We have lived abroad with our boys. Twice.
The first time was to the island of Cyprus in 2012. The boys were very young. I carried Linus around in an Ergo, while Piano Man was entering elementary school. Four years later, we are in Hungary – learning to adjust to life in another country. Again. Transitioning to life abroad is a huge change. It’s like you have to unlearn all the things you knew to be true and reestablish a new set of rules, learn new customs, and adjust to a different way of life.
That can be tough on young children. They crave familiarity. Go to school at ________. Schedule playdates with _______ and ______. Shop at ________ for groceries on _______ (name your weekday). Etc.
(You can read about our first few days in Budapest here. I felt that my conversation with our boys needed to be captured – to remember, lest I forget the next time we move abroad.)
What did I learn from those conversations? I had to relearn the following parenting travel tips to help them transition to life in a new country.
Here are some tips to help your children adjust to life in a foreign country:
1. Acknowledge Their Feelings.
I told our boys that there was going to be a period of adjustment, which meant that we would have to adjust to new situations. Having an open conversation about this is important. There can be a lot of things kids don’t have control over – where to go, when to go, and what they can or cannot do in a new city. But having an open conversation, hearing their concerns, and sharing your moments helps them to see that you are going through a period of adjustment too, and they don’t have to feel like they are alone.
2. Go Slow.
With kids, you have to go at a slower pace. I am the type of person that likes to get things done. I want to get our groceries, set up our phones with new SIM cards, and walk around the neighborhood. I want to walk the day to see the sights and sounds of the city. But if you feel jetlagged, imagine how your child feels. He probably feels even more exhausted and more stressed that he can’t walk as quickly around the big city.
Maybe it means getting one or two errands done in a day, not five. Plus, there’s an advantage to going slow. You get to enjoy the view with your children too. My sister-in-law took her older one to Austria for a summer while doing research. When she showed her son the sights, he asked questions about a cathedral and savored the meal they shared together.
Really, it’s a blessing in disguise.
3. Be Flexible.
Here’s an example of a lesson learned from our recent peds visit. During their annual check-up, the doc reminded our boys to try new foods, to build their palate. I implemented this foodie rule to a life rule – be flexible with your whatever situation comes your way. When our bags did not arrive in Cyprus for an entire week, we bought a few basic set of clothes to last us until our luggage arrived.
Dr. S said, “You have to try the food again to determine whether you liked it or not.” If we missed the tram, we said, we’ll catch the next one. If the Pad Thai we ordered looked different, we were going to give it a try. (By the way, the Pad Thai I tried in Budapest did not taste like Pad Thai.)
4. Bring Comforts From Home.
And when flexibility gets to be too much, let your little one hold that lovie or indulge in a McDonald’s Happy Meal that you don’t usually get in the States. In other words, bring back the comforts of home to help them feel like things aren’t all that different.
Don’t forget to pack some of their favorite things. When we asked our boys what they would like to pack for the move, they chose:
Star Wars costumes (Kylo Ren and Captain Rex)
favorite superhero books
fuzzy green fleece blanket (a piece of remnant fabric from JoAnns)
LEGO Hero Factory
new coloring books
Familiarity brings comfort, and so sometimes it means giving in to a little indulgence every now and then…within reason, of course.
It’ll make your transition smoother.
What additional tips do you find helpful to make the transition to living abroad smoother?
Share them in the comments below.