How Isabela coped with her friends’ move

This is the story of Isabela. Isabela is 9 years old. Isabela’s parents are expats but they have been living in The Netherlands for a long time and Isabela was born here. Isabela was enjoying school. She got good grades, got along well with the teachers and her peers, and she had two best friends to play with. Her best friends even lived close to her home so that Isabela could have playdates almost every other day. There was not much that her parents needed to worry about, except maybe the occasional sibling rivalry between her and her twin brother Lucas. The two could fight over every little thing, but they could also play well together during other moments. When Isabela did not have a play date she could often join Lucas to his, and when Lucas did not have play dates, he could often join Isabela.

Summer was approaching
Although Isabela’s life was stable and her parents decided to stay in the Netherlands at least until Isabela and Lucas had finished primary school, they were attending an international school, and so change was a constant factor in their lives. The school year was coming to an end and for Isabela, the worst thing she could imagine happened; both of her best friends were moving away.

Isabela’s parents guided Isabela well. They helped her prepare gifts for the departing friends and made sure those last moments of goodbye were special and worthy. They also agreed with the friends’ parents that Isabela could talk with her friends regularly on Skype.  Summer came and the family went on holiday and family visits. Isabela appeared to be doing well, she met her friends on Skype as agreed and was happy to have vacation the rest of the time.

A new school year
But as the new school year started, Isabela had to face the facts. When she came to school, her best friends were no longer there. Although she had always gotten along well with her peers, they were not her friends. Isabela tried to find support with her brother Lucas and his friends. Unfortunately, Lucas and his friends felt that they should no longer play with girls. Each time Isabel tried to join in with them, she faced rejection. Isabela felt very lonely. She often fought with her brother. The sibling rivalry was at an all-time high at home, but now at school too they were regularly found fighting. Isabela even had to be sent to the principal once because she could not contain her anger. In the mornings, Isabela started complaining she did not want to go to school.

Yet with a little help…
Isabela’s parents and teachers had heard about Social Skills 4 Kids and wondered if this program could help Isabela. She joined a group halfway through the school year. Isabela was a bit worried to join, she feared she would be singled out by going to such a group. Although the children in her group had joined for a variety of reasons, Isabela was relieved to find that they had one thing in common; they all were struggling with something and they all were very normal children. During the course, Isabela was challenged to show initiative to join in with other groups and she learned about things she could do when she was feeling very angry. A few weeks into the program, Isabela’s parents reported that she was no longer complaining in the mornings to go to school. Isabela learned to take a break when she noticed her anger was rising high and she learned about ‘helping thoughts’ which she could use during such moments. The fights with her brother diminished and after some weeks, Isabela even found that she was better off now that she could no longer join in with the boys, because she had made new (girl) friends of her own.


Social Skills 4 Kids


Social Skills 4 Kids is a 7 week group course for English speaking children between 7 and 12 years old. New groups are starting 2-3 times per school year at Expat Child Psychology.

Learn more about Social Skills 4 Kids!

* Expat Child Psychology respects the privacy of their clients. Isabela is a fictional character whose story is inspired by several children who followed the course.

SOS! December is here… (how to help your children stay grounded)

By Jet Sichterman

You may have noticed by the cold weather outside, by the frosting on your car in the morning, by the full trains or extensive traffic jams in rush hour, by the advertisements in your mailbox or by the big to do list waiting for you at home and at work. Or, you may have noticed by the volume of your children’s voices as they are busy doing anything they are not supposed to do while you frantically try to set things straight but they simply won’t let you.

Yes, indeed, December is here.

December seems to have a special influence on children. All that was normal is suddenly not so normal. All that was routine suddenly does not apply or has been forgotten. Anticipation and nerves are building up for the holidays… And while you have no tools at your disposal to contain or express these emotions in appropriate, adult ways, this is exactly what the adults around you appear to be expecting of you.  All of this can lead to more loud, active and possibly oppositional behavior (and the flu!) in the weeks before the New Year.

So what does your child really need from you in this time?

Your child needs you to:
– Stick as much as possible to the normal rules and routines:
The more ‘normal’ things can stay, the more normal your child will be able to go through the month of December. Of course it is often hard to stay on track with regular routines with holidays here and there, events for you at work or with your friend group, you needing to do Christmas shopping, etc.

When things cannot remain the same, it will help your child to stick (as much as possible) to regular bed times and routines during the week so they can be well rested. It will also help them to know that exceptions are going to be made; your child wants to know how, when and why these exceptions are taking place.

– Be proactive
Instead of waiting for the trouble to start, your child needs you to be proactive about things. Provide for extra preparation and support for usual and not-so-usual tasks, allow extra time for usual tasks and routines to be completed, or actively decide to let some of the demands placed on your child go – and get back to them in January.

– Create a safe space when your child is experiencing a meltdown
Your child needs you to understand and accept that he/she feels emotions more intensely this season than others. He/she needs you to allow him/her to express these emotions now and then, and to be there for him/her when this happens.

Your child also very much needs you to understand that your own emotions might be more intense too, or that you might feel more stressed than usual. Your emotional experience directly and indirectly influences your child’s emotions.

Your child also needs you to remember that experiencing emotions is part of being human.

– Stay patient and calm, if you can
This might be the hardest step of all, but it will certainly help.

For example, parents who feel stressed about everything they still need to do before Christmas are likely to respond less patient when their child misbehave. And when this happens, the child who resonates with the parent’s feelings will be more likely to show oppositional behavior. It then becomes very easy for the child and the parent to enter a negative spiral from which a small thing eventually ends up in a big shouting match.

Remember, it will only be one month before things start getting back to normal!

Expat Child Psychology wishes you a happy holiday season
and best wishes for 2017!


 

Are you ready for a good start of the New Year? Our parent support sessions can help you set up to succeed!
Get in touch to explore the options!

Practicing Non-Verbal Skills through games

By Sara Mansson

We have talked about social skills before, see for example this post on negotiating, this one about stimulating your child’s emotional development or this one about saying goodbye.

There are several ways of communicating with others, many of which go far beyond our words. In fact, some would estimate that as much as 90% of social success is dependent on non-verbal skills rather than verbal ones. Although these numbers are debated by others, non-verbal communication is an important part of everyday communications and without it we (and our children) would often miss opportunities of true connection.

Although most children will learn these skills just fine by themselves, today we will explore which fun games may help your child feel more confident and comfortable using several  non-verbal skills that are fundamental to being socially successful.

Eye contact
Eye contact can tell us much about our interaction with someone else. It serves the purpose of being a channel of emotional communication: “are you really angry or are you only joking?”; of romantic interest; of power in terms of dominance and submission; and of communicating attention, and more. One of the most prominent functions of eye contact when having a conversation is to show that one is listening.

Simon Says
Simon says normally goes like this: the game leader (‘Simon’) determines what will happen. He/she will ask others to do an action like walking, jumping, turning, etc. by saying ‘Simon says walk’. But he/she will also try to fool the others by saying only ‘walk’. When the game leader does not start by saying ‘Simon Says …’ the others are not supposed to do it.
In this version of the game, the Simon has to blink exaggeratedly when the others are supposed to do the action, instead of saying “Simon Says” out loud.

Wink murder
Another game that helps children feel more comfortable with eye contact is wink murderer. In this game,  a detective has to find out who in the group is “killing” other group members by winking at them.

Body language & posture
We show much of what we are feeling and thinking with our body. Think about your child’s posture when he is feeling proud of an achievement as opposed to when he is feeling ashamed about accidentally breaking a glass. Noticing others’ body postures is one way of getting a glimpse into what others are feeling without actually having to ask them.

Charades
emotion-conesYou can teach your child the importance of paying attention to others’ body language by playing games like charades where body language and posture are central parts to figuring out the correct answer (think of answers like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Sleeping Beauty, The Hungry Caterpillar for charades with book titles). It will be a fun way to engage the whole family in reading body language without drawing attention to the learning aspect.

Exploring Posture
The players are asked to walk around the room. Every half a minute or so, the game leader suggests a posture the players have to take on. For example, they could ‘walk as a turtle’ or ‘stand like a tree’. Ask the players to pay attention to how the different postures make them feel. Afterwards, reflect on the postures by asking questions like: ‘which posture made you feel very scared?’ or ‘which one made you feel the most powerful?’ etc.

Facial expressions & emotion recognition
Our facial expressions often reveal much about what we’re thinking and feeling (even involuntarily!), so they’re useful to be able to read and express correctly. Research has even found that children who are skilled at reading others’ faces are more likely to be considered as popular.

school-busThe Emotion Bus
The Emotion Bus is a fun game for a small group of children. One child or adult is the bus driver and sits in front of the imaginary bus (the bus can be defined by chairs, pillows, hoops, cloths, or something else). The bus driver picks up all the passengers (other players) one by one. Each passenger that comes in, buys a ticket and takes place in the bus is experiencing a new emotion and everyone in the bus, including the driver, mimic the emotion. For example, if a new passenger comes in crying, all passengers on the bus will begin to cry. When all passengers are picked up, they could be dropped off one by one showing an emotion while they get off the bus too.

Guess my emotion
To teach your child about reading facial expressions, you could together create flashcards with the most basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, surprise. You could then play a game in which one person has to think of a scenario in which a person feels this emotion, and the other player can get points by correctly mimicking the emotion on their face. For example, for the card that reads disgust, player one could say “Someone who just stepped in dog mess.” and then player two has to correctly guess that it is disgust by pulling a disgusted face. Once your child has learned these basic emotions, you could make the game more challenging by adding more complex emotions, such as jealousy, confusion, pride, and such.


If you find that your child struggles with making friends, negative thoughts, negotiating, bullying and teasing, or just interacting with others, you may contact Expat Child Psychology to learn more about how your child could benefit from one of our Social Skills 4 Kids courses, starting this fall!

Four Tips on Stimulating Emotional Development

We all want our children to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. The ability to understand their own emotions and to express them in accordance with the local culture and social norms is an important step towards becoming that. We know that young children need our help to express and manage their emotions.  Yet when children grow older we sometimes expect them to ‘behave’ and tend to forget that learning how to manage our emotions is a life-long process, something not even all adults have mastered well.

Emotional Development - Expat Child PsychologySo what can you do to make sure you won’t expect more of your children than they can offer in the heat of the moment? Here are four suggestions that will help you stimulate your child’s emotional development:

1) Name the feeling
The first step of managing emotions is to identify the emotions. Your child may be experiencing all kinds of bodily sensations without knowing where they come from or what they mean. As a parent, you will often know that the situation your child is facing would lead to an angry feeling, a happy, a sad or a scary one, or perhaps even a combination of several feelings at once (it does require a bit of perspective-taking from your end). By naming those feelings your child will learn which bodily sensation and type of situation corresponds to which emotion.

Instead of:
‘STOP! NAGGING! You are NOT getting another cookie!’

Say:
‘I see that you are very disappointed about not getting another cookie.’

2) Validate the feeling
Let your child know you understand they feel this way, for example by mirroring the facial expression and using a soothing tone of voice. This validation of the emotion will help your child feel understood and gain some control over their sensations. It also tells your child that it is okay to experience (this) emotion.

Instead of:
‘There is no need to cry!’

Say:
‘I understand you feel this way, I would be so sad too if I could not get what I wanted.’

3) Give feedback on negative behaviors
Even though your child may not yet have learned how to control their emotions or how to express them appropriately, some expressions are simply harmful or unacceptable. You have to tell your child about this.

Instead of:
‘Stop screaming!’

Say:
‘It is not helpful to scream so loud, it hurts my ears and it hurts your voice.’

4) Provide alternative ways to express
Now that your child knows it is okay to experience the emotion and that it is not okay to express those emotions in specific ways. However, your child does not know what to do instead. Therefore, it is helpful to provide an alternative.

Instead of:
‘Stop screaming!

Say:
‘Instead of screaming, you could try ….’

Alternative options (depending on the age & your own preference):
– A verbal response: saying ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘It makes me feel angry’, etc.
– A physical response: punching a boxing ball or pillow, running a distance, squeezing a stress ball, etc.
– A cognitive response: count to 10, distract yourself, etc.

Can’t you two just get along?

Guestpost by Sara Mansson

Last time, we talked about some day to day examples of things you can do to help your children learn good negotiation skills. One thing that helps children learn this is experiencing problems that need solving. One of our tips then was to wait and step back when your child lands in a discussion to allow them to solve it by themselves. But sometimes heated arguments break out even amongst the most skilled negotiators and when strong emotions, shouting and aggression start to play a role it might be better to step in. How can you help your children in the heat of the moment?

Upset negotiation fightCool down. When you notice the emotions running high and want to prevent a full escalation, or when a fight is already taking place, ask your children to take some time to breathe in and out, cool down, and count to ten. Following this, you can let each child state their points in a calm manner while the other has to listen.

Remind. When a negotiation involves an emotionally laden topic, emotions can run high, which in turn means negotiation skills drop. It can then be helpful to ask your children to take a step back and reflect on what their goal of the negotiation is, and reminding them to keep the tone of their voice as calm as possible when they have decided what to say. You can then give your child reminders on the tips you previously discussed regarding the mastering of their new negotiation skills.

Siblings negotiateSuggest. Sometimes children do not know how to solve the problem, which options other than ‘my way’ or ‘their way’ are available? Usually there are three more options: a mix of the two (first this, then the other), something else entirely (not A or B, but C) or nothing at all (agreeing to disagree, not playing with each other for now).

Obtaining the ability to successfully negotiate is a very important life skill for your children. Not only will it give you a calmer home environment, but it will also give your child insight into how to make their own wishes heard in a composed, mature manner but also how to listen to and consider their siblings’ views. Successful negotiation in which both parties are happy will leave your children feeling independent and confident.


 

Expat Child Psychology offers Social Skills 4 Kids group courses for children aged 9 to 12 which helps, among other things, to improve their problem solving skills.

Saying goodbye to (best) friends

Saying goodbye is inherent to the international lifestyle. But even if a family decides to stay in one place for a while, as long as one is part of an international community the goodbyes continue. Children in international schools run a higher risk of seeing their best friends leave. When that happens, the goodbye might be as challenging for them as when they would be the ones leaving – except now the child might not have so much to look forwards to.

How can you help your child cope when their best friend is leaving?

  • Help your child prepare for the goodbye
    Give your child time and space to explore and experience the feelings associated with their best friend moving. Talk about how this might affect them now and later (next school year), as well as about how the friends will stay in touch. Also consider and plan how your child would like to say goodbye, perhaps by giving a gift, making something for their friend or throwing a farewell party?
  • Support your child’s friendship
    When children (or adults) learn that they will be separated from people they care about , it hurts, and children who are hurting sometimes respond by lashing out to their friend. Two best friends might pick a fight in order to try to relieve their own hurting. Sadly this is not helpful at all and there might not be a chance to make up when it is time for your child’s friend to say goodbye.You can help your child by talking about the hurt, the emotions they feel when thinking of their friend leaving and giving them space to feel this and explore this in a safe environment. Both friends can also be engaged in an exploration of their emotions together. Furthermore, you can help your child understand that if they feel hurt the reason is because they love their friend so much and will miss them (and picking fights won’t help really). You can also help your child understand that when their friend says something nasty, it might be because they will miss your child too much.
  • Say goodbye
    Set a clear date and time when the goodbye will be said. Make sure your child understands that this is the last time they will see their friend before their move. Talk with the moving family to find out which time would suit them best as they will probably be busy packing.
  • Help your child feel and express their emotions
    After the move, continue to take time for your child to explore his or her emotions regarding the move. This is a great moment to stimulate the emotional intelligence of your child; help your child find the right words for their emotions and find proper ways to express them. Shortly after the move you can initiate these talks every day. Later, initiate the talks when you know your child needs it or take time when your child is the initiator.
  • Moving forwards
    After an event like the departure of a best friend, there is time for grieving and time for moving forwards. Every child grieves the departure of a best friend differently, but after a week or two your child should experience more positive feelings than negative ones during the day. If your child has been very close to their best friend and not so close with the other children, it can be difficult for him/her to participate in social activities and join with other children. You can help your child by exploring their fears and setting small challenges: why don’t you ask to join in with A and B at recess today?

Is your child struggling to move forwards after the departure of a best friend? Perhaps the Social Skills 4 Kids course can help.
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Starting School in a New Language: Preparation

When a young child enters a school or school-like environment in a different language than the one(s) they speak at home with the family, the transition might be concerning for parents. Will my child be adjusting well? Will she be learning the language quickly? Will he be able to inform the teachers of his needs? Will the teachers be patient with her and support her emotional reaction to potential communication frustration? Some very valid questions to ask and there are things you can do to make this change easier for your child.  Today, I will share some tips for preparing your child for this new situation.

Preparation
As with all major changes, children can be (need to be) prepared in an age-appropriate manner. A good preparation helps both you and the child realize that this change will sometimes be exciting and fun but might also be challenging and scary at other times. You might even consider some strategies your child can apply when facing these challenges.

– Refer to similar situations. If the child has been in a school-like setting before, tell them it will be mostly the same but people speak a different tongue that they will need to learn. If you and your partner speak different languages at home, say ‘you know how mom and dad speak differently? At school they will speak differently from mom and dad but you will not be able to understand what they are saying at first, you will need to learn this’.

– Show confidence & optimism. Inside, you might be very scared and concerned for this transition. Your child will look at you to find some instruction as to how they should feel about this change. If you are scared, your child may take over this fear (after all, you are the one that knows what is coming). When talking with your child, express that you believe they will adjust and make a positive experience out of this. It may not always be easy, but you will come out on the other end of this.

– Visit the school. Before the actual start, visit the school as much as you can so that your child can become familiar with the environment. Most schools in the Netherlands will have some ‘wen-dagen’ (acclimatization days) to ease young children’s transition to the new school. Even if that is not the case, you can visit the school building and look at it from the outside, watch the playground, maybe get a tour inside and meet the teacher.

– Learn as much of the language as you can before the start of school. Maybe you can find a tutor for a few weeks or months before the school starts to make your child more familiar with the language. You can also help your child become more familiar with the language by learning some basic words that he will surely need (food, drink, toilet, teacher, sick, counting 1 to 10, etc.), learn nursery rhymes in the new language or watch television in that language.

– Discuss with your child how to communicate with the teacher, in case they cannot follow the instructions or find it hard to express themselves. Share these strategies with the teachers too so that they can respond appropriately when your child communicates their discomfort.

There are many things you can do to prepare your young child before starting school in a new language, but the most important thing to remember is that prevention is better than cure, and with a good preparation you may be able to prevent a great deal of communication frustration for your child in the classroom.

Next to post on this blog: how to support your child once they entered school in the new language.

How Jake made the Netherlands his new home

This is the story of Jake. Jake is a self-aware 10 year old boy. Jake used to live in the USA, but a few months ago his parents decided to move to the Netherlands, to a curious place called The Hague. Jake was looking forwards to the move, he saw the move as an exciting chance to make new friends and experience a new environment. And his old friends? Well, with the internet, skype and online games they would only really be a click away, wouldn’t they?

Then reality kicks in

A few weeks after landing in the Netherlands, Jake finds himself home alone on a Wednesday afternoon. Disappointed. Making friends had not been so easy. In fact, Jake is very shy and has no clue how to approach the other children in his class. He only talks to them when the teacher says they have to work together, and even then, Jake and the other kid would only talk about the project shortly, agreeing upon the basics before they split to work on their own parts. Making friends in the USA had been easy, he had been in de same class since he started school, with the same peers who at some point had automatically become his friends. But not this time. This time it would take more. And his old friends? Staying in touch was not so easy after all, what with the time difference. Only for half an hour a day was it possible to talk to them, when they came home from school and right before he was supposed to go to sleep. And they already started to move on with their lives, they did not come online everyday anymore right after school to talk with Jake.

As a result of his disappointment Jake started to hate the Netherlands, to hate his parents for bringing him here and hate himself for being so shy and unable to make friends and to adapt to this new place. At home, Jake would often feel tired and fight with his parents while his grades in school were far below the average of his grades in the USA. Luckily, by this time his parents realized Jake was not coping with the changes very well and signed him up for Social Skills 4 Kids.

Yet with a little help…

At Social Skills 4 Kids, Jake learned how to approach other children. He learned how to ask others about their personal lives and this in turn led others to show more interest in Jake too. He learned how to cope with the changes and with rejection. Before the end of the course, Jake had become more confident and had made several friends in the Netherlands. The fights at home diminished and Jake was more able to appreciate the Dutch language and culture.


Social Skills 4 Kids


Social Skills 4 Kids is a 7 week group course for English speaking children between 7 and 12 years old. New groups are starting 2-3 times per school year at Expat Child Psychology.

Learn more about Social Skills 4 Kids!

* Expat Child Psychology respects the privacy of their clients. Jake is a fictional character whose story is inspired by several children who followed the course.