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.

Teaching your Child the Art of Negotiation

Guestpost by Sara Mansson

Sometimes arguments break out between our children and we wish we knew how to prevent them. Can’t they just listen to each other and compromise? The art of successful negotiation is a skill which is important to social situations throughout life; going far beyond agreeing on a movie to watch with the whole family. Negotiation involves abilities such as listening to others, expressing empathy, and to coming to a good compromise. Children practice these skills early in life such as by deciding what game to play with their friends or by coming to an agreement with their sibling about who should get to play with which new toy. Oftentimes this practicing is accompanied by loud arguments and even aggression between siblings or peers. How can you help them to learn peaceful negotiation skills?

Involve. The easiest way to introduce correct negotiation techniques to your child is to involve them. Good moments to involve your child in a negotiation could be when discussing what activities you should do for your family outing the upcoming weekend, or when discussing the family schedule to see if it is possible for your child to start karate classes like they asked to. The more exposure your child receives to useful methods, the more likely they are to remember and use them in the future! Involve your children in role-playing; allowing them to try debating from both sides of the negotiation.

Slower or faster - negotiation skillsExplain. When your child is involved in a family debate or is trying to reach a compromise with a sibling, it’s important that they are able to listen to the other’s point of view. Explain to your child that it is important to show that they have listened to and understood the other sibling. Give your child examples of how they can show this, such as by summarizing what the other has said or by asking relevant questions.

Agreeing vs. Arguing. Another point which is important to keep in mind about negotiation is teaching your child that they are trying to find common ground to agree on. This means that it is not a matter of winning or losing a battle – it’s a matter of bargaining and hearing both sides.

Parents fighting not negotiatingSet a good example. Examples are much more important for the learning of social skills than any of our best teaching methods will ever be. As a parent, you have to negotiate too sometimes. Perhaps with your children, but maybe with others; teachers, grandparents, shop keepers, your boss… When your child is near, they will observe and take in ‘how it is done’. Show your children how to negotiate by setting the right example for them.

Wait. While your children or your child and their friends start negotiating, try to step back and allow them to try and solve the problem amongst themselves. We all learn by trial and error, stepping in too soon might prevent your child from learning important lessons.

So what can you do when things do start getting out of hand? Read about it in our next blog!


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.

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.

It’s not fair! – Part 2.

In my last blog, I explained how young children can only view the world from their own perspective because they have not yet developed a so called ‘theory of mind’. This is why young children have a different idea of what is fair than adults. Of course, if you’re the only one with needs and wishes, it certainly isn’t fair if you cannot have everything. When children start to understand that other people have their own unique individuality with their own thoughts, needs and wants, children start to see fair as something that involves others as well. Usually the rule of thumb to determine fairness becomes ‘sharing equally’. However, this still differs from what adults consider as fair. So what is this next stage in development of the concept of fairness all about?

Thanks to ~Masscreation

Fairness for adults
After developing the theory of mind, children seem to use a rule to determine what is fair, namely ‘sharing equally’ or equality.  In many situations, this rule is used by adults as well. When two people compete over one cookie, let’s break it and both eat half of it. But in other situations our concept of fairness is more complex.

For example, in earlier times people would get ‘an eye for an eye’, which literally meant that if you did something bad to someone, the same bad would be done to you. Nowadays, most of us do not believe this is fair anymore and we have a judicial system with its courts and prisons to help us understand what is fair in a criminal situation.

Another example are the social services. Most adults do believe in some form of social services, whether it is for child benefit, for the elderly, for the sick or the poor. Many of us will benefit from social services at least once in their lives. Considering fairness as the rule of equality, this hardly seems fair. How can it be fair if some (the poor) get money for free whereas others (the not-so poor) have to work very hard to earn their wages? So what does guide our thoughts when the rule of equality does not apply? The influential theory of Kohlberg’s moral stages of development might help us understand.

Kohlberg’s moral stages of development
Kohlberg said that children when they grow up move through different stages of moral development. These stages are tied up with the concept of fairness, or perhaps we should say ‘justice’, even before the theory of mind is fully developed. Kohlberg defined six stages, and believed that most people would move through the first four stages during childhood. However, the fifth and sixth stage would not be reached by everyone and Kohlberg himself never found enough people who had reached the sixth stage to prove this stage was actually real.

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© Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

  1. Preconventional morality: during this stage, children let their ideas of right and wrong (and fair and unfair) be decided by the punishments or rewards it produces. Taking everything must be unfair, because it produces punishment. Sharing equally is often rewarded in young children, so must be right.
  2. Individualism and exchange: children in this stage may have already developed (parts of a) theory of mind, and know other people have other perspectives. However, self interest is still a strong guide in their reasoning about morality. The four year old who thought giving away his third train was unfair because then he only had two might have found himself in this stage.
  3. Good interpersonal relationships: children usually enter this stage when they are also entering their teenage years. Relationships become more important and this is what guides thinking about fairness and justice. Somethingunlawful might still be seen as fair when the intentions were good, such as in Kohlberg’s own example; stealing medicine might be seen as fair when they are stolen with the intention to save another’s life.
  4. Maintaining the social order: in this stage, people become concerned about society and maintaining social order. We should uphold the law and use democratic principles to change things that are ‘wrong’ in the law, because this is how we all agreed to do things so doing it this way is fair and just.
  5.  Social contract and individual rights: this stage continues upon the previous, but now people start to look at the wider picture. Sometimes laws and individual rights may be conflicting; which perspective should we take now? People at this stage invented social services and welfare, and are the ones to believe in it and uphold it, whereas people in stage 4 merely feel that social services are ‘fair’ because they are part of our social order which should be upheld.
  6. Universal principles: Kohlberg believed in a sixth stage in which people are guided by universal principles in their moral reasoning and their beliefs about fairness and justice. However, he could not find enough people who had actually reached this stage to further define and prove the existence of this stage.

What is fair?
By now we have seen that at least two influential developmental theories seem to play a role in the development of the concept of fairness. No wonder that we at times cannot comprehend children’s beliefs that ‘it is not fair!’, or even other adult’s. So the question remains; what is fair? It could be something different to all of us. I think it is important to keep this in mind in your communication with others, children especially. They are not lying when they say something is not fair, or looking for attention, they really believe so. Perhaps a little bit of extra explanation and support can help them overcome this feeling and help them learn to take another perspective.

This post was originally published on my old website on Sep 2nd, 2013.

For more reading about Kohlberg’s stages of Moral Development, here’s an interesting chapter!

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