more adaptable in their attitudes to life and work, teach them foreign languages, and provide different leisure opportunities.
Nevertheless, the pros won’t always outweigh the cons.
So some things to bear in mind are:
In general it is more difficult to take older children out of their existing school environment, particularly if they are at, or approaching, crunch exam years. And they are more likely to have friends they will be unwilling to leave (and for which they will curse you at high volume!).
2) Location and Cultural Similarities
The degree of disruption and subsequent integration also depends on where you are moving to. Your children will have a closer cultural affinity to some countries than others, which should make the transition easier, especially if there is no language barrier to overcome. And if you’re close enough to get back home for frequent visits to see extended family and friends so much the better.
How good is the system in your target destination? What quality of education will your children receive? How large are the schools and the classes within them (smaller schools and class sizes may be less daunting as a new entrant)?
Do you anticipate sending your children to an international school along with other expatriate kids, or will they go to the local one? An international school may offer less initial readjustment – especially if you are moving to a country that speaks a different language – but in the longer term local schools may help your children integrate better into the wider community.
4) Pleasure in Leisure
It’s important your children see tangible benefits from moving abroad, and being able to offer them the chance to engage in their favorite pastimes, or try out new ones, is one way of doing that.
Perhaps they’ll be able to take up surfing or horse riding, or go skiing on weekends? Maybe you’ll have a swimming pool in your back garden?
The flip side of course is to guard against SBS – Spoilt Brat Syndrome!
5) Health and Safety
The quality of health care provision you can expect to receive in your target country is one factor in these considerations (and let’s face it, with kids you know you’ll be using it!).
But health is also about staying well. And that means having decent drinking water, good sanitation, access to good quality foodstuffs, low levels of environmental pollutants, and so on.
Then there is personal safety. In the UK at the moment there is enormous concern and great focus on knife crime. In the US it’s guns. But are these more about news headlines than real threats?
And what about the prevalence of drug use, racial and religious intolerance, sex discrimination, sexual assaults, child abuse?
There’s no need to start hyperventilating over every possible form of harm that could come to your child, but as a parent it’s only natural to consider these things.
Children may be flexible, but don’t underestimate how tough it can be for them to be wrenched from their small, secure worlds and thrust into a new one. So ask yourself this – will they thank you in the long run?