Tag Archives: children

Transitions: Developing Emotional Resilience

Julia Simens - this week's guest blogger

This is a guest blog by Julia Simens, educational psychologist and author of the book ‘Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child’, contributing author to The Gratitude Project: Celebrating Moms and Motherhood.  For more information about Julia and to read her blog and related articles, go to www.jsimens.com .

The rapidly-approaching summer months will be bringing transitions to many of you: We get transferred, friends change or move; a love one dies, leaves or gets in trouble; a child changes year levels or activities. The list, unfortunately, is endless. 

I have been lucky enough to thrive on change and in fact seek it out. Two children, four continents, seven new offices, seven international moves and ten more places on my ‘to do list’ has given me a unique perspective on what all these transitions do to the family. When unexpected events turn life upside down, it’s the degree to which our resiliency comes into play that makes these ‘make-or-break’ situations an opportunity for growth. The good news: each of us has the capacity to reorganize our life after a change and to achieve new levels of strength and meaningfulness. Though it’s easy to feel vulnerable in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, life disruptions are not necessary a bad thing because they help us grow and meet future challenges in our lives.

So how can you become more resilient?  Here is a look at four key characteristics of people who demonstrate resilience during life’s transitions.

1.    Positive trust

Resilient people rely on their belief in the basic goodness of the world and trust things will turn out all right in the end.

2.    Interpreting experience in an ‘open’ way

The ability to look at a situation in a new way (a skill called reframing) can minimize the impact of a new situation. Resilient people don’t always use an old definition for a new challenge they are creative.

3.    A meaningful system of support

One of the best ways to endure a transition is to have the support of another person who can listen and validate our feelings. It is important to choose people you trust. Don’t be surprised if it takes several friends, each of whom provides different kinds of support.

4.    Have a voice

Resilient people know that ultimately their survival and the integrity of their lives depend on their ability to take action rather than remain passive. Giving voice to your thoughts and feelings leads to insight and helps transform the meaning of a stressful situation into something useful.

Whether you are staying or leaving, these next few weeks you will be saying goodbye – to someone. The first step in this process is to celebrate with the ones that have been a part of your life and start the closure process. Major transitions are a ‘gotcha’ we all experience at one time or another in our lives.  Some transitions are easy to see and know but there are many hidden ones also. Be sure to let your friends know if you are dealing with a  ‘gotcha’ transition.

Preparing your child for the transition

*Julia, being American, often uses ‘gotcha’. This is a very informal way to say “I’ve got you” and it usually refers to an unexpected capture or discovery. It is a common term expressing satisfaction at having captured or defeated someone or uncovered their faults.
 
 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Relocation: Convincing the Family

Photo by Arving Balaraman
Photo credit: Arvind Balaraman

After two weeks of secretive discussions and hidden asides to friends, I finally decided to broach the subject with my 8 year old.

‘Darling, how would you feel about going back to live in Geneva?’  Silence.  And then a determined, ‘No way!’
 
Over the following days, I gently approached the subject from many angles, not wishing to cause panic, not wishing to insist too much (especially before we had definitely made up our minds).  And each time the reaction got more and more dramatic, the tearful conclusion being: ‘You can go there with Daddy and my brother if you like, I’ll stay here all by myself!’
 
And it wasn’t just the children.  Grandparents, other relatives and friends, all had opinions and advice, and many of them were very sceptical of the move.  All of this can be  hard to bear when you are yourself in two minds about it.
 
Convincing others when you are not sure yourself whether you are doing the right thing…  what a challenge!  And yet, especially with children, you need to be strong and keep your doubts to yourself.  Not in the sense of painting an unrealistic picture or emphasising only the positives.  Here is what Oana, now 13, had to say about her parents’ claims when they first moved abroad when she was 9. 
 
‘They told me I would make friends really quickly, expected me to pick up the language immediately, said I would love the new house and new places.  But it took me months till I dared to say my first words in German.  I felt everyone was laughing at me.  The teacher was not as patient with me as the one back home.  I was really, really unhappy and I felt lonely in the big new house.  Even now, I can’t say I have as many friends, or best friends, as I did back home.’
 
Here are some things that you need to consider when you are trying to persuade your children that relocating abroad is a good idea:
 
1. Timing.  At what point do you involve the rest of the family (beyond the spouse, I am assuming you are involving them right away) in the debate?  Experience suggests it is better to give them time to get used to the idea, but not too early, just in case you decide not to go.  Brian says he told his children they were moving to Bermuda and generated huge enthusiasm for the idea.  A month later, they discovered Child No. 3 was on the way and changed their minds.  The two older children never quite forgave No. 3 for his untimely appearance.
 
2. Do not oversell.  Acknowledge that there will be difficulties (for all!) when adapting to a new environment.  Of course, put as positive a spin as possible on things, but do not promise perfection or you are setting your kids up for huge disappointment (as in Oana’s case).
 
3. Drip feed.  This is how we won our sons over.  I drip fed bits of information, news, pictures etc. of life in Geneva.  I got them involved in choosing the village, the house, the school. I casually mentioned Skype and webcams and having their own email addresses so that they could stay in touch with their friends in the UK.  I may even have promised some trampolines in the garden or pets (negotiations are still in progress).
 
4. Build resilience.  In yourself and in your family.  Expect some difficult times ahead but do not let that fill you with fear.  Instead, find ways to overcome those obstacles and support each other as a family.  More details coming soon, as I hope to get the wonderful Julia Simens http://www.jsimens.com  to guest blog for me next time on improving emotional resilience.

Leave a comment

Filed under Globalization, Uncategorized

International divorce is on my mind

And no, it’s not me thinking about divorcing my poor husband (luckily, he doesn’t read my blogs).  Rather, it is a growing concern amongst my international friends, and is also a hotly debated topic on expat chat forums online.  What happens to couples from two different countries who are living in a third country (and who may have bilingual children with dual citizenship) when they decide to get a divorce?  I mean, getting divorced in a single country is complicated enough, but it becomes a logistical jungle when multiple legal systems, taxation systems, child custody arrangements and of course international sets of grandparents all get thrown into the mix!

I’ve got one set of friends who have divorced amicably and share custody of their child, but both of them are stuck in a foreign country that has nothing to do with them, because neither of them wants to relocate to the country of the other partner.  And, of course, neither wants to be at a distance from their child.

I have another friend who cannot find work in the UK at the moment, and struggles to support herself and her kids.  However, she cannot return to her country of origin (and her supportive family and far better career prospects) because her husband threatens to charge her with child abduction.

I know of another case where the couple had relocated to Australia before their divorce.  The husband has agreed to let the wife move back to the UK with the kids, but his own parents (in Germany) are very cross that they will have less opportunity to see their grandchildren, that they will forget to speak German and so they are considering legal action for joint custody.   Meanwhile, the mother is concerned that, because of the huge distance, the bond with their father will be severely damaged.

International law is a very tricky subject, and so is international financial advice, but I am thinking above all of the emotional costs to all involved.  And how quickly a delightful adventure abroad can turn into a nightmare.  I’m thinking of putting together a support group and advisory session for people going through such situations – or do you think people will avoid this like the plague because ‘it might be tempting fate’?

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

It takes a global village to raise a child

Traditional mountain village, Romania

Romanian village, from aboutromania.com

The title of today’s blog is a good example of globalism. The origin of the saying ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ is disputed – generally attributed to ‘Africa’ (as if a whole continent would have the same proverb), it has also been claimed as a Native American Indian proverb, and it was recently popularised by Hillary Clinton, as well as being the title of a book by Jane Cowen-Fletcher.  Regardless of its origin (which can probably be ascribed to more than one source), we can all understand its sentiments and wish we could recreate that village for our own children.

Certainly, when I was a child and spending the whole summer in my grandmother’s village in the Sub-Carpathians of Romania, my cousins and I roamed freely throughout the village.  Everyone knew us, ‘the daughter of the son of the wife of So-and-So’, and my Gran would get regular status updates of our whereabouts and activities, as good as anything that Yahoo or Facebook can offer nowadays.  All of this was detrimental to our fruit-stealing ventures in the church orchard, but it allowed us to fish and swim, climb and hike, taste honey fresh from the hives and dried prunes fresh from the ovens, while hearing fascinating gossip and stories of war-time bravery.

Those idyllic villages have gone.  Yet even as we move between the big cities of the world, we would like to build new, safe villages for our own children.  Except these villages will be ‘communities of the mind’ rather than have real physical presence.  What do I mean?  Well, imagine the following scenario.  Country A national (who is, however, a third culture kid and grew up in 3 different countries) meets Country B Dad in Britain – they marry, have children, live for a while in Countries C and D.  Then come back to Britain, perhaps with the grandparents coming over to help out with childcare for extended periods of time…  What parenting advice, style, values are that family going to adopt?  Can they create a ‘best practices village’ scenario, choosing the most promising approaches from each culture and what really resonates with them personally? 

So what is it to be?  A village replete with a rich variety of rituals, colourful people, diverse stories, curiosity and transparency?  Or will those poor children be confused and overwhelmed by the conflicting attitudes and pressures?  When is choice too much choice?  And when do we start building walls around our village in an effort to protect it?

Leave a comment

Filed under Globalization

Enjoying the holidays

Confession time: for the first time in a long while, I was actually sorry to see my children go back to school this morning.  Although my clients, collaborators and other work-related partners will be relieved to see me head back for my computer, coaching sessions and training courses.  Not to mention the relief of my bank account after an income-less week!

Yet I actually enjoyed this half-term holiday, achieved a good combination of external and home-based activities, barely screamed at the children and just relished their remarkably well-behaved, helpful and amusing company.  So what was different?  I suppose the answer was ‘my attitude’.  Instead of looking upon the holidays as a nuisance interruption of my work and forever being with one eye on my Inbox, I deliberately chose to keep my laptop switched off.  I threw myself wholeheartedly into playing, laughing, chatting and doing silly things with the children.  The result?  I felt like I had swallowed some Wonka-Vite pills and turned twenty years younger.

I don’t think the comparison is entirely forced if I say that I felt I had fully embraced their culture and their world, instead of judging them from my grown-up perspective and culture.  I had entered their perception of time (i.e. we have all the time in the world), their concept of value and status (i.e. you may play tennis better, but I have superpowers).   It wasn’t an entirely one-way process either.  We played lots of board games and by winning some and losing some, by crying some and laughing some, we all learnt to cope and move on.  I like to believe that some of my grown-up messages were thus reinforced.

I don’t think that this ‘total immersion’ thing is possible or even desirable all the time, but, while it lasted, it refreshed us all, created even stronger bonds and mutual understanding.  Now, let me think of a way or replicating this in cross-cultural coaching and training…

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Two Cultures: Male and Female?

Last night we had a rare Mums’ Night Out and one of the topics of conversation was (inevitably) our children and whether it was easier to have boys or girls.  I think that we came to the conclusion that both sexes had their fair share of joys and challenges, but we also ranted a bit about the gender stereotypes that we felt children were being forced to fit into, even from an early age.

By concidence, at the British Psychological Society’s annual student conference today, one research paper shows that even 9- month-old babies choose gender-specific toys.  

Researchers at City University, London found that, when presented with seven different toys, boys as young as 9 months old went for the car, digger and soccer ball, while ignoring the teddy bears, doll and cooking set.

And the girls? Hmmm, let me see if you can guess… At the same age, they were most interested in the doll, teddy bear and miniature pot, spoon and plastic vegetables.

Well, from personal experience, that was not true, as my older son adored dolls and teddy bears, while my younger devoured imitation food and pans.  But of course, what am I, a single exceptional example, in a sea of data that shows the opposite?

 However, it is also fair to add that from birth (and maybe even before that), parents and other carers respond differently to boys and girls, in words, gestures, behaviours, way of thinking.  These young creatures are like sponges, absorbing so much information in those first few months of life that it is difficult to determine exactly how much is innate and how much is learnt behaviour and preferences.

Lise Eliot’s recent book Pink Brain, Blue Brain:  How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps critically examines all of the scientific evidence to date and explains in very clear language how modest differences at birth between the brains of boys and girls are amplified by social factors and eventually  produce greater anatomical changes in the brain of mature women and men.  So then we arrive at the conclusion that ‘women are from Venus, men are from Mars’ – two different cultures, speaking different languages, with different values and meanings, never the twain shall meet.

Book Cover

Latest research on gender differences

What I loved about Eliot’s book is its optimistic assertion (which every parent wants to hear) that the brain is remarkably plastic and can remodel itself constantly based on its experiences.  In other words, we are not stuck with our gender roles, we can make boys more socially and linguistically gifted, we can make girls more analytical and spatially aware. 

The two cultures are not incompatible or unbridgeable.  The two cultures are not even two separate cultures unless we deliberately seek to make them so.  And, as with all national or minority cultures, as long as we are open, flexible, curious and eager to learn more, we will find ways to ensure fair and equitable treatment of all.

Have you found boys and girls to be very different from an early age?  Do you find yourself responding differently to boys and girls?  What can we do to ensure our children grow up with fewer gender stereotypes?

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What skiing teaches us about life

Just back from a skiing holiday in France and was philosophising about what lessons I have learnt from skiing, particularly skiing with children. 

Skiing (of sorts)

This was my first actual charter skiing holiday and my first time being cooped up with my children in a tiny apartment.  Yet we survived, even had fun and this is what skiing has brought back home to me.

1) It’s often better in retrospect than while you are actually doing it (especially on an icy day with wind, flakes and fog obscuring your view of the piste).

2) You feel like a hero once you have done it. No, I don’t mean the skiing, but the delayed flights, coach transfers, traffic jams, bundling children in and out of clothes, handling tears and tantrums and so on.

3) Children have a love/hate relationship with snow and slippery surfaces.

4) You stop caring about appearances and just want to keep safe and warm.

5) You can eat as much as you like because you feel you are getting more exercise than ever before in your life.

6) No. 5 is actually not quite true and you can put on weight on a skiing holiday.

7) You miss all the skiing events at the Olympics, because you feel like you are in the Olympics (and you are so cut off from the real world, anyway, you might as well be snowed up).

8) Then you get one beautiful day with perfect snow conditions and it’s just you swooshing down the piste in serene silence… and there you have it, complete and utter bliss and the meaning of life all in one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized