• Is there a better age for children to move abroad?

  • I have been asked if I think there is a better age for children to move abroad. If you had a choice that is. Often you don't of course, but this blog may give you an outline of how your children may react to the challenges ahead.
     
    I moved myself as a child at 4 years, 5 years and 8 years. I have moved my children at 11 months; 17 months and 4 years; 5 and 8 years, and lastly 8 and 11 years old. Looking back over all of these moves, and talking with fellow expats and their experiences, I think it is best to  look at each age under four headings:
    • Friendships
    • Learning a Language
    • Emotions
    • Schooling

     

    Friendships

    Often, with children under 5 years, the children are just happy to be wherever their parents are. They have no fixed friends to miss as during a school year children swap between liking and disliking different children at a rapid rate that, that is hard to keep up with. Under 5’s closer friendships come more through the immediate family unit.  Of course they have playmates and buddies at school but after a few weeks of seeing new people, these are likely to be pushed into the past quite happily.
     
    Post 5 years, birthday parties are more drop off only and the parents relationship really takes a back bench. You become the taxi. But there is still a closeness to parents that makes moves up to about 8 years old easier to deal with. I found the 5-6 year old move is the sweet spot for ease of transition.
     
    If you have children in the 6-11 years age bracket it is tough as at that age they are so fully aware and in their lives with the bigger percentage of memorable life experience being the immediate past. That is the place you have been in for the last few years. They are likely to have formed close friendships and will cry when leaving these friend as this age is before they are personally on online social networks.  Skype calls aid the transition but can also hinder the child looking for new friendships in real life at the new location. As strong as the ties were in the last location, after a year it is then normal for the new location friends to take over in their minds.
     
    Once your children are past 13, then the social networks become the route for children to stay connected to existing friends. They will miss them though all the same. They will probably shout and scream at you for 'ruining their life'. But hang in there, later they will thank you. I promise. Just don't hold your breath.. it may be years rather than months.

     

    Learning a New Language

    I have found that if you are moving to a country with a new language, it is by far the easiest if your children are 5-6 years old or under.  Why? Because 5 is when most countries start formal reading and writing and therefore your child will learn in the classroom with the local children. This is priceless. This puts your child far more at ease in the classroom as it is a space where they are learning with their peers. They are also less aware of others and therefore do not get embarrassed by making mistakes. Other children are more open and just chatter away to them oblivious to the fact that they may not understand. Most play at this age is action orientated, so language is secondary. By language not being made a big focus, creates a far more relaxed atmosphere to absorb the language.
     
    Skip up a few years to an eight year old and you are hitting the 'obstinate' period. At this point if your child has only every known and worked in one language, then they will FIGHT the new language like crazy. In their heads they have just come out the other end of the years of learning to read and write. It is fun reading chapter books now. And now you have gone and asked them to start again in a new language. How dare you?
     
    My eldest was a prime example of this. It was her third relocation, but a brand new language - French. She went straight into local school as the international school had no places. We had to roll with the only option - local 100% French school who did not have a single foreigner amongst their numbers. Everyone we spoke to said "she will be speaking French by Christmas". Hah! Not a chance. She didn't speak a word at school until MAY. Yes, May. She did written work, but refused to speak. The headmaster called me in... an 'educator' told me to stop speaking English at home.. There were a lot of tears. Hers and mine.
     
    Then she went away, quite happily on a 3 day school trip with her French class. Reports came back to me on the first night that she was chatting away quite fluently in French! WTF? It was only 2 years later that she admitted to me that she refused to speak French as she thought then we would have to go back to the States... but only after she realised we were not, no matter if she did not learn the language, did she start to speak French. She is a bright student and had been understanding her friends for quite a while, but she didn't want her first words in the classroom, as then everyone would over-react with joy at her speaking. Kids are fickle I tell you!
     
    By the age pf ten or eleven years old, children have more maturity and can see the need and advantages in learning the new language. They may not like it, but they will not fight it so much. Once twelve plus schooling starts, you really want the child to learn in their strongest language rather than start again in a new one if at all possible. 
     
    International schools that operate in English only are set up to serve this community as it is very hard to have a bilingual education and still achieve the same depth of learning as you would in a single language school. Attending an IB School means that no matter how long they are there, they can continue their studies without having to worry about language too.
     

    Emotions

    My children are TCKs (Third Culture Kids) .. born in different countries and have at least one prior move relatively fresh in their heads to remember what it was like living elsewhere. Even though they have moved before, they are still are nervous about our upcoming move and what lies ahead. They are sad about friends they will leave behind, nervous about making new friends, about being accepted into a new circle, a new culture. Before leaving a place, we try, as parents to make the transition as soft as possible. But everybody, adults and children still will need to release the stress with a good cry at times. Talking about the feelings in paramount. But also putting an action plan into place as children generally need a plan to follow. They do not like vague promises. At dinner time we open up the questions about the worries or concerns they may be carrying that day.
     
    The teenage years are the hardest emotionally. Wherever they are in the world. Being in an expat location will aggravate the highs and lows. Expat Child Syndrome (ECS) is most likely to hit in these years as they no longer have the close circle of friends to rely on that they have built up over the years.
     

    Schooling

    Primary school children (under eleven years old) is generally agreed to be the best age to relocate worldwide with children. From early attendance of Mother and baby groups through to school, there are lots of easy opportunities to make friends. And at Primary school you will also get to know the parents of the friends. The school gate chatter is perfect as a parent to get to know the culture you have entered. There will be the same types of parents that you recognise from back home - the all-involve down to the drop'n'go - so hunt out those similar to yourself and strike up conversation!
     
    Education will happen wherever you are in the world, and it will add to their knowledge base, just maybe in a slightly different method, style or order than before. Do not worry about them following a different method to back 'home' if under eleven. If they learn African history one year, American the next, then study French revolutions the following year it will make them far better informed on world topics then children who grow up in one location. Most importantly they will take in the fact that every country and culture is different, yet if you smile the smile will always be returned, wherever you are in the world. The ability to be able to walk into a room full of strangers and make yourself be accepted is a gift that many adults would crave for.
     
    Twelve plus schooling is a far more major consideration for many families moving overseas. Every country has a different method and curriculum for the national education, and this can make moves very hard for children needing to play 'catch-up' in a new system. There is however now a huge network of international SchoolsBritish International Schools and Wordwide American Schools set up across all the continents to support the expat children and provide continuity of education. The IB program is a popular and extensive curriculum that has worldwide support and acceptance into universities worldwide. Visit http://www.ibo.org/ for more information.  If your children are at this point in their education I do recommend checking out if there is an IB school in the region of your next assignment. It is important as they get older that the work they do and the exams that are taken are recognised internationally and especially in a country where you think they may progress into higher education. Boarding schools become a real option for many traveling parents at this age as they give the children greater stability and also friends in similar situations.
     
    There is a term for people who have lived in multiple locations, and associate themselves with more than one culture as a result - Triangles. Some Universities now have Triangle Social Groups set up to meet and support fellow students with this background as they do have a slightly different perspective on the world and friendships than those who have only lived within one culture.
     
  • Is there a better age for children to move abroad? No, there is no definite answer to this as every age brings it’s own challenges. However I do feel it is more complicated to move with older children as schooling and friends are more important in their lives. My experience so far and talking with clients, is that a move with children 5 and under is by far the easiest.

  • 12 comments

    hello sir my name is Sukhjeet saying I want my daughter who is three years old to studying abroad will you please help me I am I want to because my daughter can make her better future and get here

    Reply

    Excellent article! I myself was born in Denmark, was brought up in Mexico, Germany and France. My husband was brought up abroad too, and our 3 kids are born in Oman and go to school here. We ve been here for 10 years now, but there is no school for kids beyond the age of 11-12. So we are obliged to move in the next 2 years. We have no clue of where to go, as we love our life here. But the age of the kids will be fine at least. The oldest will be 10, and the youngest 4. They feel Oman is their country, although they have a French and British passport. We can't live in cold weather, we are too used to coconuts. And we will have to chose the best school system. French or British. Definitely tricky, but exciting! And reassuring to read articles and comments such as jumpoverseas. Nice to know we are not the odly crazy ones who are away and don't feel they belong to a country in particular! Thanks, Sandrine

    Reply

    Thanks Sandrine for taking the time to comment. I am glad you are reassured by reading others have trodden a similar path before you, though every journey is unique. A choice between French and British schools is quite a difference in approach to teaching. The French system is more wrote learning, while English teaching has a stronger emphasis on the individual and creativity. So take your children's personalities into account as to how they respond to the different methods when choosing. Good luck!

    Reply

    Excellent article! I myself was born in Denmark, was brought up in Mexico, Germany and France. My husband was brought up abroad too, and our 3 kids are born in Oman and go to school here. We ve been here for 10 years now, but there is no school for kids beyond the age of 11-12. So we are obliged to move in the next 2 years. We have no clue of where to go, as we love our life here. But the age of the kids will be fine at least. The oldest will be 10, and the youngest 4. They feel Oman is their country, although they have a French and British passport. We can't live in cold weather, we are too used to coconuts. And we will have to chose the best school system. French or British. Definitely tricky, but exciting! And reassuring to read articles and comments such as jumpoverseas. Nice to know we are not the odly crazy ones who are away and don't feel they belong to a country in particular! Thanks, Sandrine

    Reply

    Excellent article! I myself was born in Denmark, was brought up in Mexico, Germany and France. My husband was brought up abroad too, and our 3 kids are born in Oman and go to school here. We ve been here for 10 years now, but there is no school for kids beyond the age of 11-12. So we are obliged to move in the next 2 years. We have no clue of where to go, as we love our life here. But the age of the kids will be fine at least. The oldest will be 10, and the youngest 4. They feel Oman is their country, although they have a French and British passport. We can't live in cold weather, we are too used to coconuts. And we will have to chose the best school system. French or British. Definitely tricky, but exciting! And reassuring to read articles and comments such as jumpoverseas. Nice to know we are not the odly crazy ones who are away and don't feel they belong to a country in particular! Thanks, Sandrine

    Reply

    Excellent article! I myself was born in Denmark, was brought up in Mexico, Germany and France. My husband was brought up abroad too, and our 3 kids are born in Oman and go to school here. We ve been here for 10 years now, but there is no school for kids beyond the age of 11-12. So we are obliged to move in the next 2 years. We have no clue of where to go, as we love our life here. But the age of the kids will be fine at least. The oldest will be 10, and the youngest 4. They feel Oman is their country, although they have a French and British passport. We can't live in cold weather, we are too used to coconuts. And we will have to chose the best school system. French or British. Definitely tricky, but exciting! And reassuring to read articles and comments such as jumpoverseas. Nice to know we are not the odly crazy ones who are away and don't feel they belong to a country in particular! Thanks, Sandrine

    Reply

    I have just stumbled across this article whilst researching about moving abroad with young children. It has been by far the most informative and helpful post I have read so thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us. It's a scary thought and this has provided reassurance about the main subjects I was concerned about. Thank you :-)

    Reply

    Hello Sarah, I am very pleased this has reassured you, moving abroad is scary but there is luckily now a lot of help and support out there to help you along the way. Do make sure you hunt out playgroups at your new location to connect to other Mums - it will provide the much needed social network for you as well as your children. Remember to look at your needs too. Often Mums can feel very lonely as they leave their own needs until last. Good luck with your move and feel free to message me with any other concerns you may have.

    Reply

    Hi Susanna, great post! I definitely believe that the younger they move, the better they'll adapt. Still, a thought provoking post, for sure.

    Reply

    Thanks Alex!

    Reply

    Fantastic article. I have daughter. She is 6 years old. Next year we are going to move abroad. I hope It won`t cause her too much stress. Thank you for sharing this post. Best regards! http://manwithavannottinghill.co.uk/

    Reply

    Hi Muriel, Thank you so much for your kind words, and I am glad you found this useful. Talk with your daughter now about the move next year if it is a sure thing, as at her age she hears and takes in all conversations in the home and will have plenty of her questions to ask. Children get the most stressed when they do not feel they know what is happening or why. Time to assimilate the change ahead will make her less stressed then 'springing' the idea on just a few weeks before. I find at 6 and 7, they are aware of time and what next year means. A 3 year old however would not understand, so best they find out far closer to a move. I hope your planning and move abroad goes smoothly.

    Reply