How to help your tween or teen settle in a new country

How to help your tween or teen settle in a new country

There's a saying that a mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child. At no time will this be more noticeable than if you move to a new country with a tween or teenager in tow. You can't blame them, they're a bag of hormones and emotions anyway, and now you've thrown them a curveball by removing them from their familiar environment and trusted peer group, while forcing them to confront multiple challenges.

Your first response as a parent to this situation may be guilt, and that's understandable, even if it's unjustified. So, what can you do to assuage this guilt and more importantly, help them? We all have different reasons for moving countries - and this plays out in our family dynamics - but there are certainly some proactive steps you can take to help your teen adjust to their new home faster.

Here are a few tips from people I interviewed:

Get involved with a sports club

Everyone loves helpers - and the world needs more of them (as does the country you've moved to). Ashleigh, a mom of two, advises pitching in as a family, “Suggest to your teenager that they volunteer to help coach younger teams at the sport of their choice.

And if you're the parents, get involved by volunteering your time so that you become known and start to integrate." This could be football, hockey, badminton or judo - and you don't need to be particularly skilled at the sport to start helping - just get involved.

Keep those communication channels open

Teenagers have a reputation for being surly and non-expressive, but this isn't the case for all of them. The most important thing is that if your child wants to talk, you give them your complete attention so that they feel validated sharing their news or feelings, however trivial it may seem to you.

Support their friendships

All your child needs is one or two close friends to start, as that can make all the difference in helping them not feel isolated. My 13-year-old says that this is what helped her when she went through tough times.

But how do you find these core friends? "Put yourself out there and be friendly to people and find things you have in common," she tells me. "Whether it is a hobby or a sport, these similarities will bring you closer, and help you when you're missing people and places from home.” As parents, we can encourage these friendships by inviting their friends around for meals, arranging playdates or hangouts together and ensuring that these common interests are encouraged.

Learn the language

While it does depend on your situation (how long you are here for, what schools your children attend), learning the local language can go a long way to helping kids make friends and settle faster. Remember that children are sponges and will learn much faster than you - what a great opportunity for them to learn a lifelong skill!

Duolingo offers family accounts where you can all learn together, or you could get a tutor, or do an online course together. You could also watch local television, read Dutch books, and have a time of the day when you all only speak Dutch to each other (dinner time perhaps).

Embrace the fun parts of your new culture

Gary, a South African father of two, says embracing the fun is important. "Whether this is planning trips to explore your surroundings, visiting local museums, enjoying Sinterklaas festivities, or watching the King's Day parade - it's important to show your children the positive aspects of where they've moved to,” he says.

Another huge positive of living here is the freedom that tweens and teens are permitted. As 12-year-old Nicholas said after moving here in 2019,"I really like being able to bike around on my own and be independent." As parents we need to let them do this, and benefit from this lifestyle we have brought them into.

The importance of community

No doubt you didn't make the decision to relocate to a new country lightly, and hopefully one day your child will gain perspective and be thankful for the profound lessons they've learned, even if they were difficult at the time. Remember to lean on your own community of parents that you've created so that you can solve issues together. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and this truism remains, even - or maybe especially - when you move countries.

If you're worried about your tween or teen's emotional or mental state and believe they need professional help, make an appointment with your doctor / huisarts as a first point of call.

Belinda Mountain


Belinda Mountain

Belinda is a writer, author and digital marketing consultant who has lived in London, Europe and South Africa over the past 20 years. Her writing has been published in The...

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