Expat Children Syndrome

One of the things I noticed about coming back to Abu Dhabi was how much more settled (and nicer) the children are being. It seems to me that going home to Sainte Cecile and realising it is all still there and not about to go away has made them more settled.

It is hardly surprising they were fraught by the time we got here. We had left home in June, travelled around Europe and then landed in August in the hottest place in the world which was totally unfamiliar to them (apart from the odd oasis like M&S).

Apparently there is a phrase for this unsettled (and unsettling) behaviour. It is called ‘Expat Children’s Syndrome’ and it is the subject of my next article. So any views you have or experiences of children behaving badly which you think could be the result of moving abroad, please let me know.


Meanwhile I am delighted to report that the girls have joined a new ballet class (with the most stunning Russian ballerina teacher) and are going twice a week. They will start piano twice a week soon too. Leo has football three times a week and is mad about it. Rather like his father telling me about his rounds of golf he insists on talking me through every match, very sweet.

So not much time for them to suffer from Expat Children’s Syndrome.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

8 thoughts on “Expat Children Syndrome

  1. Hello Helena!
    Well, This syndrome…interesting idea… I moved abroad (to the Ukraine) from my native country (France) when my son, Arth, was 4 month. Next summer, we will move back to Paris, having spent 3 years in Kiev. Will Arth suffer from the “expat children syndrome” once we will be back … home??? That would be crazy!
    Have a nice day!

  2. I spent 9 years growing up in three countries apart from my own.

    I don’t recommend it. I still feel like I come from nowhere………30 years later.

  3. I moved to Svandinavia when i was 7, we moved back when i was 12. Now im 16 and i dont feel at home :(.
    It’s really nice living somewhere else, but leaving a place where you grew up is just horrible…

  4. I moved around every few years as a child – I was born in the US to Australian parents, got to the UK at about 2. I started ‘big school’ in the UK at 5, came to Aus and went to school here for a little while, then back to the UK, then to the US where we stayed for 6 months and I found myself back in pre-school. Then back to the UK and publicschool. Then was moved to a private school and we moved house also. Then at 10 I was back in the US and at a public school in the South. Then back to UK and sent to a private school a term after the year began – I didn’t settle there. The same year, aged 11, I was sent to Australia for 6 weeks by myself to meet my relatives. I was seated next to an old man on the plane simply because he was Australian, and he spent half the journey out to Aus regaling me with stories of going shooting in outback Queensland – “boong shooting”, that is – which meant he had gone out shooting Aboriginals as a young man. Back in England I did the 11+ and got into a girls public Grammar where I could begin at the same time as everyone else, and I went there in the January I turned 12 (I think) and made a really close friend and finally started to feel settled for the first time. That was great. Just before I turned 14 my mother asked “How would you feel if I told you we were moving to Australia?” Well. “How long for?” I asked. “For good” was the reply. I just couldn’t believe it.

    What happened after that is such a long story it doesn’t bear going into, but suffice it to say I didn’t handle that year in my life well at all, and I have never really recovered from it. I still dream about the girls I was at school at before we moved, and I am now 48. By the time I got here I had so many losses piled upon losses that it was way too much for anyone to bear. It ruined me. Think carefully before you move your kids, talk to them before you make the decision, involve them in your planning and don’t just spring it on them. Kids are resilient but they are not super-human and everyone has a breaking point.

  5. Hello Thomidog, your story is so sad, it is true that we cart children around thinking they will be fine, there were times during my own childhood when I felt like I was starring in a pass the parcel game. I hope you can come to terms with it all, and I will certainly try to make my children’s lives as stable as possible. We are most likely going to stay here for a few more years.

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