Supporting your expat child and yourself
One of the main learning points I have had as the parent of an expat child is about maintaining a positive feeling at home.
Being an expat is at times a demanding lifestyle and what can be said and done in the home during stressful times can impact greatly on children.
Recommendations for parents with expat children
So I have the following recommendations:
Make sure you as the main carer / parent finds time to look after yourself. These questions may help you to consider how you are doing:
› How did you spend your time before you became a parent and also before becoming an expat?
› What else are you doing now besides being a parent? If you have recently become an expat consider before and after your moves too.
› How well do you think you look after yourself?
› What would you like to change about your life and if you can not change living abroad, how can you change how you feel about your life now?
› What effect has "having children" had on your relationship with your partner? What effect has "being an expat" had too?
› Write down 10 words that represent your family before you became expats.
› Write down 10 words that represent your family as it is now.
› What words do you like or not like on these lists? Write a list for what you want your family to be about whilst you live abroad.
› Consider your new list and how will you make these changes in daily life?
Now, regarding your amazing expat kids, think about the following:
Positivity in language
Reflect on how you have spoken to your child(ren) in the day. Have you given them positive or negative messages? To be more positive - describe what you want than what you do not want, try not to make threats, unfavourable comparisons.
Look at the language you are using - be positive where possible for instance. I like that you wanted to do x, however, it would be better to have mummy’s help next time.
Reinforcement of their being successful
Catch your child being successful! Notice and praise it. If its something they can repeat ask them to show you again. Remember success is not just academic; it is in small everyday actions!
See your child through positive light / window. When they say "I am no good at this" remind them how they have improved since they started and how much better they will be.
Remind them of what they are good at and look for skills that they could transfer to help them achieve the task they find difficult.
Help them to consider saying "what will it be like when I can do this" rather than "I can not do this."
A good way to maintain your own positive light - consider the importance of an issue with a question "Will this matter in 10 minutes / days / years from now?"
Try the video / DVD pause button idea. When you children start becoming angry, help them to imagine they have a pause button like the DVD player. To pause like the DVD they can use one of the following exercises:
› They can count to 10 or say a phrase in their head when they feel they may lose their temper.
› If it is a person making them angry, they can try to imagine this person as a giant green frog or similar image that will make them laugh.
› If the DVD button idea does not work for your child - they can write down what makes them angry, draw or paint it, or find an area to let off their steam kicking a ball against a wall, hitting a punch bag / pillow, jumping on cardboard boxes to flatten them.
Stress in kids
There are 4 signs of stress:
› Fight behaviour
- Resisting change
- Preferring what they know is safe and familiar
- Unlikely to take any sort risks
› Flight behaviour
- May avoid something by doing something else, even something they dislike doing
- May pretend to be ill or tired
- Avoid eye contact with adults
- May do safe things again and again
- May stay on the edge of groups
› Freeze behaviour
- Unable to speak or do anything when they are put on the spot in some way
- Goes blank when asked a question to which they know the answer
› Flock behaviour
- Wants to be friends
- Wants to be like friends, not to stand out in the crowd
- Can lead to dumping down, “its cooler”
What is making your child stressed? Write down possibilities. Consider how you can help them? It may be possible to identify personal stressors from this exercise too and perhaps you can work on them together with the child.
Try to avoid showing your own anxieties as children pick up on them. Encourage your child to make his / her own decisions on how to act within limits you have set.
Talk through pros and cons and consequences of the choices. Try not to pressurise to get it right first time. Trial and error is important in developing coping skills.
Development needs of children
Remember there are development needs, which children need to have met. Mia Keller Pringle in the Needs of Children (1980) suggests the needs for:
› love and security
› new experiences
› praise and encouragement
If you can meet these during your time as an expatriate and look at the opportunities that are around you to do so, then you will be raising an incredible human being with an ability to be communicative, empathetic and adaptive due to the experience of living abroad.