Monday, June 1, 2009

Expat Kids, all about attitude

Is being an expat all about attitude, and if so, does this have an immense influence on expat children and how they perceive their situation in this new environment?

After much research on the topic there were a few points that stood out for me on how to be an expat child these are discussed below:

1. Attitude
Your attitude as the adult and parent is going to greatly influence how your children settle in the country and accept the move.
We can decide whether to be positive or negative about becoming expats. The more positive parent results in a well adjusted child who looks at the glass half full, finds the positive in every situation and tries to adjust as much as you do.

Trudie says: We saw this move as a wonderful opportunity to expose our children to the world and maybe broaden their horizons.
Shirley says: I hated where we moved to and people were not as friendly as I thought they would be and it was hard and lonely. I had to work hard to change, but with a positive attitude, my children have become so much happier.

2. Being Open minded:
In every case of becoming an expat, the circumstances you are going to experience are different. If you have not been brought up in the culture it is going to be an adjustment. Parents need to be open minded and to allow their children to do the same.

Monique says: Being an expat parent really depends on a lot of things, e.g. where you are being posted, most of my postings have been to central African countries where food and medical care can be scarce. This can be stressful with younger kids and as a parent you need to be open minded and prepared to adjust and change your way of thinking and learn many new skills, like administering medical aid, like doing your own stitches on a screaming kid without pain killers.

3. The right Schooling
We can easily make the wrong school choice for our children (even in our own countries), but when moving to a culturally different country this could be what either develops your child into having a positive attitude or not.
Let your child go to a school that will suite his/her personality. Will they develop better in a smaller, bigger, sporty or academic school, what is the vision of the school for the students, check and double check if your child will suite the style of the school. Many parents prefer to home school their children. Children need to thrive and will do so if the school appropriately develops their strengths. Find a school that teaches in your child’s home language and that has children around them with similar cultural backgrounds. Sometimes you do not have an option e.g. there is only 1 school available, get involved with the school and teach your child about cultural diversity. If your child is old enough, discuss the options with them and let them help make the decision.

Liz writes: I would seriously recommend sending your kids to a similar type size of school you are leaving, we went from a little school to a private huge, pressure school, the main focus was on academics but not a holistic school. WORSE mistake, Nick went from a happy outgoing little boy to vomiting every day and getting nauseous when we drove past the school. NIGHTMARE the school offered no support only interested in bums in seats and $ in the bank.
Well it was so bad we contemplated going back to the country we had come from (not home), but gave a smaller school a go. Nick had counseling for the trauma, and is back to his happy self.

4. Immerse your family in the language, culture and religion.
Try to learn the new language, immerse this in the culture, religion and history of the country, go to museums, take tours and do a bit of what the locals would do and participate in some of the festivals. Make it fun, tell them stories about the culture and history, and make it educational at the same time. Imagine the stories your children will be able to tell their friends back at home of their adventures.

Denise says: We take the children to the museums, on safaris, to cultural villages, and encourage them to try the local food, it may just surprise the taste buds. Mostly we want them to learn the local language so that they can communicate with their peers. Who knows they may well live here when they are older.

5. Be Encouraging
Encourage your child to take part in different activities. Let them learn that they can overcome any challenge thrown their way, encourage and support them with whatever decisions they make. They are likely to develop a belief that they can achieve anything in life, as long as they are positive and set their minds to it. They will learn to embrace challenges head on, rather than being too afraid and shying away from these situations.

Trudie says: I love the freedom that we have here, that we don’t have to worry that something will happen to our child if he goes to the bookshop by himself or to the bathroom. I let my child become independent with confidence. We encourage it.
Denise says: I remember growing up very protected from the outside world. As an 18 year old, I had no worldly experience and could not make any decisions in life. It has been hard to unlearn that and to make decisions you feel are right for you. I want my children to be unafraid of making decisions and be courageous enough to try.

6. Flexibility and stability
Be flexible in your daily life and know that life is not to be taken too seriously, focus on opportunities to have fun and learn in the process. Your children will take a page from your book and learn to be flexible in their own lives. There is always somewhere new to go and people to meet. It is an adventure, so take advantage of the opportunity. At the same time you need to maintain a stable relationship and environment for your children because one of the most difficult things for the expat child is building long-lasting friendships and not seeing the home they are living in as home.

Denise says, "The feeling of not knowing what's coming next can be quite stressful at times, and I often have that sick feeling in my stomach about where life is going to take us next, I want my children to be flexibe and be ok with wherever they land up. So I try and show that, I am excited so that my kids will grow up not being apprehensive like I am. Life is for the living, so we must live it."
Trudie: This is definitely not home and never will be, but I’m not really sure that matters, as long as they know home is somewhere.

7. Communicating with others
Remember the way you interact with people as an expat will determine how your child will interact and accept people from different backgrounds. As an expat you are going to encounter, not only the new local culture and people, but people from all walks of life, from countries they may never have heard of. Your children need to be encouraged to be unprejudiced towards different cultures.

8. Communicating with your children
It is so important to constantly communicate with your children. Did you involve them in the decision to relocate?
Denise: When my husband came back from his interview and had been offered the position, we told the kids about the country and focused on the positive aspects of moving, eventually our son asked whether we could please move there. We were very excited that he was so excited.
It is important to consider your child’s opinions and constantly talk to them about how they are feeling. Listen to your children, really listen!

Trudie: We constantly communicated, during our alone time I reassure Matthew that dad will be with us soon, when dad went straight to our expat spot and we had to go there Matthew was the first to jump at the idea. We also constantly talk about the fact that we will move again- this is not home yet- we will be here for a couple of years - we wanted Matthew to be prepared for that and use it to motivate him-work harder at school etc.

Monique writes: I discuss everything with my kids and never hide the truth from them, they have learnt a lot and I would not change what we have done, they have really experienced life to the fullest, doing things most kids their age dream about.

9. Personality, age and attachment types
Your child’s personality, age and how they attach themselves to you is also going to determine how well they settle.

Denise: My daughter who is 6 remembers those people who were closest to her, she remembers experiences mainly through our home videos. Our son at 8 remembers a lot more about home and took longer to settle and make friends. Jess will attach herself to mostly any other children, Sean will shy away and take longer to be comfortable to mingle, but once the mingling starts he is just fine.
Teenage years are tougher. If your child is shy, and attaches themselves to you for support, then settling will be harder. The child with an assertive, outgoing personality is going to find it a lot easier to get along in the new environment. To help, make play dates for the shy child, join clubs, and take them to different social events. In the long run, it is going to make your life easier if your children have friends and settle down.
Get your kids to focus on what they are experiencing right now and not on the things they are missing out on at home. If they are feeling depressed, get busy and have fun!
Shirley says: I did not worry about Natalie (she was 13) I thought she would adapt easier than Marco (15 ½), which was the case in the end.
Marco could not play the sports he was really good at. He found it hard to settle into a boy school after being at a mixed school. I think this was a tough time and I worried and felt sorry for him. He also found it difficult to make friends at the beginning, that changed after a couple of months and he has now made some good friends.
Natalie was more adaptable, she made friends quickly and easily … she even has a local accent now. We encouraged everything they did and gave them the space they needed to grow. We let them be independent, which we could not do at home. They have flourished and are very independent, strong and self assured now.

10. Family traditions, original culture and language
It is important to keep your countries traditions going within the family, remember everyone at home is growing up with those traditions and if you are going back to live, keep those traditions alive within your own family.

Trudie: Well where we come from we don’t have any dress codes but two things that are close to our hearts, are sport and food. We always watch all and every major sporting event from cricket to rugby with our kids, they can see the intensity and passion we have towards sport. The food part is easy, my children get traditional food over and over on a weekly bases.

It also helps to create new family traditions while maintaining your own value system.

Last thoughts:
Much of the research I encountered showed that expat kids grow up to be diversified, tolerant, intelligent, savvy, articulate, worldly wise and interesting adults.

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