Written by Brenda Bellon, Director of Intercultural Services for Sirva
The COVID-19 pandemic showed the world just how vulnerable children are. The pandemic caused a tremendous amount of stress for everyone, but rates of depression and anxiety among young people rose even more dramatically than for adults. We know that international moves are one of the most stressful life events one can experience. Coupled with the stress brought on by COVID-19, the need to ensure the wellbeing of relocating children as the world opens up is more critical than ever.
It is customary to provide employees and their spouses or partners with international assignment benefits, but the wellbeing of children on assignment is often under-resourced. The irony is that children are typically the most important concern for relocating employees who are parents. An assignment can and will fail if parents don’t feel as though their family is adequately supported.
The concerns children have about an international transfer have not changed since the pandemic: missing friends and family in the home country, making new friends, fitting in at a new school, perhaps leaving a beloved pet behind, and even the “fear of missing out” when they see friends and family in their home country engaging in activities without them. Now, however, children also find themselves preoccupied with the possibility of school lockdowns, public safety, quarantines, and a myriad of other issues presented by the current social and political climate. The proliferation of social media intensifies the very real sense of loss and anxiety already felt by young people moving to a new country.
Providing children with targeted, customized intercultural training prior to or at the beginning of an assignment is critical to equip them with the resources, information, and skills they need to make the transition to a new country successfully.
Young people experience international moves in a more emotionally intense way than adults, and they sometimes lack the verbal skills needed to discuss their feelings and reactions. Certified intercultural youth trainers use a variety of learning and coaching modalities to draw out and work with the feelings children are experiencing. Age-appropriate materials and activities allow young people to learn about the new culture in a judgement-free environment where concerns and emotions can be acknowledged and addressed. Intercultural training can help young people build the positive attitudes and realistic expectations necessary for a successful transition.
While intercultural training cannot guarantee that a child will avoid anxiety or depression in the assignment location, it can provide an opportunity for parents to better understand what their children are going through and how they can help support their children throughout the assignment. Ideally, youth trainers will have the opportunity to share and debrief the child(ren)’s feelings with their parents and work with them to develop family adjustment strategies to support their children. When parents feel better prepared to support their children, they will also feel more positive about their own adjustment and that of the whole family.
It is just as important to support repatriating families with proper intercultural training that includes their children. Nearly all those who repatriate, regardless of age, report that they thought “coming home would be the easiest part of the assignment.” However, repatriation means saying goodbye yet again – this time to an international lifestyle, new friends and colleagues, and their “home away from home.”
International assignments have a long-lasting impact on young people. Providing them with robust and high-quality relocation support is invaluable to their mental health in today’s challenging environment. And for an organization, including specific measures to support children as part of their relocation policy demonstrates to their employees that they and their family members are valued, respected, and appreciated.
RES Forum research
This piece is from the RES Forum’s research paper – Expat Children and their role in successful global mobility. You can download the paper here.
Sirva Worldwide, Inc. provides HR and mobility professionals with the resources, guidance, and support they need to achieve the best possible relocation for talent, and for the companies that move them. As a leading global relocation management and moving services company, we bring together personalized program solutions, expansive global reach, innovative technology, and an unmatched supply chain to transform businesses of any size and empower talent moving to their next opportunity. From corporate relocation and household goods to home sale and commercial moving and storage, our portfolio of brands (including Sirva, Allied, northAmerican, Global Van Lines, Alliance, Sirva Mortgage and SMARTBOX) provide everything needed to move talent and deliver experience.