How expats moving home help their children say good-bye to the city

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-22 19:53:01

Foreign families moving away from Beijing should care more about their children's feelings when saying that last goodbye, experts say. Photo: IC

In about two weeks, Theresa Ahdieh and her family will leave Beijing. They have lived in the city for five years. Ahdieh remembers when she and her family arrived almost as if it was yesterday. But, while she has come to terms with the necessity of the move, there is someone in her family for whom it may prove challenging - her 10-year-old son Ty.

"As the time to say goodbye to Beijing gets closer, he becomes a little anxious, for he is going to leave his friends and go back to friends he doesn't quite remember," Ahdieh said.

With the school term coming to an end, most expat families with kids, like the Ahdieh's, choose to move ahead of the summer holiday. They want to give their children enough time to settle in and learn the new terrain before starting afresh at a new school in September. 

"He constantly asks me, what if he can't make new friends in the US, what if the new drum teacher is not as good as Jason (Ty's current drum teacher), and is the swimming pool in the US as good as the one he always goes to in Qingnian Lu," Ahdieh said.

To help her son to say goodbye without regrets and welcome his new life in the US, Ahdieh came up with an action plan.

She aims to help him make some memories - the kind, she hopes, that will last a lifetime. So far, Ahdieh has taken Ty to play laser tag and jump on the trampolines at Latitude, a place he has loved since he was a little kid. She also plans to host a pool party for him with his best buddies in Beijing at his favorite swimming pool in Qingnian Lu, his favorite place in the summer; take him riding in Chaoyang Park, one of his favorite weekend haunts; and watch as he plays in the last football match with his teammates.

"We will take many photos of him doing the things he loves with his friends to let him have things to remember them by," Ahdieh said resolutely.

It is common that kids become sad, anxious, frightened or even angry because they are leaving their friends, school, and the city that they called home for years, according to experts.

Stephanie Tebow, a counselor at the Harrow International School in Beijing, said it is good for kids to get closure.

"It's very important for parents to ask their kids what they would like to do to say goodbye to their friends," she said, adding that parents should "get creative and discuss what would be most meaningful to each child individually."

Melissa Burnell has been living in Beijing for two years. She and her family will go back to the US in June. When she asked her son what he would like to do to remember his friends, he asked for a locket to keep his best friend's photo in so that he can always remember her.

For Burnell, it's very important to involve kids in the decision-making process. "Parents can also let the kids have a say in what they want to bring during the move, which will make the move more smooth," she said.

As this may be an emotional time for kids, Tebow cautioned parents against keeping the move from their kids until the last minute.

"Do not hide the plans from your children. They will feel betrayed, and this makes it almost impossible to help your child transition," she said.

According to Tebow, after moving it is also important to help your children adjust to their new community. One way of doing this, she suggested, is to keep them occupied.

"Busy children find less time to worry or feel lonely," she said. "Parents and kids can start identifying the new and interesting things that they can do when they arrive."

Ahdieh has made extensive preparations. She has already identified some activities to help her son assimilate.

"We have arranged many classes and activities, like football camp and Lego camp, to help him reenter the American society and culture, where he could make new friends of the same interest," she said.

Besides helping them make memories, Ahdieh said it's also important to let your child know that it's not the end of their friendships.

"It's not a goodbye; it's a we will see you later," she said. "Ty can always WeChat or Skype with his friends, and the family can come back to Beijing for vacation, and who knows, maybe Ty will meet his friends in Beijing in university in the future. It's a small world after all."
Newspaper headline: Kids & farewells

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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