We were moving to Singapore and at 5 years, our daughter was old enough to feel the effect of this move to a new country, a new school, away from her grandparents and the extended family, away from her familiar set of friends. We lived in Mumbai and while we lived as a nuclear family, our entire circle of family and friends lived at driving distance.
As parents in our journey of moving countries with our 5-year-old, here are a few things we experienced:
Children adapt to change quicker than we grown-ups do
With all our anxiety of how our daughter will adjust to the new environment, we realized that children adapt much quicker to change – especially younger children as compared to older ones. At 5, it was easy for her make new friends, adapt to a new schedule at school and adapt to daily life in general (for example, she was used to being driven around in our vehicle in India whereas, in Singapore, we would walk around a lot more and take public transportation).
While children adapt quicker, it is important to watch out for little insights from time to time. With our daughter, we saw some insights explicitly – for example, she would say – I miss India, I miss my friends from the school bus. And some of them were insights we observed when she was at play – like she would pretend-play – where she played the role of her grandmother and she would ask me to be her. This is something she never did back home and this pretend-play was perhaps her coping mechanism to deal with her feelings of missing her grandparents.
The move brought in opportunities and challenges
Parenting habits that were a ‘given’ back home, needed additional attention now that we were in a new country. Bonding with grandparents, for example, did not need any additional efforts when we lived in Mumbai as she would visit them every other day.
We also saw her regional language skills deteriorate. With few opportunities to speak to people in Hindi and Marathi, we saw her fumbling at these languages (which she was earlier very proficient in).
But the move also presented our daughter with opportunities to soak up various cultures. Even in India, children understand that cultures vary and what is practiced in their household may not be the same at their friend’s. The diverse cultural experiences only increased further with this move. We saw her encountering varied cultural beliefs and culture specific reactions to situations from her friends from other nationalities. We thought this was a great learning experience for her – to understand that cultures vary and to understand that one cannot assume that others will have the same belief or reaction as yours.
Helping her with the Big Change
Here are some of the things that helped our daughter adapt during this transition:
• Using technology effectively helped deal with her missing the family back home. Regular video calls with grandparents or voice messages exchanged with friends from her ex-school helped her feel connected.
• Getting her involved in setting up the new house also made her feel more ‘included’ in the move and possibly helped her settle sooner. For example, seeking her opinion on where her toys should be kept or letting her unpack her books and arrange them on the shelf – we think this made her feel ‘at home’ in the new house.
• Taking time out to explore neighborhoods in the new city with our daughter was both fun and a great way to build her orientation of the new place. We used weekends and school holidays to explore – we would pick a new neighborhood each weekend and walk around, take pictures (our little girl with her toy camera), sample an eatery in that neighborhood.
While my husband and I were also trying to adapt to the move, we realized that one of our biggest anxieties was our daughter being able to settle in this new environment. We needn’t have worried however, she was quick on the uptake from the get go! In fact, she ended up teaching us a thing or two about being adaptable, accepting and flexible.