Preparing your child for the transition

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Happy family holding handsFor families with small children, even moving to a different state within their own country can be stressful, let alone moving to a different country like China, which has a culture vastly different from Western countries. Besides the stress of learning a new language, children will also have to contend with leaving their friends from school and the neighborhood.

In addition to reading the below tips, also be sure to check out this cool, visual book to help you talk about China with your child: All About China: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More for Kids.

Preparing your child for your move to China is an important step to moving overseas – even for toddlers. More than likely, your child will be excited about the move, especially if you are also excited about it. But in order to minimize the effects of culture shock, they should be made aware of several changes that are going to occur.

Language. It is true that children are apt to pick up languages if they are exposed to it consistently at an early age. Still, the immediate reaction to people speaking in a different language might be one of frustration. Speak to your child about learning a new language and appropriate ways to express frustration when it occurs. Help him understand that most Chinese people can’t understand his language, either.

Domestic Helpers. Many expats choose to hire a domestic helper because of the relatively low cost. For many expats, this is a brand new experience for both the parents and the children. Eventually your child will likely learn to love your domestic helper, but at the beginning it can be a bit daunting to be left in the care of someone who doesn’t speak your language and does things differently in the home. If you might get a helper in the home, start preparing your child for this by talking about the auntie who will be helping around the house and how she will help with the chores and babysitting from time to time.

Transportation. Depending on your situation in China, you might find transportation to be completely different than in your home country. Driving a car in China can be dangerous, and in fact, many multinational companies forbid getting behind the driver’s seat. This means that you could be spending a lot more time in taxis and buses. Speak to your child about the method of transportation you will be using. Most places are bustling with people and traffic and that can be quite different for the little one.

Schooling. There are many different options for education for your preschooler. Most cities have excellent private preschools – both local and international. The larger cities have full-fledged international schools that might also be more appropriate for your child. In most places “branded” kindergartens are available with large play areas and modern teaching equipment to help your child develop physically and mentally. In any situation you fin yourself in, you can prepare your child by talking about it. If you plan for her to attend a local school where Chinese is the primary language and Chinese students are the majority, help her by just making the plan known and helping her to visualize what the environment might be like.

Chinese tradition. As is typical with all Asian nations, Chinese people are also deeply traditional and not as casual as Westerners. Be sure to give your child some basic ideas to help avoid making errors and appearing rude or offensive to elders. Here are a couple of tips for starters:

  • Adults similar to the age of the child’s parent should be called “auntie” or “uncle”, which is pronounced āyí (阿姨) and shūshu (叔叔).
  • Adults significantly older than the child’s parent should be called “grandma” or “grandpa”, pronounced nǎinai (奶奶) or yéye (爷爷). You should not feel reserved about this use. Though it might be an insult in the West, calling someone grandma or grandpa is a term of respect in China.
  • Teachers should be called “teacher”, or lǎoshī (老师).
  • Most of the time, children can just use the above terms and cover most situations. However, if you need a more formal tone, remember to say the family name first. For example, if the teacher’s family name is Wang, he can be addressed as Wang Laoshi. Another example is that of a young woman with the surname Li. You can say Li Ayi.

Expect to be stared at and noticed. In Western nations, personal space is valued and respected and children are not used to being stared at or noticed, because they are just a part of society. However, for Westerners traveling to rural areas or tourist spots in China they are likely to be pointed and started at by locals. This topic was discussed in more detail here. Don’t be offended by this. Just remember that many Chinese have never seen a foreigner outside of their TV set. However, children can find this annoying. So try to set some boundaries and let the child know that it is ok to feel uncomfortable and discuss ways to deal with the attention.

As you plan your move to China with children, take care to guide them well and love your time in this nation of strong cultural beliefs and traditions. Children are programmed to take their cues from parents and the people around them and if you are always complaining and unable to adjust then they will have problems too. Make it a positive experience for all by showing respect and having an adventure everywhere you go.


Jeremy & Jacquelyn Carman

Jeremy & Jacquelyn Carman

Founders of, Jeremy and Jacquelyn have four children. The first three were born in three different hospitals in China and the last was born at home in the US. Jeremy and Jacquelyn created in 2009 after they found little information for foreigners having babies in China. They love connecting with other foreigners having babies. Learn more about them on the about page.



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