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Moving overseas? Here’s how to safeguard your children’s health and wellbeing

Relocating the family for a work opportunity can be an exciting but stressful time. There’s flights and housing details to organize, official documents and banking services to sort out, making sure you can find your way around when you get there, etc. Your children will also have their challenges and concerns when moving abroad. Here are some things to think about for your children’s health when it comes to becoming an expat family.

Understanding the challenges your children may face as expats

Becoming an expat comes with a whole list of new challenges alongside all the amazing and unique opportunities you can experience. Children, too, will have both major and minor changes to make and how they react to these obstacles can really impact their physical and mental health. Understanding what kids might go through is important to ensuring you can support them when they’re making the transition from one life to another.

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Leaving family and friends behind

One of the biggest barriers to settling into a new country can be the separation of all of the family and friends your children have come to know, love and be comfortable around. As children develop, it’s important to have a good support network of people around them to help guide them through the more difficult times of growing up. Relocation can take them away from these networks, leaving young people feeling vulnerable and lonely.

Culture shock

If you’re moving to a country with a completely different culture, not understanding the new social norms and practices can be all the more challenging for young people. Being an adult and being treated like one is fairly universal, but children can be treated differently depending on the culture of the country you’re in. Add to that a completely unfamiliar language, new food and a potentially different style of schooling, and this can be a major barrier for children.

Struggling to maintain their identity

An often silent challenge for expat children is trying to maintain their sense of self and their place in your family and the world. Having busy expat parents can leave young people feeling isolated and it can be a tough job for children to re-establish who they are in the face of so much unfamiliarity. A child who’s struggling to see who they are will often struggle to settle and find their place in their new home.

Is relocating overseas always more difficult for children?

Not at all, you may sometimes find that your children will adjust and settle in faster than you do. It’s well known that children can be like knowledge sponges, soaking up nearly anything and everything they come into contact with. It wouldn’t be unthinkable that your children may learn an entire nursery song in a foreign language before you could even direct a taxi. Those children with common interests can often find and establish friendships early.

In fact, the recent HSBC Expat Explorer survey noted some interesting facts about expat families living abroad. Two in five parents reported that their children were more well-rounded and confident as a result of living in a foreign country, while nearly half of those surveyed said their kids had a wider, more diverse circle of friends than they had back home. Parents also welcomed the cultural openness living abroad instilled in their young ones.

At the end of the day, living abroad is what you make of it and overcoming challenges is part and parcel of being an expat. Regardless of whether your kids may or may not struggle with adjusting to life as an expat, you should always be there to support your children’s health and wellbeing.

a kid walking down one side of the railway tracks representing the need for balance in supporting children's health

Taking care of your children’s health as an expat family

If you’re already living overseas or you’re considering a role in a foreign country, there are a few tips you should keep in mind in order to provide your children with the support they need to succeed:

Grow tighter as a family to fill the void of being away from home

With leaving their familiar friends, family and surroundings behind, it’s more important than ever that your children know that you are there for them, and they can be there for you. Children need to know they have a distinct and important role within your family, and that they are still important in your life. It can be easy to get swept up in your new surroundings, but you should always make sure your young ones feel valued and cared for.

This can be as simple as maintaining family rituals from your home country, including your children in the decision making process for new experiences you can all share, and listening and engaging with their experiences. Time can often be in short supply for expats overseas, but it’s all the more important for expat families. All of these acts help tell children that home is a safe and secure place, and help give the feeling they belong somewhere.

Help your children develop a “growth mindset”

A growth mindset starts with the premise that intelligence is not “fixed”, and that it can get stronger as long as we approach things the right way. Such thinking creates and fosters resilience, helping your children to build their capacity to overcome the sorts of obstacles that arise when moving countries. That said, a growth mindset is also not just for your children’s health.

Engaging in a growth mindset can help you too, and can be a great asset to helping you transition in the workplace. Navigating new cultural employment norms, local systems and management structures can be daunting, but approaching your challenges through a growth mindset can help you manage and make short work of your challenges, not to mention it sets a great example for your children to follow.

Explore your new environment together

When everything is new and unfamiliar, sometimes the best way to overcome any fears or timidness is simply to jump right in. Doing so as a family means you can all share in the memories and experience together, whilst also being there for each other when it gets tough. Visit museums and local attractions together, go on nature hikes, or participate in local festivals as a team.

Stay aware of your children’s mood and behavior

Moving to a new country means being more observant than usual regarding the mood and behavior of your children. Young people struggling to come to terms with relocating to a foreign country may need more support than usual to settle in, but first you’ll need to be able to spot a change. Other than behavior out-of-character for your child, here are some warning signs to be aware of:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping activities
  • Social isolation, including from the family
  • Increased acting-out of undesirable or risk-taking behaviors
  • Focus on and talk of morbid or negative themes, including suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Substance abuse or frequent accidents

This is not to say that all expat parents should be concerned about depression in their children, however they should be mindful of negative changes in behavior as a sign that they may be struggling to cope with the change of moving countries. When your children are a priority, being observant of their physical and mental wellbeing can be the first step in ensuring they are healthy and happy.

What if my child is still struggling to adjust to life abroad?

Sometimes the weight of our challenges can be too much to bear, and children can often feel the same. Being an expat family can be tough; you’re miles from your friends and family, you haven’t got an established support network yet, you’re busy trying to settle in and get set up with a bank account, rental property, or purchase a vehicle. Many seasoned expats will tell you the first year in a new country is always the hardest.

When your child finds themselves unable to cope with adjusting to life in a new country, it can sometimes manifest itself into something more serious. Intense homesickness or situational depression can be a terrible thing to suffer, and it can be even tougher for young people and families when it strikes while they’re living in a new place. If the need for specialist therapy or psychological support arises, holding an insurance policy can make seeking treatment easier.

Depression and other mental illnesses are not always covered by basic insurance policies, however more comprehensive plans can. If you’re thinking about the type of health insurance you might need for your family ahead of a relocation, then it might be worth considering whether or not to include therapist and medication coverage in your plan too. Insurance is not solely about preparing for the worst, but preventing it too.

Getting the right family insurance coverage to secure your children’s health overseas

Everyone wants their overseas experience to be a great one, but sometimes things don’t just click straight away and struggling with relocation can start off small and snowball into something bigger. Children can be more vulnerable to the obstacles involved in moving countries, so making sure you’re prepared to support them through anything may mean having that difficult consideration of “What if they suffer depression?”

An experienced insurance broker, like Pacific Prime Hong Kong, has sensitive and expert advisers that can provide you with a number of options to cover your children and family whilst living abroad. Whether you have an employee-provided plan that covers just you, or you and your family, or you simply have no insurance coverage at all, our team can help you with a new or top-up solution that best suits your family’s needs both now and in future.

For some friendly advice and a free quote, contact the advisers at Pacific Prime Hong Kong today!

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