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7 signs of expat child syndrome: What is it and how can parents help?

Relocation isn’t as simple as moving your physical body to a new country. It can be an emotionally-draining process that deeply affects your kid’s psyche. Expat child syndrome (ECS) occurs when even after months, your child has still not settled in their new home. Psychologists use this term to describe children suffering from emotional stress because of their move abroad. Is your kid dealing with the signs of expat child syndrome and how can you help? Read on to find out in this Pacific Prime China article.

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What is expat child syndrome?

ECS impacts children of all ages, but is most commonly found in 10 to 15-year-olds. Adolescents are the most vulnerable group because at this age, they rely heavily on peers for support. What’s more, they’re also dealing with the hormonal/emotional and physical changes that come with growing up – none of which they have a firm grasp on. Thus, cutting off relationships can be an incredibly painful experience for your teenagers.

7 signs of expat child syndrome

What’s interesting about ECS is that the way it manifests depends on your child’s personality and how deeply they’ve been affected by the move. Common risk factors of ECS include whether you’re relocating to a culturally different country with a language barrier and how frequently your family relocates.

Nevertheless, see below for a list of common expat child syndrome symptoms to look out for. Observe your little one closely for any drastic behavioral or personality changes. All in all, watch out for their inability to adapt to the new environment.

1. Behavioral changes

Younger expat children who can’t express their feelings might have trouble sleeping all of a sudden and/or just stop eating.

2. Hitting and biting

Another way your little ones cope with frustration and anger is by hitting and biting. Failing to express their emotions in words, might be a sign that they are terribly stressed about something but don’t have the words to express it. Try to be understanding as children are more sensitive to changes compared to adults.

3. Withdrawal as one of the signs of expat child syndrome and depression

Did your beloved social butterfly spend most of the time locked up in their room seemingly overnight? Do they prefer to stay home alone or avoid communicating with others altogether?

Your child might be suffering from one of the signs of expat children syndrome if they remain this way for months after migration.

4. Loneliness

Have your children found a new group of friends? Are they complaining of feeling lonely in your new home? You are likely to be much busier than usual dealing with your new job, new home, and your own adjustment process. Check out our life hacks for expats living in China to make life easier. This can make your child feel even more alone and isolated.

5. Uncooperative or disruptive behavior

Your normally well-behaved kids may be lashing out either at home or school.

6. Irritability

Maybe they’ve become extra fussy and uncooperative after moving to your new home.

7. Unusually attached to the parents

The world your kids have known and loved has changed dramatically. They’re cut off entirely from their social support system. To feel safe again, they might cling excessively to one or both parents. Maybe they’ve started crying at school time or are anxious whenever you’re leaving for work. Here are some tips to help your child when starting a new school.

How to help a child with expat child syndrome

As expat parents, you’re key to helping your kids overcome the signs of expat child syndrome. Maybe your children, particularly if they’re teenagers, are resentful of your decision to move abroad. However, it’s important that you push through. Be an understanding and patient parent for your kids during this difficult time. Acknowledge and validate their feelings, however irrational. This way, you’ll help them find their footing and thrive in their new home.

See below for several ways you can help a child with expat child syndrome.

1. Communication to ease the signs of expat child syndrome

You should regularly gauge how your little ones are settling down into expat life. Identify any difficulties they may be having with the following questions:

  • Is it easy to make friends at school?
  • What is your favorite part and least favorite part about your new school?
  • What do you like about our life overseas?
  • What do you miss most about our home country?

To take it a step further, talk through and label these feelings with them. It’ll help children learn to better recognize unfamiliar feelings and handle them the right way.

Note: All it takes is one little thing, such as a difficult day at a new school, to send a child into their shell and dearly miss their home country and old friends. Remember that adjusting to a new country takes time and is not a linear process.

Communication prior to relocation

Let your kids in on your decisions and discussions of the family relocation. Be as transparent as possible to prepare them mentally for the move, so there will be no nasty surprises. Allow them to decide on what to bring to your new house and what to ship. Most importantly, let them say their farewells to their friends and family.

If time is on your side, familiarize your kid with visits to their new school prior to migration. Keep in mind that international schools are full of children in a similar situation, so they may be a good choice for yours too.

2. Positive social interaction

Making new friends at school may be hard for your little one. This is especially true if you experience a language barrier at your new home. Find other opportunities to interact with kids their own age, such as:

  • Extracurricular activities or classes
  • Find a local youth group
  • Volunteer
  • Social media groups for expats
  • Language classes

Your child might find it much easier to make friends if there’s a common interest. After all, basketball plays the same way no matter where you are in the world, right? As a bonus, you might also meet other expat parents who will “show you the ropes” to thriving in this new country.

3. Find a balance between staying in touch with friends back home

While your family might be moving to the other side of the world, it doesn’t mean you have to cut off all ties to your home country. Make sure your kids know this. Help your munchkins plan proper farewell parties for their friends and family. This will be seen as a celebration and a happy send-off.

After relocation, remember to help them maintain contact with their loved ones. Whether it’s Facetime, Zoom, or email, all contact is good contact. You can also celebrate the old traditions while embracing new ones to help your kids feel connected. Last but not least, plan activities around your new city to help them feel excited about living there.

After following these tips to fight off the signs of expat children syndrome, follow up by observing your child’s behavior and state of mind. Ask for feedback from teachers to see how your kid is faring at school.

Protect your family with family insurance

Relocation is a time of high stress for many families. That makes it all the more important to secure health insurance for kids in China. Along with the physical and emotional toll of the move, finding a trusted hospital in your new home can be difficult. Moreover, hospital bills can certainly add up. With health insurance in hand, you’ll get peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to pay out-of-pocket. Here are our tips on finding the best family health insurance plan in China.

Pacific Prime China has over 20 years of experience working in the health insurance industry. We partner with reputable insurers to find you attractive plans for your budget. For a free plan comparison and impartial advice, contact our team of insurance advisors today.

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Disclaimer: Pacific Prime China solely represents, operates, and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products, or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.

Content Creator at Pacific Prime China
Serena is a content writer at Pacific Prime. She aims to demystify the world of insurance for readers with the latest updates, guides and articles on the blog. Serena believes in straight-forward and entertaining educational content.

Outside of work, Serena spends her time buried in books and dreaming of her next travel destination.