Moving abroad is tough at the best of times, as adults moving alone it is a great adventure to be embarked upon. But when you have children there are so many extra concerns to take into account. The adventure is no longer about you as part of a couple but how you will be as a family. My Top 10 Tips to Help Children Say Goodbye will help you through as a family to say farewell to one location and hello to the next.
Create an Inclusive Action Plan
As Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock point out in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, it is of utmost importance for children (and adults) to say goodbye properly in order not to leave unresolved grief. Saying goodbye may be different for everyone and we all need to do so on our own terms. However, saying farewell is such an important part of the grieving process when experiencing loss. For Third Culture Kids, it is part of an annual process, sometimes more than once a year.
My children, even though they have moved several times since they were born, are still are nervous about what lies ahead.
They are sad about friends they will leave behind.
Uncertain about future friends.
Everybody, adults and children, still need to release the stress with a good cry at times and then talk, talk and talk some more. Talking about their feelings in paramount. But also create and put an action plan into place as children generally need a plan to follow. They do not like vague reassurances.
This Action plan has to be inclusive, getting the children involved in what they can do to help with the move.
I know I still get very emotional with all the goodbyes, but once you arrive in the new place you are so busy settling in that the sadness seems to dissipate as Culture Shock takes over...
So, before you get to the next stage, finish of this part of the journey well. help your child say good-bye by following some of these Top Tips below. They are tried and tested by other expats who want to help you now through this tough transition.
Top 10 Tips to Help Children say Goodbye
1. MAKE TO-DO LISTS TOGETHER
In the last month before a move, help your children by making sure you hit their top things to do locally before you go and also line up fun things to look forward to on arrival in new place.
2. TALK LOTS
Use your dinner time to talk through thoughts and worries in your heads about the move, and how to say good-bye. Here are 7 great Family Dinner Questions to get you started. Encourage your children to open up to their friends as well, as their friends will be having similar concerns, but without the parental support as their parents may not be aware of the upcoming move. It is consuming all your thoughts, but make sure you let others know too.
3. SCHEDULE PLAY-DATES
Ask your children who they want to spend extra time with in these last few weeks. Arrange a sleepover with their best friend(s).
4. INVOLVE FRIENDS
Ask friends to write a postcard of a favourite memory they have shared together that can be taken with them to read after they have left. Or provide them with a stamp-addressed postcard to fill in and send in a few months to say hello.
5. CREATE MEMORY BOARDS
Make a collage of the area, friends, activities, school and get all their friends sign it. Create memory books by looking through your photos and pick the important ones. Arrange them in a scrap book with titles for each picture. This is a great way with smaller children especially to take memories with you and being able to engage with them on an ongoing basis after you leave.
6. SWAP PERSONAL ITEMS AS GIFTS
Create or buy gifts they can give to their friends, so they know they will not be forgotten. Or ask your children to choose something of theirs to give to their friends. And if you know their friends mum's well enough, ask if they would encourage their child to give something of theirs to my child. Picking one personal toy that they own and exchanging with a friend will help the feelings of keeping each other close. This is especially good with smaller children. Making friendship bracelets together. I wore mine for at least a year after repatriating as a 8 year old.
7. GATHER KEEPSAKES AND SOUVENIRS OF THE REGION
Purchase numerous school merchandise items and mementos of the region to take with you. This is the time to indulge them and be a tourist again! Enjoy the area, eat at your favourite restaurants, visit your favourite places and on leaving each say a quiet good-bye in your head and take a minute to stop and take in all the sights and sounds of the location. Take lots and lots of photos at these places. Fun places, regular activities, friends, schools, teachers, the route to school even…
8. BRAINSTORM AND SHARE WORRIES
Post a big poster sized paper sign on the fridge door. Divide this into two vertical columns. Title the left side with "What I'll miss about HERE*" The other side says "What I'm looking forward to THERE*". The comments are then added by all the family as they think of them, you are likely to find them funny, insightful, and surprising. This can bring out different worries than mentioned out loud at the dinner table, yet keeps the channels open. (*replace Here and There with the actual town names relevant to you.)
9. CREATE A "DAY-IN-THE-LIFE" JOURNAL RECORD
Write or record a “day in the life” journal entry with them as to what they do on a normal school week. What the routine is. As all too soon the new location will take over and they will forget what the previous life was like. Then get frustrated at not remembering, so record it now. Find the time. Yes I know there are a million other things to think about but this is HUGE in their lives and it must be noted.
10. SWAP CONTACT DETAILS
Make sure they have Skype details swapped and test it between your houses there before you go. Then fix a date and time to Skype after you have left. It will help her leave and settle knowing she can keep contact with her friends.
Helping your child relocate well is one more demand on you as a parent when you are already stressed, but it is essential to the family unit, in fact I think you will find going through these strategies will ease your stress, not add to it.
This year I am there with many others of you making this transition over the summer. Let me know how it goes. What stories and memories were the things that you are taking with you? Could you share any of these here? I would love to hear how you are doing.
Leaving or being left behind is, for most of us, not easy. Winnie the Pooh says it best when he reminds us: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.