Moving Internationally with Kids Part I: Preparing to Leave Home

Moving to China is a pretty big change for anyone from the West. Living here requires acclimatizing to a very different culture, getting used to a distinct cuisine, and learning an incredibly difficult language. Dr. Esperanza Salinas recently moved her family (including two primary-school-aged children) from Chicago to Beijing to work at Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU) as a child and adult psychiatrist. In this article, she draws on her personal experience and her expertise as a child psychiatrist to explain how you can do your best to keep your kids happy and well-adjusted before the big move. The same advice can apply when the time comes to leave China and you need to make another move – whether to a new city or back to a place you haven’t called home in several years. 


Get the lay of the land


Moving internationally represents an adjustment for anyone, but kids can find it especially difficult. “I think kids tend to be very resilient, but I think that an adjustment is an adjustment,” Dr. Salinas says. “Given that transitions are very hard, I think it’s important to prepare them ahead of time,” she advises. “That’s why, when I came to interview for this job at BJU in April of this year, I brought my whole family with me so they could get a sense of China and how different this was going to be for them,” she says. Having your family come with you on your look-and-see visits can help them prepare mentally for living here – they can eat local food, meet local people, and see what their new city is like.

Make decisions together


It also helps to get your kids involved in decisions about the bigger aspects of their new life in this strange place. “It was important for me to get my kids adjusted and to have them on board with this idea of us leaving because it is a very hard transition and it can be very traumatizing,” says Dr. Salinas. “We visited three or four schools while we were here and my kids, even though they were small, were able to give their input in terms of which school they liked,” she says.

If you can’t bring your kids with you on your initial visit to their new home, then try your best to introduce them to the place yourself. Take lots of pictures and videos that you can show them when you return from your look-and-see trip. Many international schools now offer virtual tours online, so your kids can do those and share their thoughts when it comes to choosing a school, even if they can’t make the trip.

Get into the mindset of leaving


There are a variety of activities you can do ahead of your departure to further prepare your kids for the fact that they will be leaving. “Leading up to the move, we were packing, we were talking about the schools, and we had a goodbye party for the kids,” recalls Dr. Salinas. “It was kind of like a birthday party because we invited the kids from school. We had the guests fill out a little book with their addresses so my kids could write to them. We got little $1 toys that my kids could give their friends as a goodbye gift. We really worked hard to make the transition easy for them and help them say their goodbyes and know that they were going to China,” she says.


Dr. Esperanza Salinas is an American board-certified child and adult psychiatrist. She speaks English and Spanish. To make an appointment with her, call the BJU Service Center at 4008-919191.