Families on the move: helping kids cope with migration

Families move countries for all kinds of reasons, including the hope for a better life for your children.

It can be difficult when you and your children disagree about what might make life in the new country a good one.

Part of the new life you offer your children is growing up in a different place. Sometimes it is hard when your children take on the new culture and seem to leave some of your values behind.


Moving to a new country can be in hopes of providing them a better lifestyle.

Reluctant to move

It does not matter how good your reasons are for moving, some children just do not want to go. And that is not surprising, even if moving is for their benefit; it is not the kind of choice children are prepared to make.

There are some children who will look at the idea of moving and see it as an exciting experience.  Meanwhile, other children, in the same family, are more affected by the thought of what they will lose by going, and how hard it might be to make life in the new country work  well.

Both kinds of children have a point. The enthusiasts, who like the idea of the move, look for good possibilities, so they often find them. The realists, who don’t like the idea of moving, know what they are losing. They need time to think it through. Good information also helps them to feel confident that some good outcomes are more than likely. The realists help the whole family to prepare for the move.

Moving can be tough for teens

The idea of moving can be especially difficult for teenagers. The older your kids are, the more they are likely to have parts of their life that are independent of the family. A teenager’s idea of their own identity comes from their friends, school, activities, and the future they already have planned, more so than it does from their family. Another country just looks a long way away and very lonely.

How parents can help

As parents, you made the decision about moving. If it is the best thing for the family, then you do not have to persuade the kids to agree with you. Your job is to help your kids work out how to live well with the move. This may be a completely different process for every one of your children.

Help your kids to work out what would make the move good for them. Then help them to work out how to make that possible. Where will they want to study? What sports will they want to play and watch? What activities will they be able to try that they can not do where you are?

Some kids will focus on what will make the move bad. Then you help them to solve each problem they see about the move. A lot of their fears will be about finding new friends and fitting in and that is understandable. Remind them how they have done that previously. Encourage them to find out more about kids their age where you are headed. The more your kids know about the environment they move to, the more likely they will find their feet sooner.

Keeping in touch

It is good to value the good friendships they have now too. Help your kids to think about practical ways to keep in touch.

If they are really miserable in your new country, sympathise but do not make it the measure of how successful the move is. Plenty of teenagers go through moody, painful and difficult times staying at home. The move is just one of the many life experiences they have no control over. Remind them to pay attention to what they can control – in this case, how they deal with the move.

Some kids may ask you to agree that if they do not settle in to the new country, you will all head home again. But this is not a helpful option. It makes feeling unhappy seem so big and hard to get through that only desperate measures will fix it. It also gives them a big incentive to make the move fail. Instead, you could encourage them to make it work out by offering rewards and celebrations for steps they take to make the move work better for them.

Children losing their culture

For some families, arriving in the new country is not the issue. It is what happens once you settle. Part of the new life you offer your children is growing up in a different place. Sometimes it is hard when your children take on their new culture and seem to leave some of your values behind.

There is no easy fix for this. Most parents feel some discomfort about some of the choices their teenagers make as they grow up. But it can be a bit more stark when the growing up happens in a different culture.

Your kids will make their own mistakes no matter how hard you try to protect them. The more obstacles you put in their way, the more secretive they are likely to be.

Staying connected

Think about what kind of relationship you want to have with them, not just now, but as they get older. If you want them to talk to you, and even occasionally listen to what you say, you may find that listening to them, and being curious about the different opportunities they have, will help.

Let them teach you some of what they discover about this new country you are both living in. Your relationship will be closer and stronger if you do this. You may still feel they make some choices you don’t like, but that would be likely where ever you live. And this way, you will understand each other better.

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