How will son cope with my overseas job?

ASK THE EXPERT: Your parenting questions answered

ASK THE EXPERT:Your parenting questions answered

Q. I have been offered a role abroad which I am considering taking, but to reduce any upheaval my wife and two-year-old son will remain in Ireland. However, I am concerned as to the effect my removal from my son’s daily life may have and would be grateful if you could let me know what the possible impact of such a move would be on him. I know I will see him every month or so, but I am concerned it may affect him at this early stage of his life.


In the difficult economic times we live in, a lot of readers will empathise with the decision you have to make. Given the lack of suitable jobs locally, so many parents have to consider travelling abroad for employment. It must be difficult weighing up whether it is better to move your family, with the upheaval this involves, against moving yourself and suffering a loss of contact with your son and your family.


How your potential move abroad will impact on your son depends on a few factors. If you currently see your son daily and are very involved in his care, then it is likely that he will miss you greatly when you move. This will be made harder given the fact he is two, when he may be very attached to you, yet it will be hard to explain to him where you have gone and when you will be back. In addition, when one parent leaves, a child often has to cope with the fact that the remaining parent may be more stressed given that he/she now has to cope with all the parenting responsibilities alone, and may miss their partner as well.

How your son will cope depends a lot on the quality of the care he gets if you leave. Presuming he has a good attached loving relationship with his mother will mean he will probably cope reasonably well and will turn more to her for comfort. And once your wife is well supported within her own resources and extended family, then the loss to your son will be minimised. At age two children are resilient enough and, once surrounded by love and support, can cope with big changes.

If you do have to move abroad, I would also focus on the choices you can make to stay connected with your son and family. For example, you may be able to negotiate a more family-friendly contract that allows you to travel home more often, every month, or for more extended periods. Or you could make a commitment to stay in touch daily with your son, either by making sure to call every day on the phone (even though chats with two year olds can be challenging) or even better use a video phone on the internet, which will allow you to see each other as you talk.


My daughter, who will be four in August this year, is enrolled to start primary school in September 2011 when she will be just gone five. She has been in creche from a young age and has been following the Montessori programme since September last. She is a bright child who shows a keenness to learn as well as an ability to understand things. I have recently heard that a few of her classmates, of similar age, are enrolled for starting in primary school this September. This has made me revaluate our decision. I am concerned that her development will be thwarted by not having the structure and challenges of a school environment, that she may feel left behind or “babyish” if her peers are progressing to school, and that she may now be one of the oldest children in the class if she starts in 2011.

I have contacted the school that she is enrolled in and they can take her in September of this year. Do you think it would be better for her to start then or wait until next year? I’m not sure that she is emotionally ready for school – she can get overwhelmed by situations, can be quite shy and often still resorts to tears. Will this change by the time she is five?


The rule from the Department of Education is that a child must be no older than six and at least four years old by the September of the year they start, and most children start school when they are four or five. This means that if your daughter was to start this year she would be just old enough and might be the youngest in the class, while if she waited until next year she would be slightly older than the average but unlikely to be the oldest.

In deciding when a child should start school the key thing to take into account is their school readiness rather than their actual age. Of particular importance is their social and emotional readiness rather than their academic ability. Consider the demands of school such as participating in the class, having a more structured day, fitting in with a larger group, etc. Then consider whether your daughter will be able to participate confidently or whether she would be more ready next year.

From what you describe about your daughter’s shyness and being overwhelmed by situations, it may be no harm to wait one more year. However, you should also talk to your daughter’s Montessori teacher, who will be able to advise you on how ready she is. In many ways, the Montessori approach follows some of the structures of the school day, though in a more relaxed and age-appropriate fashion, so the teacher will be able to give you an indication of where your daughter is at.

While many parents worry that their child will lose out academically if they don’t start school younger, in fact the reverse may be true. If your daughter spends an extra year in the more supportive environment of the Montessori where she builds her confidence as one of the “older” girls, then she may become a much more competent learner and be more prepared when she starts formal school.

Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and director of Parents Plus charity. His website is

Readers queries are welcome and will be answered through the column, but John regrets that he cannot enter into individual correspondence. Questions should be e-mailed to