The HK HUB’s Guide to a Smooth Relocation with Children
Relocating to a new country is a stressful and busy time for anyone. Packing up the house, changing jobs, finding somewhere new to live in a strange country, saying goodbye to family and friends; it can be an emotional and difficult process. If you have children, then there is the added complication of ensuring that they are happy and that they understand what’s happening around them.
How can you make the process less stressful for children? How can you ensure that they feel positively about the upcoming changes and their new home? We spoke to relocation experts AGS Fourwinds as well as parents who have recently moved to Hong Kong with young children to bring you a wealth of useful and practical advice to help make the move as smooth as possible.
Communicate and Research
Tell your children everything you know about the move and encourage them to talk about it and to ask questions. Show them that you are positive about the move; it will help them to feel more relaxed and excited. Find out about upcoming events and special occasions in your new country and make plans to look forward to. Look at maps, talk about the journey and make it an adventure.
Involve Your Child
Include your children in the different stages of the removal process. Be clear with them about what to expect in the weeks leading to the move and make sure they are involved in organising their own possessions. One useful tip is to give them their own packing boxes and also take photos of their favourite things that they may be parted from during the relocation process. Young children particularly don’t have a good concept of time so photos will help to remind them that their toys and possessions are on their way.
If you move in the middle of the academic year, contact the new school before the move and speak to them about the curriculum. Some subjects may not be covered in the old school or there may be vast differences in the way the two schools operate. Speak to the current school to obtain school reports and records to take with you and also speak to your children’s teachers who may also be able to advise you on tips for settling your child into their new school. Leaving a school and friendships behind can be a really emotional time so make sure the lines of communication are open between you and your child.
Hong Kong can be a particularly difficult place to find a school place, and as recent arrival, Becca discovered with her oldest son, the choice of school can significantly affect the happiness of your child. If your child is unhappy in their new school, then take the time to find out why and perhaps consider changing schools. We have a wealth of information about schools and application processes in Hong Kong here.
Does your child love a particular sport or activity? Do some research for local clubs and organisations which your children can join after the move. This will help them to make friends and to adjust a little more easily.
Sometimes it’s younger children who can find the move difficult. Hong Kong mother Becca feels her youngest child took the longest to settle as he was often joining her when running errands and making the arrangements for their new home. It’s only after starting to take him to playgroups and activities that he’s started to show his funny and cheeky side again.
Sometimes a house move seems like the perfect time to clear out the cupboards, but to help your child through the transition, keep hold of their favourite toys and games. Familiar objects will really help them to settle and it’s worth setting aside space in the luggage that you will travel with for special items that your children are attached to. These may help them throughout the transition to their new home country.
Top tip: just before the move, pack your children’s favourite games, snacks, books, into their own boxes. Keep these handy during the move.
Talk about what to expect
If you are moving to an area that is very different from your home town or country make sure that your child is aware of and understands these differences. Look at books, websites, TV programmes and talk about the differences they may experience. This could include new food, driving on the other side of the road, language and customs.
Make some memories
Before the move, take your children to their favourite places and remember to take photos. Put these into a scrap book and add photographs of friends and family to help preserve memories. This is particularly important for younger children who may forget things quickly.
Familiarise them with their new country
One practical and effective idea from a family who have just finished their first year in Hong Kong, is to show your child photographs of their soon-to-be new home. Jane and her husband visited Hong Kong a few months before moving here and made sure they took photographs of everything that their son would be interested in and created a book to tell the story of the move. They used this to talk to him about life in Hong Kong and what he could expect. He was then really excited about seeing the parks, trams, the Star Ferry, the skyscrapers, his new school and the airport and he was able to share this with his family and friends and it helped him to adjust and settle in to his new home.
Encourage them to maintain contact with their friends. Skype is a wonderful tool, even for quite young children and it also works well for friends and family to see you settled and happy in your new home. If your child is old enough, encourage them to write, email and send photos to their friends.
However one note of caution – some children find that seeing family and friends from home can make them feel homesick. Despite living in Hong Kong for several years, Sarah’s oldest child is often very uncooperative when speaking to grandparents on Skype and has told her that it makes him miss them and makes him upset. Make sure that you are sensitive to your own child’s particular needs.
This homesickness can also be triggered by visits back to visit family, so be aware that you may have to help your child adjust all over again when coming back from a trip back home.
Moving is disruptive but try to maintain your child’s routine for as long as possible as it will help them cope with the change. Similarly, on arrival in your new country, make sure you focus primarily on creating a new routine for your child to help them settle.
Get organised on arrival
Let your children unpack their own boxes and decide upon the arrangement and decoration of their own rooms. It’s important to ensure that the children’s rooms are in order before concentrating on the rest of the house, so put their beds up and unpack their toys as soon as you can. This will also help them stay occupied while you are unpacking!
Keep an eye on them after the move
Spend as much time as you can with your children after the move and keep an eye on their school performance. The stress of the move may not show immediately, but perhaps will affect school work. It’s important to help your child build new friendships so show interest in their school and invite new friends to socialise. Although some children adjust at different paces, teachers usually expect children to feel comfortable in their new school after six weeks. So give your children time to settle in first.
Finally, the key to overcoming any challenges when moving with children is to make the move fun!
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