We understand that repatriation is about more than just managing your money during such a big move; it’s about all the moments throughout. As part of our special repatriation series, Repatriation With the Right Advice, we are chatting with professionals from a range of industries who have extensive experience helping Australian expats return home. The series focuses on the repatriation journey as a whole, from your finances through to your children and more.
In this article, we welcome esteemed psychologist Deirdre Brandner who discusses how best to prepare and manage the repatriation experience for children of all ages, plus she shares her top tips for parents guiding children through this transition.
About Deirdre Brandner
Deirdre Brandner is a highly respected psychologist who has worked extensively with expat families that have travelled the world before returning home to Australia and has advised many families who have had to adjust and navigate different social and educational settings. With more than 30 years of experience as a Paediatric Psychologist, she has provided support to thousands of children, adolescents, and families.
Deirdre commenced her career as a teacher and has an exceptional understanding of, and network across, the educational sector. Her knowledge and experience have seen her join ABC News Breakfast, Studio 10, and SkyNews as a regular consultant presenter and she is a highly sought guest speaker across both hospital and educational settings.
She is also the co-author of a Children’s Picture Book Series that aims to assist children and their families in understanding how to better deal with their big feelings and difficult situations. Bear Learns How to Be a Rainbow and Do Bears Who Eat Blueberries Go Bananas are the first in the series.
Q. Firstly Deirdre, thank you for taking the time to join us for this chat about the repatriation experience for children. To start off, what can parents do to prepare their children for the move back home to Australia?
Thank you for having me. In terms of preparing your children and managing any anticipation and anxiety, it’s important for parents to focus on what is still going to be the same rather than how much is going to be different.
For example, whilst they are moving schools, it still is school, whilst they are moving to a new home, it will still be filled with the same people, the same favourite meals, etc. This focus on continuity and familiarity is critical in supporting the children through this transition.
It’s also essential for parents to not allow any anxiety they themselves may be feeling to impact their communication with their children or dominate the energy and conversation around the move back home.
Q. What are the most common issues you see in children going through the repatriation experience?
The two biggest stressors children have, regardless of age, are friends and school. It is perfectly natural and expected that they are worried about finding new friends so they have someone to play or socialise with. They also tend to be concerned about potentially being treated as an outcast.
With regards to school, they wonder what their new school will look like and how different it may be. How children feel about the transition to a new school is quite often determined by what their educational experience has been to date and how they have felt about that.
In saying the above, it’s important to acknowledge that whether a child is moving schools internationally or within the same local area, the transition quite often is not terribly different so it’s not as overwhelming as it may appear.
Q. Have you noticed any particular differences parents might anticipate upon their child’s return to schooling in Australia versus international schooling?
Through my experiences with expat families, I have observed that depending on where they’ve attended school overseas, the style of learning and the amount of support provided to students is often different to what we have here. Generally speaking, a lot of international schools, particularly in large metropolitan cities, are very traditional and deliver a curriculum that is structured and not experiential at all.
Consequently, when these supports and structures are removed, and the teaching methods become more open-ended and experiential, gaps in learning can appear.
So when returning home, it’s important to look at what is best for your child; what sort of educational setting is going to best suit your child’s learning style and help them thrive: private, independent, selective, public, other?
Q. How can parents help children feel more “at home” and connected to children in their new environment?
A great advantage of the Australian schooling system, especially before high school, is that schools tend to form the hub of many local sport and community groups. This enables children to connect with a wider group of kids and meet friends with similar interests, so it’s important that parents encourage their children to get involved in 1-2 activities the child is interested in. These little community hubs also replicate the sense of community often present within expat communities, making the child feel more connected.
Q. How can parents help their young children feel safe and confident in their new school?
Many children who return to Australia have come from large metropolitan cities characterised by high-density living with very little outdoor space, an environment that applies just as equally to most international schools. Subsequently, when they start school in Australia, they quite often find the playground confronting.
The combination of the playground size, alongside the large numbers of kids, makes the playground one of the hardest places in the world for kids. To help them manage this feeling of overwhelm, it’s crucial to have good supports in place such as buddies who accompany them for the first few weeks, or finding a couple of friends they feel safe with.
It’s also worth telling your child that whilst the friends they connect with in the first couple of weeks of school might not necessarily be the people they feel most connected to over time, it’s important they have some sort of an anchor while they’re settling in.
Q. Does the repatriation experience differ for teenagers? If so, what’s your advice with regards to supporting them through their transition?
For the most part it’s the same, however when it comes to teens, socialising and finding their tribe will more likely come from extracurricular activities where they meet like-minded friends with similar interests.
Sport tends to be a great leveler and it enables teens to meet different sorts of people. With boys in particular (who don’t always tend to be exceptionally verbal during their teen years) sport tends to operate like an entry card into a social group. And for girls, there’s something to be said about being the new girl which others find intriguing. This interest can provide teen girls a segue to meet a wide range of people. However, as for with younger kids, it’s important for teens to also understand that finding their ultimate tribe will take time.
Q. When it comes to the academic part of moving schools, what are the most common issues children experience?
The most common issue I have seen with expat families is the learning challenges that arise from the change of structure in schooling. International schools tend to be more structured and supported, yet often less academically rigorous. This can result in learning challenges for kids who have moved into the Australian education system.
Q. How can parents support children that are experiencing academic challenges due to the move?
The ideal way to support a child during this transition is to ensure there is an efficient two-way channel of communication between teachers and parents. Touching base with teachers and checking in on how your child is settling in will enable both parties to identify, acknowledge, and act if there are any issues or challenges.
Q. What are some signs parents should be aware of that indicate a child might be struggling to settle into their new school and life?
The signs will be different depending on the age of the child. Emotional literacy and the ability to talk about how you’re feeling is a developmental aspect that comes over time. So for teens, having regular check-ins and open honest conversations about how they are settling in is vital.
However, younger children are not able to articulate their struggles; a six year old is not going to say, “Mummy, I’m not coping with the transition back to Australia” so parents need to keep an eye on indicators such as irritability, tantrums, fighting with their siblings, and other behaviours that reflect a “lashing out” of sorts.
Q. What are your top tips to help kids who might be struggling to settle into the new school and life?
Firstly, parents need to acknowledge the feeling for the child because they won’t always have the language (regardless of age). This can be about saying things like “It seems like something is making you a bit worried”, “It sounds like things have been a bit sad for you”, or, “You think maybe you’re feeling lonely?” This gives the child permission to have that feeling instead of dismissing it.
It’s also important to be on their side. Whilst as parents we want to find a quick fix and say “Don’t worry, it’s going to be fine” this is one of the worst things one can do. Rather, parents need to discuss their child’s concerns, perhaps by saying, “Let’s talk about what’s tricky”.
I like to use that word tricky because it sends a message that not everything has an immediate solution, and that whilst we can’t make everything okay straight away we can work together at putting things in place that might make small things a bit easier.
Whilst it’s heartbreaking to watch your children struggle, it’s worth noting that new circumstances and situations allow them to grow, become adaptable, and develop experience and skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Q. How long does it usually take for kids to settle into their new school and home?
Whilst every one is different, the pattern tends to be similar for kids who are returning to Australia. Everything is exciting the first couple of months, and then around the third month the drudgery tends to set in. But I would say that with good support and routines, as well as transparent conversations between parents and kids as to what is going in, everything should be running smoothly approximately six months after returning to Australia.
Top 10 tips to help your kids through the repatriation process:
- Focus on what is still going to be the same after the move, rather than how much is going to be different.
- If possible, settle into your permanent home when you return to Australia to enable your child to establish roots in their community.
- Familiarise your child with their new school before they start via classroom zooms, or some online chats with current students.
- Don’t overschedule your child upon your return; fatigue and change go hand in hand so downtime is essential.
- Enrol your child into 1-2 of their favourite sports or hobbies via their school or within their local community to help foster connections that can grow over time.
- Retain their expat friendships. It’s important for children to realise those friendships aren’t gone; they just look different and can be maintained via zoom, email, etc.
- Remind your child of the strength and resilience they already have due to being in expat communities, and that these traits will go a long way to supporting them here.
- It’s important to recognise that children will feel they are losing a lot through the move so allow them some time to grieve and let go of their life overseas.
- Reinforce the fact that the first friends they make might not be the people they feel most connected to over time as it takes time to find your tribe.
- Whilst their external world may have been upturned, its important to keep their internal world safe and stable via open communication, routine, and family rituals.
If you have any questions, or would like to find out more about how to best structure your finances ahead of your return to Australia, please contact the team at MGD Wealth.
We aim to educate Aussie expats about the key issues in calling Australia home again: residency, taxation, investment (including superannuation), and retirement strategy. With us you can be confident that you will receive the forward planning and advice you need to ensure that your finances are ready for your return home.
The time to start planning for a successful repatriation is now!
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Any advice included in this communication is general and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. As such, you should consider its appropriateness having regard to these factors before acting on it. Any tax information refers to current laws, is not based on your unique circumstances and should not be relied on as tax advice. Before you make any decision about whether to acquire a certain financial product, you should obtain and read the relevant product disclosure statement.