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Making the decision to move abroad can have a big impact on a family. Rania Ali, Psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai, has outlined some of the common challenges expat families face, and given advice on how to support children when adjusting to this life transition.

Common challenges expat families face after moving abroad

The challenges that your family face will depend on a variety of factors. For instance, if you are moving to a place that is similar in culture, familiarity is an anchor and can help you to make the transition smoother.

However, if you are moving to a completely different location, this can be more challenging. Aside from needing to make new friends and build social networks, your family may need to manage additional hurdles such as:

  • Learning a new language
  • Adapting to a new culture
  • Coping with a change in climate (if moving to a warmer or cooler country)
  • Dealing with a new school system
  • Adjusting to a parent’s different work schedule (a parent may work longer or irregular hours)

Can moving abroad affect a child’s mental health?

The impact of moving is far reaching so it is important to be mindful of any changes in your child’s behaviour and communication.

Moving during childhood has been linked to an increase of psychiatric disorders, attempts to harm oneself and substance abuse later in life. Adolescents are more likely to feel the ill effects of moving than younger children, as they are in a vulnerable developmental stage where they are trying to develop an identity for themselves, to fit in and gain acceptance as well as develop their confidence. Moving, whether it be to a different school or to a new geographical location causes stress which impacts their physical wellbeing, social and peer relationships, school performance and their coping behaviours to manage their emotions.

How to reduce the impact that moving abroad has on a child’s mental health

Before moving abroad

  • Prepare your child by explaining to them the reasons behind the move
  • Point out all the great benefits that the move will bring and explain that while change can bring the unknown with it, it can be an exciting adventure with many positives such as making new friends, going to a new school and having a new country to explore
  • Plan to move at a time that will cause minimal disruption, such as at the end of a school year

After moving abroad

  • Watch closely for early signs of maladjustment such as nervousness or nightmares
  • With older children, be open and talk to them regularly to help them process any fears and concerns that will be very real to them

What support is available for children suffering from mental health issues?

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, speak to the school, their pastoral care worker or counsellor to get access to the right level of support for your child’s adjustment. You may also want to find support from other parents at the school, or book an appointment with your child’s paediatrician or GP to discuss your worries. You can also seek help through therapeutic centres like Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai to gain additional support.

For more information about the young people’s services at Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai, and how they can help your child, call (+971) 4 245 3800 or submit an enquiry online.

Rania Ali, Psychologist

This page was clinically reviewed by Rania Ali (BSc. MSc Psychology, Psychologist DHCC) in September 2019, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in September 2021. Rania is a bilingual (Arabic and English) Clinical Psychologist with 6 years’ experience in the clinical settings and treats different kinds of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and OCD. Rania works with adults and children. View Rania’s full profile here.