Children Can Cope Easily with Change, Right?!

Contributed by Megan Stapelberg, MSc Counselling Psychologist, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Have you ever said or thought the words in the title of my blog? Or have you ever heard someone say it before? In the expat world that I live and work in, parents often tell me that they believe that their child can cope well with change, seeing that they have relocated so frequently over the course of their child’s life.

As adults, we tend to believe that all children can quickly bounce back when faced with big changes, but that is unfortunately not always the case.

Has your child recently experienced a lot of change? (Changing schools, moving to a different home, getting a new teacher, losing a loved one, moving to a different country.) Did you perhaps notice any of the following in your child as the change occurred?

  • Disruptive behaviour (at home or school)
  • Temper tantrums
  • More crying than usual
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Acting out of character

These could all be signs of your child not coping so well with change. Being an expat child can be challenging for many children as they face changes which can include a change in routine and, often more impactful, a change in identity. As humans, we often connect a part of our identity to the place(s) we call home. When children are frequently moving around from country to country and have to redefine what home means to them and establish who they are within the new culture of this country they are living in, it can bring many challenges. Amongst all the change that expat children face, they need as much consistency as possible.

Consider supporting your child with (upcoming, potentially predictable) change by doing the following:

  • Telling them at the right time about the upcoming change.
  • Keeping their schedule and routine as fixed as possible during and after the change.
  • Discussing their feelings about the change (in a child-friendly way) to give them a chance to process the impact(s) of the change.
  • While discussing their feelings, be careful to not sugar coat the upcoming change with only positives aspects (“Don’t cry- you will have the opportunity to make new, interesting friends!”) as this often communicates a dismissal of your child’s feelings. It is okay to also acknowledge the difficult parts of change. Doing this communicates to your child that there is space for all feelings to be felt and shared.
  • Looking at pictures or videos of their new school, town or house to create some familiarity before moving there.
  • Visiting the new neighbourhood or school to create a sense of predictability for your child.

Children definitely have the ability to bounce back from challenging circumstances, such as change, but how they are supported before, during and after the change is key. Are you thinking of moving to a different country or city? Or will your child change schools soon? Do you need more support to prepare your child for this big change? Why not reach out to me for a parent coaching session to receive more guidance on preparing your child for change, but also supporting your child once the change has taken place. My support can take place in-person or online and is suitable for any parents all over the world.

Author: Megan Stapelberg, MSc Counselling Psychologist

Megan Stapelberg is a South African expat who has been residing in the Netherlands for the past five years. She is a qualified Counseling Psychologist, with a special interest in Third Culture Kids. Megan specialises in supporting expatriate families from all over the world. Her practice, Mind & Heart Consulting, is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and she supports expat kids, teens and young adults in-person and online. She works from a strengths-based perspective and believes that each client already possesses the ability to bounce back from any challenge they may face.