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Moving on

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With so many families preparing to leave Hong Kong this summer, Lorraine Cook looks at ways to help young DBers cope when they or their friends relocate

PHOTOS COURTESY OF Pexels & Unsplash

For children in our community, life can be an endless circle of goodbyes as they or their friends relocate to pastures new. Ours is a transient society, and never more so than now with so many families preparing to pack up and leave Hong Kong this summer.

Relocation is stressful for adults to deal with, and for kids and teens it can be overwhelming. Whether your children are the ones moving, or among those left behind, there can be a quagmire of emotions to deal with. Fortunately, there are things that you can do as a parent to help everyone adjust.

PARENTING STRATEGIES
In the time leading up to ‘the goodbye,’ the most important thing you can do is listen to the sadness in your children’s hearts. Listen to them try to find the words to express how they feel about the upcoming change and how overwhelming it is for them. And then, listen some more.

As parents, we often feel compelled to interrupt and talk ourselves, to try to say things that will make our child feel better. But this tendency to ‘fix’ things tends to stunt the process. At the start, rather than minimising or diminishing their feelings by butting in, simply hear your children out. Ultimately, of course, life will take on a new shape and sadness will fade but, in the meantime, don’t dismiss your child’s pain. Listening is what is needed most.

You should also be prepared for emotions that will go up and down and may give rise to unexpected doubt (that new friends will be made) or anger, that this change is occurring. Children often shift blame onto their parents. Typically, this is not real anger but just frustration at a situation that can’t be changed. Again, it’s important to hear these emotions. And try to avoid the tendency to overcompensate with gifts, or special privileges, or promises to ‘make it up’ to your children.

In the long-term, being an expat child, or having the opportunity to grow up in a cosmopolitan community like DB, provides far more benefits than it does disadvantages. Try to keep this in mind when your devastated and teary-eyed child is blaming you for his pain

THE FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT
Children adapt incredibly well to change but saying goodbye to a bestie is still very hard. Encourage them to look forward to a bright future but don’t dismiss their pain on parting

BONDS OF FRIENDSHIP

Some friendships survive relocation but it would be a mistake to present this as a given

Long-time DB resident Lorraine Cook (M.A. Psych) relocated to Canada earlier this year. She now provides counselling and therapy online, and you can email her at [email protected]

KEEP IT REAL
It’s important to plan the best way for kids to say goodbye, whether that’s with a big party or a quiet dinner, or perhaps just a familiar playdate. For some children, a big celebration and retrospective is wonderful, but for others, even within the same family, it can be a painful reminder of what is ending. In celebrating the life you are leaving behind, try not to suggest that what has been is unbeatable going forward.

In attempting to help a child feel better about a move, don’t oversell how wonderful it will be. This can backfire when he is actually settling in and the weather is bad or there is too much homework to do. Similarly, if you talk up the next step too much, children may perceive this as dismissing the importance and the irreplaceable aspects of their current world. It’s all about finding the balance.

Keeping in touch is so much easier than it used to be – kids can now go online and continue to game with their buddies, or keep up with each other via social media – but again, don’t present this as a given. When kids don’t see each other every day, and when they are dealing with different time zones and routines, some friendships are inevitably lost.

Know that teens tend to take relocation badly. They are likely to have close friends and be part of a tight social group. They may be in a relationship or have been long awaiting a special event that they will consequently miss out on. It is common for teens to respond with rebellion to a move.

Assure your teen that you too will be endeavouring to stay in close contact with your friends and talk about when you may be able to return to visit them. Explain to them that moving on is a part of life and that they too will experience making these decisions when they are ready to relocate to attend college or start a new job.

GIVE IT TIME
Whether your child is moving away or staying behind in DB, it’s important to provide them with a sense of continuity. Maintaining family traditions and routines will help your child adjust to so much else that is changing. This can also provide an opportunity for them to build new friendships, if you invite other children to join you.

Children grieve differently and often it is almost invisible, but it can be a daily hurt when they realise that they no longer have their BFF to pair up with for after-class activities, or are faced with playtimes where everyone else seems to have their own groups defined – and doesn’t seem interested in inviting someone else in. Often, it’s doing the same things that are now different that sparks pain, so taking a term away from an activity your child did with their BFF can be a good idea.

While this might seem counter-intuitive, it can sometimes help to shake things up with a new activity, or sport, or even by doing familiar things in a different way. Signing up for a new activity can help your child meet new friends. Novelty can do a lot to renew enthusiasm and excitement.

Last but not least, give it time. Making friends takes time and it’s a different process for each child. Try to encourage your child to reach out, while knowing that she might not be ready yet.

The experience of dealing with struggles like this, and then moving forward to recreate things, teaches children important life skills. And, ironically, you and your child will be more prepared when it happens again. If you focus on working through the process together as a family it can bring you closer – moving out of your comfort zones can help you learn a lot more about each other.

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