From helping them learn the language to picking a school and dealing with culture shock: here’s some advice from a British father who raised his children in Shanghai:
Your kids won’t automatically pick up Mandarin
Many newly arrived expats assume that their kids will absorb the language, simply by living in China. The reality is that you and your children will largely exist in an expat bubble. Once you have experienced the “real China” a couple of times you will really appreciate this bubble. However, it does have its drawbacks when it comes to language learning. I’d therefore advise …
Choose your school carefully
Our Dutch friends chose one with a good reputation, however it gave close to zero Mandarin tuition. Consequently, after 10 years, their children left China unable to communicate in Chinese beyond being able to say hello (ni hao) and counting to 10. By contrast (more down to luck than any skill on our part), our children left China at a state of near fluency thanks to the pro-Mandarin fluency at their international school. So, if you want your kids to learn the language, do your homework on the schools before you go.
Choose your maid carefully
Put your western liberal guilt about exploitation to one side and relax. Some expats stick to their principles and do all their own cooking and housework, however the vast majority succumb and before they know it are enjoying the services of an ayi (maid). Choose your maid carefully. Your kids will pick up a fair amount of Chinese from the ayi so it’s better she come from a province like Henan, where Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin) is the norm.
Remember its a bigger move for your kids than it is for you
The adult has context. The posting to China is just another chapter in a long list of chapters. There was a before and there will be an after. To young children, however, who have very little experience to look back on, the expat adventure can quite easily come to feel like the whole book. Not an exciting transient adventure but an overwhelming new life.
So it was with my daughter, Isabel, who arrived with us in Shanghai when she had just turned three. We had wrongly assumed that a young child’s world was her parents and so long as she was with us, she would be happy. Wrong.
It wasn’t long before Isabel was showing signs of a growing insecurity. She increasingly clung to her Mum and started to wet herself regularly. I never realised that such young children had a real feeling of national identity. However, quite comically, it became clear that Isabel feared she was losing hers. My wife Heather had complimented her on her Chinese a few times only for Isabel to maintain steadfastly that she didn’t speak any Chinese (despite us witnessing her ordering food in restaurants in Mandarin, and speaking it in the school playground).
One day, I came home from work to witness Isabel having a fierce and lengthy slanging match in Chinese, with the ayi.
“Qing Hui said that I had to do what she said and I said no…” complained Isabel when I asked what was going on. At which point I interrupted her and said “I thought you couldn’t speak Chinese?”
To which she replied: “Of course I don’t speak Chinese Daddy. You know that. I’m English!”
Don’t panic, your children will adjust eventually
In time Isabel settled down and a more happy, contented demeanour returned. She realised that her identity was secure and this new, seemingly overwhelming environment, was not really a serious threat to her and her identity. I was pleased to see my little girl happy again though rather selfishly, I came to lament the disappearance of her comic ‘little Englander ‘ routine. via dailytelegraph.co.uk