Moving your toddler or preschooler to a major metropolis in Asia or Europe--with a large expatriate community and plenty of modern amenities-- isn't without its challenges. But it's certainly much easier than relocating to rural Mali or Cambodia. The effects of moving abroad on your child depend significantly on where you relocate. The good news is young children are pretty resilient; the bad news is you sometimes have to slog through several tantrums to reach that resiliency.
Developing Cultural Tolerance
Living abroad will likely improve your child's ability to see things from multiple perspectives, even if her first reaction is to scream in disgust the first several times she encounters a plate of cooked bugs or sees people sunbathing on a topless beach. Being immersed in the culture, food and customs of another country will ultimately expand your child's horizons so that she appreciates the value of experiences different from her own.
Even if your little one is old enough to understand that she's moving someplace new and far away, she may still pitch nightly tantrums because the new country doesn't broadcast Dora the Explorer or sell her favorite blue yogurt with sprinkles. And, while children's play is somewhat universal, not being able to speak the language of any of the other neighborhood children can be stressful for a preschooler or an older toddler. These frustrations and stresses will subside, but the initial adjustment period may be rough.
If you're moving to a country without an Americanized grocery store on every corner, it's likely that your little one is going to have to break some of her more rigid food guidelines. Without her assortment of processed snack foods and greasy kid-friendly American favorites, she may just develop a fuller, richer pallet that includes new flavors and textures. Expect some initial resistance; eventually she'll choose eating foods outside her limited favorites rather than starvation.
While many major capital cities abroad have private American or international schools, if you're relocating to a more remote area, you may not be able to streamline her education quite as neatly. Even if you're in an English-speaking country, the school customs, rules and activities are different enough that your little one may feel confused and upset at first. If she attends an immersion school, she'll begin speaking the local language earlier, but especially if she's older, she'll need to overcome the anxiety and confusion of not understanding what's being said around her.
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