You moved mountains to make living abroad work, despite naysayers who questioned why you would uproot your family. Your toddler may still be refusing foods that aren’t white, and your preschooler may be afraid of flying, but exposing your kids to a new culture can be an eye-opening experience. The benefits and challenges of living abroad with young children are many, but preparing yourself ahead of time can make the transition easier for everyone.
Despite the occasional meltdown or cultural misunderstanding, meeting your kids’ basic needs just as you would back home will help your preschooler or toddler adjust to almost any type of environment. That means setting bedtimes, offering regular snacks and not leaving your kids with a babysitter in a strange place until they’re settled. You are the security blanket that your kids need, and your presence will show them that it’s safe to try new experiences in their new surroundings.
Even halfway around the world, you can still find foods your toddler or preschooler to eat. Introduce new foods gradually — serving sushi or snails for their first meal abroad will intimidate your kids and make them resistant to trying anything new in the future. Instead, stick with familiar staples — fruit, fresh bread and cheese, for instance — and offer new foods as they become more acclimated. It’s okay if they initially refuse your more “exotic” offerings — after all, they were probably just as picky at home. Eventually, they’ll come around.
Kids enjoy playing with other kids, no matter where they are. Local parks, playgrounds and neighboring families are great sources for playmates. Playing with local children eases your toddler or preschooler’s transition and makes it easier for your kiddo to learn the language. If your children are old enough, sign them up for popular kid’s activities. For example, if local children are obsessed with soccer or traditional dance, let your kids take classes once a week. Not only will this help your children make friends, it will help them feel less like outsiders.
Early childhood education varies widely around the world. Some countries offer informal play groups for moms and kids at parks, while others begin highly regimented lessons in certain arts or academic disciplines at the age of 3. Decide what’s best for you and your kids. Programs where you accompany your child may be best at the beginning, allowing you to asses the level of supervision and interaction in the program. Your presence will also help your child feel more comfortable.
You may quickly realize that the U.S. is more safety-obsessed than most other countries. Many fully industrialized countries have no screens in the windows or safety caps on bottles of medicine. If you’re planning on living in a developing country, bring things like gates and cabinet locks over with you, and be sure to check on necessary vaccinations before leaving. Do some groundwork before you leave so you know what to expect. And while you should still make every effort to keep your toddler or preschooler safe, you may also benefit by adopting some of the locals’ laid-back attitude.