How to Talk to Your Children about Moving Overseas - Radical

How to Talk to Your Children about Moving Overseas

Some children just don’t transition well to life overseas. Other children move overseas and appear to thrive in every way. What makes the difference? Ultimately, we trust God with our children’s hearts and futures. Yet, parenting is stewardship, so as we trust in God’s sovereign plan, we pray, seek counsel, and make every effort to be intentional as we train and care for our children. Honest, thoughtful communication is a critical part of this care.

Tell your children about things that won’t change no matter where you live.

If you are considering a move, you may wonder when and how you should talk about it with your kids. You might find yourself asking, “Is it too early to share details if our plans aren’t firm?” Or, “Won’t these conversations just add stress?” Maybe we think, “We have already decided to move, so we don’t want to offer them choices about something in which they might not have a say.”

There are many well-intentioned reasons for a lack of clear communication. Yet, when we move children away from what is familiar to them, we have an opportunity to teach them both how we make decisions and who we trust most in the decision-making process (Psalm 91:2).

Communicate Sensitively According to Their Age

Age matters. Transitioning a toddler to a new environment is very different from transitioning an elementary student. Transitioning an elementary student is different from transitioning a middle or high schooler. The older the child, the more time and intentionality you will likely need to help them process a potential international move.

For younger children, focus on stability. Tell them about things that will not change no matter where you live. They will have their needs met. Your family will all be together. They will have a safe place to live. As you talk with younger children, be careful with your vocabulary. Instead of words like “better” or “worse” describe things as “different.” Comfort your children with the knowledge that although many things will be different, much will stay the same. They will be safe and secure because God never changes and promises to always be with them (Proverbs 18:10; Nahum 1:7; Psalms 4:8). 

Bring elementary students into some areas of decision-making. You might let them help decide what they would like to pack and take overseas. Ask them how they would like to tell their friends about the move and say goodbye. And, acknowledge that communication with family back home will be different, but they have some choices there too. Times zones may affect when they can talk to grandma and grandpa on the phone, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to talk to them often. You might help them start a WhatsApp family chat, and show them how to send video or audio messages to families around the world.

It’s not helpful to talk to children as if they have a responsibility in your ministry.

For middle or high school students, they may need to do most of the talking. Ask them open-ended questions, and be prepared to hear expectations or fears they may not even know they have. Acknowledge areas of loss, and let them speak into some bigger decisions when possible. For example, changes in education are often a source of anxiety. Give them space to share their concerns. They may have ideas that will help them thrive during transition, so listen well! Be careful how you talk about future ministry. It’s likely not helpful to talk to children as if they have a responsibility in your ministry—especially so if they are not followers of Christ with their own convictions and desires to serve.

Be Honest and Don’t Oversell

For all ages, talk to your children about things they will gain, but don’t oversell. It’s important to paint an honest picture of transition. Your children will learn a lot. They will grow a lot and gain a lot. But they will also feel loss, and it will be helpful down the road for them to know you were honest with them from the start. You will likely need to confess that there are many things about the new life and ministry that you, too, just don’t yet know.

Model Healthy Decision-Making

Importantly, teach your children how you make decisions. We want to do all we can to help our children thrive in a new country and be happily adjusted expat kids, but our highest desire is for our children to be faithful, maturing disciples of Christ. So, pray together often. Search Scripture together, and talk about why we obey God’s commands (Deuteronomy 27:10; Luke 11:28; 1 John 5:3). Seek counsel from your elders and local church. And, talk much about the person and work of Christ and the security we have when we are “in him”, so when you get it wrong, (as we all do!), you can all rest in God’s amazing grace and abundant mercies that are new each day.

Cyndi Logsdon

Cyndi Logsdon and her husband Scott have spent the past twenty years loving and serving the church around the world. They currently live in Central Asia where her husband serves as the pastor of a church in a vibrant megacity. Cyndi loves to drink tea, teach the Bible, and disciple women. She and Scott have two grown daughters and a son-in-law.


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