Preparing for a relocation – When to tell the Kids?

The last months before summer is that time when many people in the international community are preparing for a move. Perhaps this article for which I  was interviewed 2 years ago can give you some insights to help your children make the transition.

In addition to the timing aspect of when to tell your children about an upcoming move I would like to add that it is a very personal question. You want to avoid telling your (young) children at the latest moment. They too need time to prepare and to say goodbye. At the same time, knowing about a move too far in advance may confuse them and bring insecurity in their lives. The author of the article writes I suggested that 4-5 year olds need a 2-3 weeks advance notice before an international move. Although I can’t remember what I said at the time of the interview, I have the feeling the numbers should have been the other way around (2-3 year olds can be prepared 4-5 weeks in advance).

Here are some questions that may help you decide when to tell your children about an upcoming move:

– Is my child someone who needs plenty of preparation to feel safe, or do they generally accept smaller and bigger changes easily?

– How do you as parents feel about the impending move? If you are someone who wants to prepare every detail before your move and feel worried that there is not enough time, your child is likely to notice ‘something is up’ and it might be helpful for them to understand what it is.

– How certainare you about the move? If you know that you will be moving next year, are already looking at a new home in the new location, etc. then it could help to include your child already at an early stage. However, not knowing if, when and where to you will move can provide feelings of insecurity, for you and for your child too. In this case it can be better to wait telling your child or to consider carefully what and how you will tell your child.

Also consider how you will tell your young child; young children may not understand the language we use to explain about a move (moving is quite an abstract concept). Consider using books and other visual input to help your child understand.


Jet Sichterman – 04 May 2017

Do you want to know more about how to prepare your children for an international move?
Perhaps our parent support sessions can be helpful.

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.

4 Myths about raising international children

Nowadays it is easy to find information about any topic on the internet. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of false information out there, for example about living abroad with your family. We at Expat Child Psychology regularly hear about assumptions international families hold or advice they have been given that is not helpful in the long run. Here are 4 often heard myths about raising international children:

1. Children who learn multiple languages develop speech delay.
Parents should only speak the majority language.
This myth is often heard when children start talking later than their peers or know fewer words in the majority language than their peers. However, there is ample evidence suggesting that although it might seem like children who grow up bi- or multilingually have speech delay in each of the languages individually, they are able to express as many (or more) words across their languages as their peers who grow up with one language are able to express in that one language. Additionally, the cognitive and social benefits of growing up with multiple languages are well reported too. Furthermore, advising parents to speak to their child in a language that they do not fully master themselves is a bad idea; this actually might lead to speech delays and it might lead to problems in the connection between parents and child, as the parent may be unable to express their affection or give words to the child’s experienced to the same extend as they would in their native language.

This is not to say that language delays or speech and language problems do not exist among children who grow up with two or more languages. They do. Usually with multilingual children, speech and language problems are not confined to just one language, they are apparent in all the child’s languages and developing a speech and language problem is not related to the fact that the child is learning multiple languages. Another problem that might occur is that a child who is raised multilingually masters only one, or even none, of the language fully. A clear language plan might help ensure the needed exposure to all the languages.

2. Children are very flexible and resilient, an international move is only beneficial for them.
This myth is a tenacious one. Yes it is true that generally speaking children are very flexible and resilient and that growing up internationally can have many benefits for them. However, an international move IS a big step for all of the family. Even young children can and do struggle with international moves. Imagine being a toddler who is just getting to know and understand the world around them, and then being taken in a totally new environment where only your parents and siblings are familiar. In a way you would have to start all over again, trying to make sense of the world. Or imagine being a teenager, in the process of forming your identity and separating from your parents. Now you are taken to another country where you do not know anybody, might not even know the language. You have no friends here and are totally reliant on your parents. What does that say about who you are? A good preparation for the international move and continuous support during the transition can go a long way to help your child face the challenges ahead.

3. Going back home is easy!
Many people believe going back home will be the easy part of an international assignment, and so they might not give much thought to how it will be for their kids. After all, they know the home language so that should not be a problem. They have been in touch with their family at home every big vacation and every week or so through skype, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well, let’s go back to that very first sentence; ‘…going back home will be the easy part…’. Whether this part of an international assignment will be the easy part for any person involved depends on a number of things; How long have you been away from home? How different was the country you were relocated to from your home country? How well did you keep in touch with your friends and family at home during this time? How much do they understand about the psychological aspects of living in another country (how much do they understand and support you?), etc. It is not unusual for internationals to return back home and find that the reverse culture shock is as ‘shocking’ as the first culture shock when moving abroad; the ‘home’ you remember might not be the same; the country and your network have changed just as much as you have while you were away. For your child, it might be even harder. Even though they might speak the language and call the country ‘home’ because you do, they might not have lived in the country before or not remember much of this time. So when they go ‘home’ expecting that they will fit in immediately, they are bound to be disappointed to find they have no friends of their own, they do not know the ins and outs of the slang their peers use, of the subcultures in the schools. Again, a good preparation and ongoing support can help your child face the challenges they might find on their way while moving back.

4. If my children are happy, I can be happy.
This myth we often hear from the international parents who spend the most time with the children. When they arrive in the new country, they might show a tendency to wait for their children to be happy in their new home, school, sports clubs, etc. before they would even consider doing something that will help themselves feel more grounded in the new place. They believe that their time to get to know the country, make new friendships, learn the language or find a meaningful way to spend some of their time through a job or volunteer work, will come once the children are all well settled.

Children look to their parents for guidance, when they see that one of their parents is home all the time, does not make effort to meet new people or to do something they like doing, the children are missing an opportunity to see how their parent would do the things they might find hard themselves (such as approaching a classmate, inviting them to their home). Furthermore, when parents and children are too much focused on each other, they tend to see each other’s negative behaviors or emotions as more problematic, possibly leading to a negative spiral where the child is unhappy because the parent is unhappy and waiting for the child to be happy. Our advice to parents who are in this position is to turn this belief around: when you make efforts to get settled and ‘be happy’ in this new place, it will be more easy for your children to do the same. Try to take time for yourself, find at least one activity away from the children, and try to make other efforts to build up a network for your family here in this new place.

What other myths have you believed in or heard about before your relocation? What bad advice has been given to your family? Share in the comments below or on the facebook page!

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: Teacher tips

In my last post, I talked about what you can do as parents when your child is going to enter a school in a language that they do not yet understand. This time, my tips are for teachers who are teaching one or some children who do not yet speak the language of the classroom.

There are two terms used for when children follow education in a second language, immersion and submersion. Immersion happens when a teacher who is trained to teach in pupil’s second languages teaches a class full of children in their second language. For example, some schools offer immersion classes for children who recently entered the Netherlands and need to learn to speak Dutch. After one or two years in this class, their level of Dutch is deemed high enough to follow the classes with native Dutch speakers. Many schools do not offer these immersion classes but do accept non-Dutch speakers in their classrooms, especially when they are still young. This situation is called submersion; one or a few children who do not speak the main language of the class enter a class with native speakers. Obviously, this last situation can be quite challenging for both teacher as well as children.

When you have children in your class that follow the submersion path to learning a language, the following tips might help stimulate the child’s language learning:

  1. Be mindful to face the class when explaining something
    This way, the children who do not speak the language yet can benefit maximally from your non-verbal communications.
  2. Use visuals
    Use visuals (pictures, photos or items) of the things you mention while explaining something, especially in the one-on-one situations with these students.
  3. Repeat instructions
    After the explanation for the whole group, take some time to repeat the instructions individually to the students who are not competent in the class language yet. Use visuals and your body language (pointing, signs like ‘looking’, ‘eating’ or ‘stop’) to help the message come across.
  4. Create a safe environment
    It is easy for children to feel unsafe when they are taught in a different language, or to experience communication frustration, when the child is unable to inform you or other children of their needs and desires. Creating and maintaining a safe environment where the child can experiment with the new language without running the risk to be laughed at or ridiculed will be one of the most important things you can do for these students.
  5. Don’t pressure
    Being too strict about having the children communicate in the main language harms the safe environment that you want to maintain. Being pressured in something which is still too difficult can lead to anxiety and resistance to try the new language.
  6. Invite & recognize communication
    Instead of forcing the child to speak the class language, be inviting for the students to communicate whichever way they feel they can handle and open your eyes and ears to different forms of communication (all behavior in interaction with others is communication, we just do not always know what it means). This way, the child will start to feel comfortable and understood and safe to try a few words in your language.
  7. Reserve one-on-one time
    Reserve some time in the student’s weekly schedule for one-on-one time with a tutor who can, in a relaxed and playful manner, help explore the new language.

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.

About Toys

Play is one of the most important means for child development. At a very young age, children play to explore the physical world around them, while at the same time challenging their fine and gross motor skills. The toys they are most happy to play with are of a physical nature, stimulating to the senses. Later on, children play as a means to develop social skills. They learn to win and to lose, to reason with others, to be sportsmanlike, etc. while playing games outside on the playground or board games. They might also reenact parts from adult life to incorporate the values and norms of the culture, such as when children play house.SAM_0460

Unfortunately, nowadays some children are becoming victims of the consumer society, limiting rather than stimulating their development. How often have I come across children who were bored just because no game console was available! Or children that were bored because they had too many toys to choose from? During my trip to Africa, I realized children do not need many superb toys to enjoy themselves and stimulate their development. Consider the little Masai boy in the picture who made a game of rolling the tire around.

What can you do to stimulate your child’s development through play?
Some tips:

  • Provide your child with toys that fit his or her developmental needs. Especially during the younger years, toys will need to be replaced on quite a regular basis as the child progresses through different developmental stages.
  • Provide toys that target different areas of development. Think about gross motor skills, fine motor skills, personal independence, communicative skills, imitation, fantasy, social skills, visual perception & insight, focus & attention, etc.
  • Limit the amount of toys your child has access to. If there are only a few toys to choose from, your child is likely to play longer with each of these toys than he would if there were many toys readily available. This will not only improve chances for development in the area those toys target, it might also improve your child’s attention and focus. Furthermore, it might stimulate your child’s fantasy when he or she tries to invent new ways to enjoy the same toys.
  • Limit your child’s digital time. Some digital input is all right as long as there’s not too much of it; children learn to use digital sources (laptop, Ipad) very quickly and can use them to learn new things by watching YouTube videos or reading Wikipedia.
  • Be careful when buying irritable toys for your child. You know, the kind that makes a lot of noise and lights but does not really seem to add to your child’s development. You do not want to get annoyed with your child because he likes this toy so much!
  • Make sure your child has enough time for free play. Kids already have so much structure at school, daycare, sports, etc. nowadays. Children use free play to learn the things that interest them and therefore need lots of time to ‘just play’. Join in the fun some of the time and make sure there’s still plenty of time for play without adult supervision.

This article was originally published on my old website on Aug 5, 2013.
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