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Culture Shock: Helping Your Child Cope in a New Environment

Culture shock can occur during a holiday abroad or when moving to another country to work or study. It’s a feeling of disorientation when exposed to an unfamiliar environment where attitudes, customs, culture and other aspects of life differ from your own.

Canadian anthropologist Kaleryo Oberg classifies culture shock as a four-stage process. The person is excited to be part of a new environment but eventually yearns for familiarity. After some time, they start to adjust before becoming assimilated to their new surroundings.

When moving to another country, you or your family members might experience culture shock. The four stages vary in time and response depending on the person. Some become more reserved, while others react in anger.

The fourth stage – acceptance – may not happen right away with children, especially without the proper guidance. How do you help your child adjust to their new environment?

Preparing for Relocation

Let your child know about the move as soon as it’s confirmed. Be open to them and share what to expect from the move and discuss the family’s plans. Answer their questions as honestly as possible and research with them about the country, culture and language. Knowledge about the new surroundings and an awareness of culture shock helps reduce anxiety.

You may not be able to give your children a choice about whether or not you should move, but involving them in decisions helps provide a sense of control. Allow them to have a say on where you’ll live and where they will study.

Give Them Time to Say Goodbye

children going to school

Proper goodbyes make the transition real and help make your child feel more prepared for the change. Let them throw a party and give them time to part with their friends, the house and their favourite places.

Adjusting to the New Surroundings

When you arrive in the new country, the first few weeks will be exciting for your child. Be a tourist and try out the transport system, explore the sights and pick up basic phrases.

Having a support system also helps the child adjust to the new surroundings early on. Wherever you go in the World, it’s common to find a community of expat families who have also relocated for work, whether it’s a cold Canadian city or the tropics of the Philippines. If your child enrols in an international school, they’ll be surrounded by schoolmates who have likely gone through the same stages of integration and culture shock.

Maintaining Continuity

Maintaining familiarity in your home allows your child to settle quickly in their new environment. As much as you can, recreate parts of your old home into the new one by keeping the same furniture, clothes, books and toys. Continue to speak your home language and maintain the rituals from before. When your child starts feeling frustrated, at least the familiar items will give a break from the newness.

Culture shock affects different people at varying levels of intensity. Awareness of its stages can help you reduce the impact on your child. It’s important to communicate openly before the move and throughout your stay. Establishing strategies to adjust to the new environment while maintaining familiarity will make it easier for the children to get over their homesickness. When they’ve learned to adapt, they can start to enjoy exploring the countless opportunities ahead of them.

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