When we landed in Doha three years ago, a multitude of feelings washed over me: exhilaration, apprehension, excitement, happiness, sadness. While it was overwhelming for me to settle into our new home, it was much more intense for my children. They had to settle into a new country, a new home, and a new school—all at the same time.
Moving can be particularly stressful for children because of their need for stability, strong social ties, and familiarity. Luckily there are ways that we, as parents, can help our children settle into a new country.
Lend an ear
Keeping the lines of communication open—including talking and listening to your child—is vital. Be clear about why the move is necessary and what kinds of changes your children should expect. Children tend to focus on the negative, so be sure to highlight the positives: making new friends, exploring a new culture, enjoying new experiences, etc.
Children also need a chance to express their fears and emotions. Allowing them to share and discuss their feelings is paramount in helping them work through emotions.
Christabel, a mum of three, achieves this with daily one-on-one time. “Every night before bed, I have one-on-one time with each of my children for five minutes when they’re in bed. While we’re lying together, they feel able to tell me everything that is on their mind.”
Having clear lines of regular communication means that you are aware of issues as they arise and are then able to deal with them quickly before they escalate and become insurmountable.
You may have thought that your researching days were over once you finally landed in Doha, however, they’ve only just begun. Moving to a new country involves lots of unique situations that your child is likely to be unfamiliar with—many of which you won’t realise until you arrive in Qatar.
Researching your child’s questions will help your child make sense of their new surroundings, and by involving your child in this research, you take away the mystery, invite further questions and deepen understanding of their new life.
My children and I have spent many hours on Google and YouTube researching everything from Qatar’s national dress to what the adhan is.
Emma, mum of two, recommends joining Doha-based Facebook groups to get answers to questions about living in Qatar. She and her family have discovered new places to eat, taken trips they would never have thought of, and even made some of their closest friends from advice and conversations she’s had with people on Facebook.
Home is where you make it
Dr Omar Mahmood, acting clinical director of psychology at Sidra Medicine, recommends maintaining some familiarity with your child’s environment to help adjust to a new home. It may be beneficial to surround your child with familiar things when you first arrive in Doha. When you move into your new house, ensure your child’s room is one of the first rooms you complete. Familiar bedding, toys and furniture can help them feel more secure and settled.Preparing your child for this transition is essential, and if they can, letting them play a role in choosing what specific toys or items to bring on the journey will make them feel like they are active participants in the process.
Use interactive tools
There are small gestures you can do to support your children during the transition. When my middle one started school, I drew a heart on his hand and one on mine. He was able to press it when he felt in need of a hug and needed a link to me.
There are also many tools you can use to help your child adjust to a move. Look for books which help explain the moving process at a level they understand. Download or buy positive affirmation cards reinforcing a positive mindset. Start a gratitude journal with your child to highlight the positives in every day.
Qatar is a multinational setting and many people and organisations here have experience with international moves with children in tow.
Schools, in particular, are well aware of the struggles of moving to a new country, and they often have school counsellors and effective strategies that help new pupils transition. Kate Cliffe, head of primary at Doha British School, recommends speaking with your school before joining to take advantage of any transitional programmes they offer. She says, “The families that are lucky enough to visit the school first have a slight advantage as the children can get to know their new surroundings and start to imagine themselves in their new school.”
Furthermore, if your child isn’t settling in, Cliffe stresses the importance of reaching out to the school for assistance. She says, parents should take advantage of open door policies at school. Many schools are able to work with parents to develop a plan to ensure their child settles in.
Moving to a new country comes with a host of challenges for every family member. Keeping communication open, staying positive, and knowing when to ask for help will give you the best chance at a smooth transition for you and your children.
Helping kids settle
Here are just a few tools you may find useful when discussing the move with your children
- Ages 3–7: The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Ages 5–8: Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst
- Ages 8–12: The Kid in the Red Jacket by Barbara Park
Movies and TV
- Ages 3+: Daniel Tiger, episode 318 “Daniel’s Very Different Day”. Strategies for coping with change
- Ages 5+: My Neighbor Totoro. Two girls find adventure in their new home
- Ages 6+: Inside Out. Addresses the big emotions of moving somewhere new
Apps and more
- Ages 4+: Monkinya Positive Ideas for Busy Little Minds. Affirmation cards to help kids think positively, available at tenlittletoes.co
- Ages 12+: Jour. A journaling app for teens and adults with prompts
- All ages: Headspace. A meditation app offering guided meditation for all kinds of scenarios