With more than 400,000 Australians returning home in 2020 due to COVID – there has been a heightened media focus on the plight of Australians adapting to life back home personally and professionally.
We can sometimes forget that many of these professionals are coming home with kids – some of whom may have Australian citizenship but may have never experienced an Aussie life longer than a two-week holiday.
This was certainly the case for Glen Falting, my latest guest on the Boomeranging podcast, who returned home after 18 years overseas with four children who struggled naming every Australian state and territory.
Having happy, healthy and adjusted kids is so important for expat parents – and is critical to the success of the whole family re-integrating to life back in Australia. For many members of our Insync community, they talk extensively of the conversations they’ve had with their children about the concepts of home, identity and belonging and just how varied and complex this can be for their kids (and how differently it can shape them despite the shared nature or similarity of experiences).
Naturally there are many variables that shape the preparation and support that kids may require – is Australia a return move for them or a brand new one? What percentage of their life have they lived outside of Australia? Have they moved between numerous countries and cultures before? And of course, like all kids there are their own personality and character differences that shape their needs.
Below are some of the tips that our community of expat parents have shared to help kids reconnect:
As with any significant change, allowing time for kids to process the impending move and participate in the conversation about the upcoming change is crucial. In doing so it allows them to be a part of the move rather than simply feeling that it something that is happening ‘to’ them. Discuss how they want to say goodbye to their friends and favourite places.
Reflect with them on how they managed the initial move to their new country, made new friends and the things that they did to make them feel settled. Many parents have spoken about the value in positioning this move as a part of their global story rather than the end of it and as with previous moves they will continue to explore these changes and differences together.
Explore the concept of ‘home’ together
For children born overseas or who have grown up as globally mobile kids, their sense of home and belonging is neither shaped by their passport culture or their host culture but rather as being a part of an expatriate culture. This experience can be vastly different to those of their parents if they have spent their formative years growing up as an Aussie kid. It is not defined by geography and one culture but rather by relationships with others who understand and accept their differences. Creating opportunities to explore it together and talking about these differences opens the pathway for future conversations when children may feel confused or sad about the move.
Treat the move ‘home’ as a new one
When parents consider an initial move overseas, often the first thought is ‘What impact will this have on my kids?’ and ‘How do I best prepare them?’. There are invariably lots of discussions about preparing for different ways of doing things, languages, beliefs and routines.
One of our Insync families, shared how when they first moved overseas, their dinner time routine centred around each person sharing what they had each discovered about their new host culture – what they found interesting, amusing, scary and what they didn’t understand. This routine was reactivated when they moved home and helped to provide a safe place to talk about things that their kids enjoyed, didn’t enjoy and struggled with.
For many families embarking upon a new international move, there is a tremendous sense of exploring new things together. Returning home does not have to mean the end of this adventure but rather the beginning of a new one – with new people, places and communities to discover.
Manage the ‘gap’ that can appear in learning systems
School systems have their own culture and curriculum and will often require investigation to ensure that kids are entering at the right level and with the right support around them. For many children the natural expat relocation timelines will see them entering a new school system in the Australian academic year which means they aren’t starting with their peers. Allowing for an adjustment phase is crucial with scheduled check ins about both academic and social integration can go a long way to ensure a smooth transition.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
As with any significant change process or transition period, communication is key. Depending on the age of your children it is important to note that they may not have the language to convey how they are thinking or feeling so finding other mediums for them to express themselves is important. Creating space for conversations about what they are loving, feeling challenged by or unsure about it is all part of normalising the change.
Connect with other expat and repat kids
For many expat kids their time abroad was shared with other kids ‘just like them’ – regular travellers; away from their passport country; exploring new countries and cultures together. For many kids repatriating they are joining classmates and local community groups that don’t even have a passport. Finding other kids who have similar experiences of global living can go a long way to supporting their transition. Perhaps it’s time for Insync for Kids?!