Raising kids overseas – parenting in a different culture

Your parenting style is shaped by the culture you grow up in. The values and cultural expectations you learned as a child all affect how you raise your kids. So raising a family in a new country can be a challenge when what you consider important isn’t valued by locals and when their idea of what a good parent looks like is different to yours.

Parenting with new cultural norms

There are three main areas where cultures differ from each other when it comes to parenting styles; how affectionate parents are towards their children, how independent children are encouraged to be, and how much of a routine is built into children’s lives.

Differences in these key areas across cultures have lasting effects on children’s development. However, it is not so much what parents do that matters but how they do it. Many parents around the world have good emotional bonds with their children, while having different parenting styles. For example:

  • Putting children to bed by 7pm is alarming to parents in countries like India and Hong Kong where children stay up late to be part of family life in the evening.
  • Children in Italy are allowed to try wine with their dinner. 
  • Babies in Norway often nap outside even in freezing weather as it’s considered better for them to have fresh air.
  • Kids in Japan use public transport alone as young as 7 years old, and it isn’t considered dangerous.

When relocating overseas, it’s worth remembering that no one culture has all the answers when it comes to parenting. It’s freeing when you can glean the best parenting practises from both cultures.

Responsive parenting

Regardless of country of origin, the emotional bond a child has with their parents is one of the most important factors of their development. Another term for this is responsive parenting, which pretty much means how responsive or sensitive parents are to their child’s needs. Responsive parents form a healthy emotional bond with their children which means their children trust them to lovingly provide for them. Children with a healthy attachment explore the world with a sense of confidence knowing they are valued and loved, whereas children with an unhealthy attachment tend to be insecure and usure of themselves. 

Similarities across cultures

Whilst some early childhood practises differ across cultures, the good news is that there are also many similarities. For example, most people have similar standards for what is considered good and bad behaviour from children, no matter what country they are from. Most parents discourage talking back, tantrums and disobedience but encourage sharing, good manners and honesty in their children. 

Understanding key similarities and differences across cultures will help you feel supported and confident as you parent abroad. However, it’s normal to have fears about raising your family overseas. You may worry whether your children will learn to speak your language, or whether they will make friends or fit in. Some people wonder how they will parent in a foreign culture, or how they will cope without family support structures.  

Preparing for a move

If you are about to make a big move overseas, you can prepare your kids by talking about issues in advance before they arise, like making friends or attending a new school. Often kids can feel like they don’t have any control over their new environment, so letting them pick their own room in a new house or pack special things to bring with them can help them feel like they have some control in the move. Preparing for the move in advance, talking openly about things as a family and seeing the move as an adventure can help make the move a positive one.

Adjusting to a new place after a move

Once you’ve moved, it’s important to keep your routines as similar as possible. Mealtimes, bedtimes and behavioural expectations can all be kept the same when moving, especially for younger children who thrive with a consistent routine. You’ll need to remind your children that they will need to put effort into adapting to their new home. For example, to make friends they might need to sign up to sport teams or clubs so they meet other kids with common interests.  

Try to focus on the good things about the move, the special things you get to do as a family like exploring new places, trying new foods and getting to meet different kinds of people.

Your attitude towards where you live will have a big impact on your children. If you can find things that you like about the people, culture and geography around you, then your children most likely will, too. 

The positives of starting a family abroad

Raising your family abroad isn’t all about challenges, however; many expats have found relocating to a new country to be a positive experience. Experts say travel can boost children’s development, expanding their world, allowing them to appreciate new cultures and helping them become adaptable and flexible.

“They’re going to start learning the tools for developing meaningful relationships, especially across differences, from an early age,” Dr. Robin Hancock, a global education specialist with Bank Street College, told Travel + Leisure. “Travel has the potential to create a new narrative that teaches children about the similarities with others [and] lays a strong foundation, especially in the early years… We have the potential to raise a generation that knows how to live and coexist with each other.”

Parents report many other positives of raising children abroad, including: 

  • Multilingualism (your child may learn to communicate in more than one language). 
  • An increased sense of adventure and curiosity (children learn to try new things and be less cautious of situations that are not familiar).
  • Improved problem-solving skills (learning how to do things in a new language and culture requires problem solving).
  • Cultural awareness (not only do children learn to appreciate new cultures but they also become more aware of their own culture as they discover similarities and differences). 
  • Stronger family relationships (moving away from friends means you’ll need to depend on each other even more than before).  

Raising a family overseas can be a rewarding experience. Parenting with new cultural norms and adjusting to a new language and culture are challenging, but thankfully there are things you can do to prepare yourself and your family for a healthy adjustment to life in a new community. 

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