The power of storytelling

Children hands on map

Supporting children through relocation, Assistant Dean of Overseas Admissions at ACS International Schools, Anastasia Cotton, shares her favourite storybook titles on transition and change.

Travelling halfway around the world for international relocation is a huge change for even the most well-adjusted adult to manage – so how can we support children experiencing the move, whilst juggling the tricky business of growing up? As with so many transitional stages of childhood and adolescence, support and discussion initiated with a story – or picture book for younger children – can be a gentle way to approach any worries.

Anastasia Cotton
Anastasia Cotton, Assistant Dean of Overseas Admissions at ACS International Schools

It’s easier for children to process things they hear ‘third-hand’ during reading-time cuddles,

explained clinical psychologist Wayne Fleisig to The Washington Post.

Books can be a good and non-threatening platform in which to discuss difficult subjects. There are pictures to distract them if things get overwhelming and they do not have to approach the subject head on, but instead can take in a small amount at a time.

For children who might be experiencing a range of feelings – loss, sadness, uncertainty, anxiety, anger, and even excitement – it can be helpful to select a number of titles to choose from in both the run up to moving day, and in the first months of re-settlement. Parents might find that children identify with a particular character or series of books, and revisiting these stories can provide an additional comfort in unfamiliar surroundings, as well as acting as useful tools for conversation. For little ones who are unsure how to articulate their emotional reactions, it can help give them the words and phrases they need to ask for support in a meaningful way.

How do you think Alexander was feeling as his parents packed up his house in this story? Can you think of anything that would have made Sammy the Snail feel better? Let’s do the same as this story and unpack our toys first, and then cook our favourite meal! We’re changing country, language and culture, but this is what we’re not going to change. 

Supporting activities such as scrapbooking, story-writing, journaling and writing to pen-pals can also be both calming and encouraging for a lot of children.In one of my recommended titles, B at Home, the main character is given a booklet to document her adventure, and it becomes an important keepsake of a life-changing move. Very often, one of the most daunting elements of moving countries is the prospect of facing a new school and all the associated challenges, from adapting to new teaching styles to making friends during recess or in class.

Relocated adolescents often face a double stress of adapting to an alien environment, a new school, and building new friendships and social networks, while simultaneously coping with the fundamental biological and developmental transitions that their peers also experience, 

says British researcher, Roger Webb, for the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Here at ACS, our school environment is built around helping students manage these transitional stages, easing children and teens gently – and quickly – into life in the UK. Our new families have a readymade community on hand to share their experiences, knowledge and to help them settle into their new homes. Each school has a fully trained pastoral care team and counsellors alongside programmes including the Welcome Team; a group of parents and staff on hand to help families adjust. The extended community here welcomes new families and fosters long-lasting and supportive friendships not only within school, but via weekend BBQs and breakfasts, matching relocated families for email exchange, international fairs, student-buddy programmes, our popular annual High Tea and, of course, regular book clubs.

Child with large teddy

Alongside all these wonderful methods of support offered by schools, friends and family, it is our experience that starting with a story is a great first step in helping children adjust during times of transition. Stories have the power to help readers handle not only their own feelings but other people’s too, which goes full circle in our ACS family as children experienced in relocation help their new peers navigate the change happily and successfully.

Happy reading!


Top Ten Book Recommendations for Moving Families Under 5s

• Sammy’s Next Move, Helen Maffini
• A House for Hermit Crab, Eric Carle lementary
• The Year my Parents Ruined my Life, Martha Freeman
• Here I Am, Patti Kim
• Lenny & Lucy, Philip Stead
• Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move, Judith Viorst
• The Mission of Detective Mike Moving Abroad, Simone Costa T. Eriksson
• Mallory on the Move and Back to School Mallory, Laurie Friedman Older children
• Blue Willow, Doris Gates
• B at Home, Valery Besanceney (for ages 10+)

Books can be a good and non-threatening platform in which to discuss difficult subjects.

(Washington Post)