Helping kids get settled in Europe
Moving to Europe is a big change for the entire family, and children certainly feel this impact as they leave behind familiar schedules, classrooms, friends and neighborhoods. Here are ways to make the transition as smooth as possible for your kiddos.
The importance of routines in child development should not be understated. Childhood is wrought with uncertainty because children’s bodies and minds are constantly transforming as they grow and learn. Establishing routines will help children handle the additional emotional and environmental changes as you get settled. Anxiety about the transition is reduced, which results in better-behaved, better-rested and happier children.
- Set sleeping schedules as soon as possible to help your children adjust to the time change, climate differences and varying hours of sunlight.
- Rehearse school or day care routines, from getting ready in the morning to walking to the bus stop and doing homework.
- If possible, take your children to their day care or school to meet their caregivers or teachers and see the new setting in advance.
- This will ease discomfort when they arrive on their first day. Make sure your routine includes time for your children’s favorite activities so that they feel rewarded and have time for fun.
Get kids involved
Include your children throughout the transition. Giving them tasks and roles instills a sense of responsibility and increases their self-confidence. Let them help unpack and give them freedom to organize their living space.
Schedule social time with classmates and families in the neighborhood to help your children make new friends.
Sign your children up for after-school activities to increase their social interaction and enrich their personal development. You’ll also get the chance to meet new parents and build a local support structure.
Contact a School Liaison Officer (SLO) to request a youth sponsor for your child. Having a peer to “show them the ropes” makes a new place less threatening and provides a resource to meet new friends.
Explore your host country
Maintain an enthusiastic outlook about your arrival in Europe, even if you are having doubts. Your children will look to you a great deal during this transition. If you’re upset, they will be too.
Engage in the local culture. Eat meals on the economy, attend local fests, learn about local traditions and incorporate those that you love. Address the differences between life in Europe versus back home, but move conversations in a positive direction; focus on how things are dissimilar, rather than weird, wrong or worse. Your children will gain an appreciation for diversity while exploring.
Enroll your children in host-nation language lessons; it is easier to pick up a new language while they are young! This will help them feel like they fit in while reducing trepidation about traveling and conversing with local children.
Travel around the continent to see the best of Europe. Let children assist in trip planning by researching and selecting sites or activities that they would like to enjoy. Take photos and work together to create scrapbooks, photo albums, calendars, collages and other creative projects.
Remain in touch with life back home
While adjusting to everything new, don’t forget about life back home. Set regular Skype, FaceTime or phone dates with friends and family. If your children are allowed online, encourage them to utilize social media and email to stay in touch with friends, or have them send postcards from the destinations they visit.
Continue the traditions that are important in your family, whether it’s Monday movie nights, playing basketball in the driveway or making chocolate chip cookies on Christmas Eve. If you’re not sure which traditions your kids love the most, take the time to ask.
Expect an adjustment period
Give your children time to process all of the changes, both good and bad, that come with their new environment. Be aware of expat child syndrome, a psychological condition that typically occurs in children ages 10 to 15 and can lead to isolative or unruly behavior.
Make yourself available in case children want to talk, but also offer other support options, such as journaling and creative avenues, reconnecting with friends and relatives back home, or speaking with a counselor. There are people, programs, & resources to help.
Military Family Life Counselors (MFLCs) are available to meet in-person on or off the military installation. The free non-medical sessions with child behavioral specialists are anonymous and may occur in individual, couple, family or group settings. Contact your SLO or family services agency to find an MFLC. Adolescent Support and Counseling Services (ASACS) can assist students struggling with transition and other issues. Military OneSource has access to free non-medical counseling that’s anonymous and available online, on the phone or in person. Twelve free sessions may occur in individual, couple, family or group settings.