Moving to Ireland with kids – easing their minds
You might have read elsewhere on this site that I have moved internationally a number of times. The last move I made was more of a challenge than any other time. It was the first time I ever moved as a parent - a parent to 3 young kids.
Moving with kids can be complicated, and it certainly adds a new dimension to almost everything related to your move. Things that were easy during a kid-free move, now either took longer, were more expensive, or needed a bit more planning. Having said that though, moving to Ireland with kids was easier than I expected. I believe a number of things contributed to that, including my kids ages (all under 6), the fact we have family in Ireland, and that my wife and I were very conscious of the effect our move (and all related aspects) might have on the kids.
There were a number of things I think we did right (and some things not-so-right), to help our kids come to terms with what was on the road ahead. If you have suggestions that might help minimize the negative impact a major international move might have on a child, or ideas for how parents can get their kids quickly adjusted to their new country, please get involved by adding your comments below.
BEFORE THE MOVE
- Telling the kids
Telling the kids we were moving to Ireland was one of the topics my wife and I pondered over for many a night. How should we do it. How far in advance should we tell them. What if they say they don't want to go or break down crying? There was so much to consider to ensure our big news came across as a very positive thing, and to make sure the kids felt very comfortable with the idea.
We gave the kids about 3 months' notice. I don't think there's any 'right' amount of notice to give a child, but this worked for us. Part of the reason we told the kids the news when we did is because we were starting to sell/donate/ditch a lot of personal items at that point anyway. We would've had to have gotten very creative with little white lies if we held out much longer. Also, by giving them plenty of notice, it gave them time to ask questions and come to terms with the big adventure. Decide for yourself what's best for you and your family, and break the news as positively as you can to your little ones.
- Leaving parties
We thought about holding a big 'leaving party' for the kids where they would invite friends/classmates to a park or play centre, but instead decided to go for something a little more personal. We made sure they got to spend time with almost all their best buddies and at their favourite places in the last few weeks leading up to our move. As young as they are, it seemed appropriate that they have an opportunity to have one last play-date with their favourite friends. It worked out great.
- Planned timing of move
We planned our move around the school calendar. We moved at the end of the school year, so our son could finish out the year in one place, and arrived in Ireland at the beginning of the summer holidays. Last summer's weather was beautiful so we got to do a lot of outdoor things, play with neighbour kids, and adjust to life in Ireland in plenty of time before the school year started here.
- New places in Ireland
We did a lot of research before our move to find similar activities to what the kids had before, and places to visit in Ireland that might 'replace' some of the places in the US we used go to. It helped to be able to go online and show the kids that we would have a new zoo to go to, new cool playgrounds, beaches, activity centres, sports to play etc. Letting the kids be a part of what we might sign up for (e.g. zoo membership) made them feel a lot more comfortable about the move.
- Recommended reading
There are plenty of great books available that you can buy/borrow to help you ease your kids in to the idea of moving overseas. Scroll down to the 'resources' section below to get a few ideas.
DURING THE MOVE
- Shipping their stuff
We tried, within reason, to bring almost all the kids favourite toys. There were some items (e.g. a large play/slide structure) that were simply too big to bring, and unfortunately they had to be left behind, but we did our utmost to bring the things our kids cared most about. It helped keep the tears at bay 🙂
- Packing time
We let our kids 'help' a little with some of the packing. They packed some of their favourite things themselves (which not too surprisingly including rocks, snail shells and pieces of cardboard), and I think it helped build some excitement for them. They began to visualize their stuff heading off on trucks, and on big container ships, and were quite thrilled at the idea. Of course they questioned when they'd see it all again, but it was easy to reassure them everything would be fine, and would make it safely.
For the real deal packing, we kept the kids out of the way as much as possible. We did get rid of quite a few things, so it was best for them not to be too aware of that, and they didn't really need to be part of the full packing process. Doing things by night, or having a friend look after them for a while, helped speed things up.
- The trip
We took one last American holiday (or should I say vacation) right before we left. Everything was packed up and on it's way to Ireland, so we spent a few days enjoying the west coast of America.
By the time the big day arrived, leaving for Ireland just seemed like another part of the holiday, and of course the kids got a thrill out of getting on the airplane (that lasted about an hour!). If you're travelling long distance, I'd recommend having plenty of new books, toys, games etc for the trip. An iPad or DVD player with movies comes in handy too. Most long distance flights these days have personalized TVs in the airplane seats, but don't count on it.
AFTER THE MOVE
- New places to play
As soon as we arrived in Ireland we started to make the kids' lives as 'fun' as possible. We started exploring, finding new parks, playgrounds, wooded areas for walks and plenty more kid-friendly places to visit. We signed up for a couple of annual passes (e.g. Fota wildlife park in Cork) and when the various activities started back up after the summer break, we got the kids back in to things they enjoy (football, gymnastics etc).
We have family here in Ireland, so getting the kids familiar with them was high on the to-do list. Meeting and spending time with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents took up a nice chunk of the week (at least at the start).
- Day trips
When time and finances allowed we took a few day trips to other parts of the country that had something new to experience. A day out in Dublin, a trip to Bunratty castle for Halloween, things like that. There's plenty to do in Ireland with kids, you just have to know where to look (see some ideas below).
- EU Trip
We haven't done it yet, but a trip to the UK or somewhere in Europe might be on the cards for later in the year. It'd be cool to visit a theme park (Legoland in England or Disney in Paris maybe) and have a nice European family holiday too. One of the great things about living in Ireland is that so many European cities are a short, and affordable, flight away.
- Staying in touch
We make an effort whenever possible to let the kids chat via Skype to their friends back in the States. Even at such a young age they enjoy talking a little about their day and sharing day-to-day things that happened to them. We have found this to be a great experience for the kids, and of course it's also a great way for them to become exposed to technology.
RESOURCES FOR YOU
A number of books are available specifically for children (and parents) who are about to move abroad, or who have recently just moved. This is a selection of some of the best reviewed titles:
- Moving planet isn't easy - a book to help young children overcome some of the fears and concerns about their big move. The story revolves around a young alien who is moving planet because his parents got new jobs there.
- Sammy's Next Move - a book about a snail who carries his home with him wherever he goes, just as a third culture kid does by knowing that home is where their heart is.
- Moving with Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family's Transition to a New Home - a guide for parents to help their children deal with the stress, trauma, and potential excitement of relocating. A personal favourite that I own and benefited from.
- Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, Revised Edition - a book for parents to understand the effect of being a Third Culture Kid has on their child
Days out and activities in Ireland for kids
This is a list of websites I personally use from time-to-time to find new things to do with the kids. Depending on the ages of your kids, and what they/you like to do, you might find them useful too.
- heritageireland.ie (OPW)
Sports for the little ones
A lot of sports and activities for kids are advertised locally. You'll find information on grocery store notice boards, in local newsletters, food outlets etc. You'll also find sport club information online and on Facebook. Facebook pages seem to be quite popular, more so than regular websites. I've noticed that a lot of sports clubs either don't have the money or expertise to create their own website, so they'll rely heavily on Facebook.
The Gaelic Games is a wonderful way to introduce your child to life in Ireland. You might want to contact your local GAA club for information about signing your child up. These days they have wonderful facilities, and being part of the GAA is a great way to meet people locally, and immerse yourself in a huge part of Irish culture. And besides that, it's cheap too. I was paying €10 per class at a local soccer club for my son. My local GAA charge €65 for the year, which is a little over €1 per week.
Speaking of Irish culture, if you'd like your child to learn Irish (our language, sometimes called Gaelic outside of Ireland) while they are in Ireland, then you'll be glad to know that it's a mandatory core subject in Primary and Secondary schools. There are exemptions for older kids, or kids who don't speak English. You can find out more about that here.
Aside from learning Irish in school, kids (and parents too) can also take part in Irish activities in the community, avail of online resources for further learning, borrow Irish books/CD from local libraries, and there are TV and radio stations in Irish too.
A selection of adult Irish language and cultural courses are available online. http://www.bitesizeirishgaelic.com/ and http://www.oideas-gael.com/ are just two of the options available to you.
Best wishes moving your children to Ireland. I hope it's a happy experience for all. I'd love to hear from you if you have ideas to add this article. Add a comment below. Who knows...maybe I'll move overseas again someday...
***UPDATE: Sept 2015***
I always like to come back an update a post when I find new information related to the topic, and today was one of those days. A new blog (which I must say I'm very happy to come across) covers this very topic and I'm sure you'll enjoy what the writer has to say. Transitioning the Little Ones Internationally can be found over on the Desert to Dublin blog.