I coach parents from around the world and I also support a number of families that have moved to live and work in other countries that include UAE, France, Belgium and Portugal to name only a few, and we always explore together the cultural aspects of raising their children as global citizens whilst nurturing their own cultural backgrounds.
Living abroad can have many positive effects on a child’s development and experiences of life.
Here are some ways in which living abroad can help children develop:
Cultural awareness and diversity: Living in a different country exposes children to diverse cultures, languages, customs, and traditions. They have the opportunity to interact with people from various backgrounds, which fosters cultural understanding and appreciation. This wider exposure to different cultures can really help develop their empathy, open-mindedness, and respect for different perspectives.
As children take their lead from you – being open minded, curious and respectful will help them develop these values too.
Language skills: Immersion in a foreign country provides an excellent environment for children to learn and improve their language skills. Being surrounded by native speakers enables them to develop fluency, vocabulary, and pronunciation more effectively. Bilingual or multilingual children often have cognitive advantages, such as enhanced problem-solving skills and better communication skills.
Raising multilingual or bilingual children can create strong family and cultural bonds too. It can also be good for your child’s learning as bilingualism is associated with many other cognitive benefits like stronger multitasking skills, creativity, and working memory.
They don’t suffer from speaking one language at home and another at school. That is an urban myth!
Adaptability and resilience: Living abroad exposes children to new challenges, such as navigating unfamiliar environments, making new friends, and adapting to different educational systems. These experiences promote adaptability, flexibility, and resilience in children as they learn to adjust to change and overcome obstacles. They become more comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones and dealing with unfamiliar situations.
Global perspective and open-mindedness: Exposure to different cultures and ways of life broadens children’s perspectives and helps them develop a global mindset. They gain a deeper understanding of global issues, different societal norms, and varying worldviews. This exposure encourages open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance of diversity, which are crucial traits in an interconnected world.
Independence and self-confidence: Living abroad often requires children to navigate daily life independently, which fosters self-reliance and confidence. They learn to manage tasks such as travelling, shopping, and making decisions, which contributes to their confidence, personal growth and development. The challenges they face and overcome while living abroad contribute to their sense of achievement and helps to nurture and build their self-esteem.
Cross-cultural friendships: Living in a foreign country allows children to form friendships with other children from different cultural backgrounds. These friendships provide opportunities for mutual learning, sharing experiences, and developing lifelong connections. They develop interpersonal skills, empathy, and an appreciation for diversity through these natural cross-cultural interactions.
Enhanced academic opportunities: Some countries may offer unique educational opportunities or specialised programmes that can benefit a child’s academic development. Living abroad may provide access to high-quality schools, innovative teaching methods, or specific academic disciplines that are not readily available in their home country. Exposure to different educational systems can broaden their educational horizons and enhance their skills and knowledge.
It’s also important to remember that the impact of living abroad on your child’s development may vary depending on factors such as their age, the duration of your stay, your parental support, and the overall experience. Parents, guardians, nannies and childcare providers play a crucial role in facilitating your child’s adaptation to living abroad, as you all provide emotional support, while helping them make the most of the opportunities presented to them while living in a different country.
If you are an expat raising children, here are some valuable pieces of advice to consider:
Raising children as expats comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.
Maintain a sense of home: Help your children maintain a connection to their home country or culture. This can be done through regular visits, celebrating cultural traditions, speaking your native language at home, and exposing them to literature, music, and media from your home country. It helps them develop a strong sense of identity and belonging. Read books, tell stories, sing songs.
Foster cross-cultural understanding: Encourage your children to embrace and learn about the culture of their host country. Participate in local festivals, explore historical sites, visit museums, and engage with the local community. Encourage them to make friends with children from different cultural backgrounds. This promotes empathy, tolerance, and a broader worldview.
Provide stability and routine: Living in a foreign country can be exciting but also disruptive. Establish routines and consistent structures to provide stability for your children. This can include regular mealtimes, bedtime routines, and regular study and playtime. Predictability, consistency and routines help children feel secure and will help them adapt more easily.
Support their language development: If you’re raising bilingual children, ensure they have opportunities to develop and maintain proficiency and confidence in both languages. Speak your native language at home, read books, watch films, and engage in conversations in that language. Consider enrolling them in language classes or finding language exchange programmes to enhance their language skills too.
Stay connected with your family and friends: Help your children maintain relationships with family and friends back in your home country. Encourage regular communication through video calls, emails, or letters. Organise visits or host family and friends from home to create opportunities for reunions and maintain a sense of connectedness.
Provide emotional support: Moving to a new country can be emotionally challenging for children. Be attentive to their feelings and provide a safe space for them to express any concerns or difficulties they may be facing. Listen actively, validate their emotions, and provide reassurance. Engage in activities as a family to strengthen your bond and create a sense of togetherness.
Support their education: Research the educational options available in the host country and choose schools that align with your child’s needs and educational goals. Stay involved in their education by communicating with teachers, attending parent-teacher meetings, and supporting their learning at home. If necessary, seek additional educational resources or tutoring to bridge any gaps.
Encourage exploration and curiosity: Living abroad offers a wealth of opportunities for exploration and learning. Encourage your children to explore their surroundings, try new activities, and engage in local hobbies. Encourage curiosity and a growth mindset, as they will be exposed to new experiences and different perspectives.
Foster a sense of resilience and adaptability: Living as an expat often involves adapting to new environments, languages, and cultures. Teach your children problem-solving skills, flexibility, and resilience. Encourage them to embrace change, view challenges as learning opportunities, and develop a positive mindset towards new experiences.
Seek support networks: Connect with other expat families or local communities who can provide support, guidance, and social opportunities for your children. Join social clubs, attend local events, and participate in community activities to expand your network and to also provide your children with opportunities for fun and socialising.
Remember that every child and family is unique, so adapt these suggestions to fit your specific circumstances. Above all, maintain open lines of communication, provide love and support, and create a nurturing environment that allows your children to thrive as expats.
Pause to Ponder:
Many parents focus on transmitting their heritage culture, neglecting to foster also the local culture which, for your children, is “their” culture that they are growing up in! Nurture both and watch your children blossom, bloom and thrive!
Raising children abroad, in one or more other countries, is an exciting adventure, but it can also be a challenging task. Moving with a baby or toddler is quite “easy” compared to moving with a school aged child or teenager. Get in touch if you’d like to explore working with me to support your family.