Mad children, unhappy parents
Over the last 50 years, family has changed a lot, not only in the meaning of the word but also in the ways of being a family. Ligia Koijen Ramos from in2motivation, an Amsterdam-based personal and professional development company, feels that sometimes we forget that we are still daughters and sons of war and immigration. These two events have a big impact on children today as well.
War is still happening and immigration is still happening, but we have a “new” concept and that is an “expat”. This term has also undergone social changes over the last 50 years. Now, it is almost a trend and a signal of status – but it was not always like that.
The term expat comes from Latin, and was used to label exiles: people who were forced to leave their country for political, religious or ideological differences. Now, the term is used to identify people who are working and living in a country, often for years, that is not their home country.
I think we forgot the original meaning of the word “expat,” but our children have not. Lots of children in expat families are dealing with this change of countries exactly as if they were exiles from their home country. They feel that pain; the pain of being obligated to start over every time. And yes, children are resilient but not superhumans!
In the family coaching I do, I have seen that expat children become anxious adults – which can have dramatic consequences – unless parents stop thinking that their children will always adapt and are resilient and that they will be able to create everything from scratch again and again.
From my experience, there are a large number of people who feel that they do not belong; they want to create roots but don’t know how. We will be paying a high price for this in the future, just like we are paying the price of immigration; where families are broken and living apart with no connection. Now, we have parents that never had parents, only grandparents trying to fit both roles.
What we have now are children who are mad, and parents who are unhappy, not knowing what to do. Children make an enormous effort to fit in and to show how they feel and parents make lots of effort to make them feel at home in their new country: the best schools, the best sporting activities; the best of everything, in fact. Yet, the recipe can be much simpler. It is much less about being practical but more about creating a comfortable place for the future.
How to support your child in times of change
Here is how you can support your child in times of change:
Recognise their emotions
Don’t try to understand them; just see the emotion and say that you are seeing them. Make the emotions important and create an open door for all the emotions to show up.
Involve your kids in decisions
We know that you want the best for them, but they will be the ones going to that school, club or group.
During change, be a friend to your child, not a parent
Change is not about right or wrong, or good or bad. It is about adapting and the need to feel safe.
Be honest with your own struggles and don’t make everything appear rosy and great – because it's not!
Talk and talk and talk again with your kids
Kids understand much more than you think. Trying to control, pretend or hide things from them will only make them more insecure.
Never ignore your child, expecting that the way they feel will pass
Every time that a child is ignored in their emotions, they register the moment as traumatic.
Look for support if you are feeling all of this yourself
Don't forget, it's not just children who can feel this way. If this is how you feel as well, don't hesitate to look for support.
The real child
Children are always expressing a need. Your role is to see the need and see the real child.
Ligia Koijen Ramos is a life coach and motivational speaker at In2motivation, offering personal and professional training courses to optimise individual and group motivation and performance. Check out their special NLP For Children programme.