Relocating with Kids? Pay Attention to What they’re Not Saying

An assignee who prepares their spouse and kids for relocation to another region or country is only getting half of the job done. The global mobility manager who helps them find the right school for their kids, another job for the spouse or partner, and the country club or ethnic community where they can socialize has also helped increase the entire family’s chances for adjustment.

However, what the assignee must realize is that adjustment to a foreign country or location is an ongoing process. While he or she, the one employed by the global mobility manager’s company, has a written and personal commitment to the organization, their family members do not necessarily share it.

In fact, some kids of assignees develop what psychologists are now calling the Expatriate Child Syndrome or ECS. The condition is a form of stress that affects mostly tweeners and adolescents from the ages of 10 to 15.

These are formative years that make them vulnerable to issues like alienation, inability to fit in, the loss of friendships, and a decreased self-confidence, just to name a few. Other more visible symptoms include withdrawal, continual self-seclusion, constant refusal to cooperate with the family rules, or any attention-seeking form of disruption.

Unfortunately, many assignee parents tend to dismiss these outbursts as initial signs of adjustment that the child will eventually overcome. Worse, they sometimes regard them as the usual behavior of  a temporary adolescent behavior that they themselves went through in their youth.

But if left untreated, ECS can become a major problem that can affect the morale of the family and the relations of the members among themselves. And if the friction in the house affects the assignee’s emotions and thoughts, their performance can suffer.

Global mobility managers must themselves be sensitive enough to know if teenager-induced discord is happening at home, and must be prepared to at least give the assignee enough wise advice to restore things back to peace and harmony.

Here are a few tips that the beleaguered assignee can take to heart:

First, open a line of non-stop communication

This aspect is simply non-negotiable. It doesn’t matter how many long hours the assignee works, or if they can barely catch their breath on the weekend. A silent, moody child is a problem waiting to happen.

The more they clam up, the louder the parental alarm bells should sound. The assignee and their spouse must make the first move — and in a non-threatening way. Sometimes it might take two to three approaches before the child lowers their defenses and opens up. Taking the child out to their favorite places like a park, a playground, or a mini-museum — which are all away from the school and home that the child feels suffocates them — can be an icebreaker.

Second, take time to listen to what the child is saying and not saying

It might take the child several seemingly unrelated anecdotes to finally confess to what has been bothering them. The parent must create an atmosphere of trust and safety which must reinforce to the child that their father, mother, or guardians are out for their welfare, regardless of whatever infraction they had committed.

At the same time, a confession of insecurities must be handled with care and sensitivity that can restore the child’s confession. Above all else, the parents or guardians must communicate without doubt their love and concern for their child.

Create a child-support system that will help the parent and the child overcome this challenge

Adjustment, as stated, is continuing, and the efforts of the parents must be enhanced by a caring and competent network of caregivers and friends. BBC lists them down as follows: day care centers, housekeepers, babysitters, and tutors.

It would be even better if the child sees other family members, especially those from the same age group. The child can regard them as friendly representatives of the childhood home they miss. California Corporate Housing can also help assignees find weekend schools where kids can interact with others of the same ethnic group, especially if they need to retain the language they learned back in their home country.

Culturally diverse areas like the San Francisco Bay Area are a melting pot where the assignee can find this kind of support.