Is My Expat Child Going Through Depression?

August 15, 2017 5 min read
Is My Expat Child Going Through Depression?

Have you noticed changes in your child's behavioral patterns while adjusting to the expat lifestyle in Singapore? Are you wondering if they're simply homesick or if something more serious, such as depression, is to blame?


Moving to a new place can be taxing on anyone. No matter who you are, young or old, living in a new environment can create unexpected challenges. Yet certain behavior, that appears normal as isolated incidents, can be damaging if it continues over prolonged periods of time.

Should I worry? Is my expat child going through depression?

During the beginning of your relocation, you and your partner were likely preoccupied with completing a checklist of practical, transitional needs - opening a new bank account, looking for a house, searching for a school and fulfilling its admissions criteria, making copies of employment documents, going to the Ministry of Manpower, hiring a nanny, etc. As parents you feel compelled to do these things, in order to look out for your family’s needs. However, there is one very important need that is all too easy to overlook - the mental and emotional health of your child or children.

The impact of moving to a new country on children shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s quite convenient to simplify their emotional responses and think that they can easily outgrow homesickness, make new friends, and move on with their new life in Singapore. This is not the case. Children, just like you, are vulnerable to significant changes when settling in to a new country. As children however, they probably lack the requisite wisdom, knowledge and strength to cope with these changes. Through this article, we hope to help aid your understanding of the general perspective of an expat child. We will also provide you with some tips on guiding children through this tough transition.

Before diving into the intricacies of your child's behavior, we will first help you identify the possible signs of mental and emotional struggles in expat children.

expat child going through depression

Signs of an unhappy expat child

When parents do not address their child’s mental and emotional struggles, the situation may escalate to depression or anxiety. This can often lead to an inability to form sustainable healthy relationships, resentment towards parents for making them leave home, and increased risk of suicide.

It is therefore critical for parents to be able to observe and monitor changes in their children’s behavior before taking steps to alter it. Signals can manifest in various ways depending on the child’s individual coping abilities and personality, but here are some of the most common indicators.

  • More disruptive, aggressive or uncooperative than usual
  • Desire to be alone, often withdrawing to their bedroom
  • Showing signs of loneliness or seclusion
  • General and sustained change in temperament
  • Spending more time keeping in touch with old friends than making new friends in Singapore
  • Aches and pains without physical basis
  • Sudden loss of interest in school or in anything your child used to be passionate about

If you want to know more about the general symptoms of depression, see this article.

Why is my child struggling?

To understand why these signals can be detrimental to your children, it is important to understand the underlying causes for these changes.

  • Your child may be facing new and difficult experiences in school without the usual support of their friends back home, making them them feel lonely.
  • When they are experiencing puberty and adolescence, the absence or lack of friends makes it even more difficult for them to cope with the significant physical and emotional changes. They may find it more difficult than normal to make sense of their world.
  • They have problems making friends with classmates that are likely very different from them and already have an existing network of friends.
  • Feeling alienated in a very unfamiliar cultural setting can exacerbate their sense of loneliness.
  • They may have had different expectations of their new home before arriving: such as, easily making friends, enjoying the same interests with their peers, and finding school easy and fun.
  • They didn’t have time to grieve their losses or cope with the sudden changes.
  • They don’t know how to express themselves.
  • They were told about the benefits of moving here and have agreed with your decision, and are now afraid to disappoint you.
  • They are suddenly struggling with their own identity.
  • They may have lost quality time with you and/or your partner who are suddenly dealing with longer working hours in Singapore.

How can I help my child?

Try not to dismiss their lack of interest or emotional outbursts as being impolite, disrespectful or going through mood swings. Instead, give them emotional support by listening to them. You can start with a few small steps that can go a long way in keeping your children mentally and emotionally healthy.

  1. It starts with yourself – stay positive!Pay attention to how you speak. If you are always complaining about Singapore, your children will find it harder to love their new home. If you are also struggling, you don’t have to pretend that everything is okay and you are well adjusted to your new life, but do try to maintain an open mind and positive attitude.Your children still need you to be there for them. If you think you and your partner are feeling the expat blues, here are some ways to cope with the move.
  2. Truly listenYour children need to feel that someone understands them. Instead of immediately dismissing their feelings as temporary or wrong, accept their feelings and let them know how you agree that things are difficult now. Make them feel that they are free to talk about their feelings. Unhappy children need to be listened to.When you are more honest and open, you can talk about the more positive aspects of coming to Singapore and the reasons why you like living here so far.Don’t end your discussion negatively. Try ending it by talking about how the situation can be improved.
  3. Help them to spend time more positivelyExplore Singapore and learn new things as a family. During the weekends, eat at popular hawker centers, visit museums and attend music and art festivals that happen all year round.You might not want to encourage visiting home too soon, especially within the first six months, as coming back to Singapore may further aggrivate them, making it take even longer for them to adjust to their new home. During the school holidays, you can visit the many holiday destinations that are close to Singapore. Encourage your child to engage in classes and activities they will be interested in. This can help boost their self-esteem and foster positive relationships with new friends who share the same interests.
signs of an unhappy expat child

There are many ways to foster a loving environment that allows your children to cope with struggles during this transition in their lives. By taking better care of your children’s mental and emotional health, their life experiences in Singapore can become some of their best memories.

If you think the behavioral changes you are seeing in your children require professional guidance, message our Singapore wellness providers to find out more. Most providers offer a free consultation so that you can make a well-informed decision before making any commitments. If you prefer your child or children to see the provider in their office, please know that in-person consultations can be booked on RingMD too - just remember to inform your provider.