Expat Child Syndrome: emotional stress and adjustment problems
What to do about Expat Child Syndrome (ECS) or expat children experiencing different forms of emotional stress and adjustment problems after relocating to another country?
The syndrome can esp. be found in children who are between the age of 10 and 15 years old as it often coincides with the start of puberty and adolescence. In this period a lot of big changes take place: physical, cognitive and social. Until then the parents and the family are essential for the emotional balance of children and in buffering stress but from now on, the children’s peers become more and more important. At the same time the affects and emotions become stronger and the grip upon them is still feeble. When there is a rupture in their social life because of moving to another country at the same time as the distance towards the parents is growing, the child might feel utterly lost and unable to adjust to different language and circumstances like schooling system.
“There’s no set list of symptoms to look out for, as ECS can manifest itself in a whole host of different ways. It all depends on your child and their personality, as well as how deeply they have been affected by the move to a new country. You need to pay close attention to your child’s behaviour, as a change in their attitude can be a key indicator that they are suffering from ECS. You may notice that they are being more disruptive than usual and uncooperative, or they may withdraw themselves, showing signs of loneliness and seclusion. (…) It can be very easy to dismiss this as them ‘acting up’ because they didn’t want to move abroad in the first place, but it’s important to give your child support during this period. If you have relocated with your partner, you will have each other to lean on during times of stress. But your child often has to cope with all the challenges on their own and it can be even more difficult for them to channel their feelings or even understand why they are feeling this way. In a lot of instances it is simply a case of time; your child may start to settle down, and as they spend time in their new location they may start to realize the great things about their new home and the benefits of their relocation. However, if ECS does not start to disappear, then psychological issues may develop and this can often be as a result of a difficult time, for instance, struggling to make friends. In such cases, it is not uncommon for ECS to show itself in the form of resentment against you for making them move away from home.” http://expatchild.com/expat-child-syndrome
The risk of an Expat Child Syndrome, however, is not limited to the period when the child is between 10 and 15 years old. For some younger children the change of surroundings and the separation from family or other important people can already lead to mourning and / or a considerable change of conduct. After 15 years of age and in the process of identity formation described outcomes have a different naming, like Third Culture Kids, Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK), TransCultural Kid (TCK) or Global nomads. Outcomes that can very well have resulted from an Expat Child Syndrome having interfered with personality formation.
Early recognition and specialist advice and/or treatment by a developmetnal specialist can prevent a lot of harm. When in serious doubt, the best thing you can do is to contact ExpatPsy.