J Simens.com

Parenting wisdom – gained while traveling

my travels map

At times do you wish you’d just step in and “help a parent?”

I do.

What holds me back is the underlying thought that they might not appreciate my help, and I would make the situation worse.

Tantrum before the flight

As I hit the airport in Honolulu, I was eager to get to my gate and log on to the email so I could catch up on notes before my all-night flight back to the mainland. (I laugh- all night now is 6 hours in the dark when it used to be those all night flights from Asia, which were really long trips. Really. Long.)

At the gate area, there is a mother with her two-year-old who was having a tantrum. She was trying to reason with her daughter. The toddler was screeching and the mother was standing there mortified.  I wanted to tell her my words of wisdom from working with many young kids:

You have to get down to her level, face to face. Put your body between her and us the general public and say in a quiet but controlled voice, “Tell me what you need”. Then repeat this again and again if necessary.

Parents often cloud the issue by asking too many questions or talking too long themselves. A two-year-old needs to hear five or six words, no more. Kids often only understand 1/2 of what we say so we need to keep it short. I wish I had tried to help that Mom.

Parents often over-explain!

On another airplane trip, I overheard a dad explaining and explaining things to his kids. It sounds counterintuitive: doesn’t your child deserve an explanation about why you’re saying they can’t have another ice cream before the flight? I knew the explanations were going right over their heads and distract from the matter at hand. I wish I had explained to the Dad how he could phrase his conversation. I’d like to tell him this.

You must always phrase it in the positive. If you say “no you can’t have another ice cream before the flight” . . . the child hears “ice cream before the flight.” Always phrase it with the results you want, “We eat apples or popcorn before flights”. This will take the focus off the ice cream. With this positive phrase, your child gets a choice so she is more open to making a choice. This is much better than just “no” to ice cream.

When a parent says no, this does not give the child any power.  But giving them the choice of an apple or popcorn gives her some power.

Landing -
Landing – Hope all the troubles go away as soon as we hit the ground.

Once at an airport, I ran into a family that was over-compensating for a divorce.

Some parents ‘entitle’ children because of a divorce. The parents feel guilty. They try to spare the child of any ill feelings whatsoever. This is not a great combination on a flight especially if you are the one sharing a row with this family. Again a balanced life is vital.  Balanced means highs and lows, it means feeling happy and sad. Parents can’t give a child a one-sided life because it robs them of being able to thrive and have resilience. All kids need to have the ability to bounce back.  As parents, we need to let them feel the uncomfortableness of waiting on the tarmac as the plane waits for a new flight plan. Parents don’t have to spend all their energy to entertain the child while the aircraft is still on the ground. As parents, we need to let the child feel all these emotions when they are young so they build up the skills they need.

Note to Parents:

You are the guardians for your children’s innate emotional well-being.

I always describe the feeling parents and teachers have about wanting the best for their children as “passionate”. If we wish to build on the emotional feelings of love we have for our children, we need to think of how we want them to live most successfully the rest of their lives.

Survived the first week of school! Yeah!

Making friends is not easy for some kids that move around the world.

oreo world
Let’s look at things from their point of view

Let’s look at things from their point of view… Barely a week after flying halfway around the world, from home to this “new” location, the child knows just three people in his new country – his mom, his dad, and his sister – and then throw in the fact he only speaks a little of the local language. Survival is a sign of resiliency.

This summer I was aware of some facts about resiliency in the expats in Canada. Kate Hammer, an educational reporter stated, “Nearly five million elementary and secondary students who start school this year, one of 500,000 who are foreign-born, and one of the thousands who will be in a Canadian classroom for the first time outperform their native-born peers.”

I feel this is because expat children learn to be resilient. Despite the challenges they face – cultural, linguistic and emotionally- they survive.

Canada is lucky to have such talented children. Stats from the United States and the United Kingdom do not show that immigrants into these countries outscore their native peers. According to Statistics Canada, about 10% of Canadian students were born elsewhere. In major areas like Toronto, that proportion grows to as high as 25 % (including university).

If your child is having trouble in their new location try this tip. It works!

Remind them of the successes they have had in the past. Remember to focus on their strengths.

“Remember how much you loved basketball games and you always had friends who also love them.”

“Last year, you loved science maybe you will find someone here that loves science.”

Often parents say these words “Don’t worry – you will make friends.”

This does not help the child because it is not based in fact of what he/she knows.

In order to instill confidence in a child, they need to be able to remember their past success and how they managed to thrive.  Telling a child to “not worry” or to “give it time” – is not helpful. Give them concrete examples of their past success.

Many expat children learn to be resilient. What challenges did your child face – cultural, linguistic and emotionally- as they moved around the world?

Starting a new school – Tips for success

Are you excited or nervous?

Many families are heading off to different countries to start a new school year. Are you excited or nervous?

 See the new environment

Families often do not see their new school until the start of the school year. I always suggest to my parents who are moving to call the school and ask them if you can bring the children in to see their new environment. This often takes some anxiety off the first day of school, but it also allows you the opportunity to ‘run into’ other new families or those families that are involved with the school. These are both valuable resources. You can ask them, “Where do kids this age play or hangout?” as you point to your children. You ask them, “What are you finding to do while your family is still in the rental apartment? Sometimes this on-site visit gives your child the opportunity to see what other kids are wearing, so they don’t get stunned on that first day of school. This can be very important if the school does not have a uniform. Most kids just want to belong and not stick out too much.

Get a local resource person

Use the school secretary as a resource. Ask the school staff, “Where is the best playground around here?” – “What activities do kids in this school get involved in?” I have had students take a weekend class on pottery to find out that a child in that class would also be in their grade or classroom in a few days. Make sure your child understands how many sections or classrooms there will be with kids their age. When a child moves from a huge school to a small school, it is important for them to realize how important first impressions might be because there is a smaller pool of possible friends. This also is important if your child is going from a tiny school to a larger school. Often the first days of school have grade-level assemblies or school assemblies; your child needs to know if these will be in a group of 40+ or 400+. The more information a child has on their new environment, the more in control they might feel.

Proper use of “Family Time.”

Use family time as “out of home time” not “bonding in your home environment.” The more exposure your child has to get around the new town, eating at the local places close to school and knowing the names of the large streets or apartment buildings gives them more to talk about the first two days of classes when friendships are being formed. Often we are stuck in a service apartment while waiting for the shipment to clear customs. This means we have very little to do and can easily get on each other’s nerves. Take that energy and go out to explore the new environment.

#1 Rule for Success

My number one rule for all parents is – Do not show up late to the start of the school year. Friendships form so quickly that a kid that misses out on the teacher trying to make class connections with peers, he/she will suffer. This also means do not show up to school with an overly tired child. Getting off a plane on Sunday to start school on Monday can set up a child for social failure.

Research findings on dads: Is this the real message we want to send to our children?

Real kids and real dads spending time together…the message being sent is, I love you. I enjoy time with you. I care.


I often talk about the messages that children’s book send to kids.

I work with five-year-olds but the message we are sending them, and have been sending them forever is really awful. We all know about the turtle and the hare. Kids are given a choice between being the talent but erratic hare and the plodding but steady tortoise. Nobody really wants to be the tortoise! We all just want to be a less foolish hare. This book tries to put forward the power of effort but it gives the effort a bad name. It reinforces the image that effort is for plodders and suggests that in rare instances when talented people drop the ball, the plodder can sneak through.


Comments off

Best Friends vs. Summer Friends – What Works Best for the Expat Child

hello goodbyeExpats . . . We hit the airport. We travel long distances to get back to “home” and we continually think about our kid’s friends. Do they need more? Do they need different ones?

Some expats pack up and move during the summer so they can get ready for a new location, a new school, and a new life. That summer means new friends. Due to the movement in International Schools, this means at some point; this child will seem friendless or so sad when their ‘best friend’ moves on. It might be your child that is left behind. Summer time can be hard on kids in transition. They might already be worrying about what is going to happen when they go back to school, and their best friend is gone.


School Friends

Each child needs to feel connected and involved with other children. This is often through a common interest, gymnastics, after school activities, sleepovers, etc. This does not mean that during the school day that they need to be only connected to their best friend. In fact, parents and teachers will ask them to find other friends or to branch out their social connections.

It is important for a child to have a connection or a best buddy to help them through transition times. It is nice to see a familiar face when you have the first day of school. Or it is nice to be with a few friends when you move from elementary school to middle school. There are times that a connection is a critical part of a child’s life. These connections are often missing in the expat child’s life due to frequently moves.

But We Can Have Problems with Friends

The biggest pitfall is when your child’s  friend limits your child from making new friends.  Or does not let him/her make friends that might open their choices or focus on new things to do. It is hard for a child to form an interest in a new sport or new musical instrument if they never hear or see a peer involved in the activity. Kids learn by seeing others do it. If you have a reluctant reader do you just want them to be with other kids who love to play outside all the time or do you want them also to have a friend that loves to read and will get them into trying new books.

Understanding Relationships

I feel it is important for children to have close connections to their family as well as friends. To shape these vital close relationships, you need to understand the way healthy relationships develop. I have a master’s in clinical psychology and work with a focus on family therapy with our international population. I often educate parents on ‘Neufeld Six Stages of Attachment ‘.

1. The most primitive and primary stage of attachment is PROXIMITY. Through touch, contact, and closeness, the infant begins attaching to his or her parents.

2. Secondly, toddlers seek SAMENESS with their parents, mimicking their mannerisms or dress, and looking for ways to be the same as their parents.

3. The third stage is BELONGING or LOYALTY. Often three-year-olds will be very possessive and say “my mommy or my daddy.”

4. Four-year-olds seek reassurance of the strength of their attachment to parents by wanting evidence of their SIGNIFICANCE. This is the fourth stage.

5. The fifth stage develops around the age of five when we see the beginnings of genuine LOVE as attachment goes deeper and deeper.

6. And finally, the sixth stage. From age six onward, if the attachment roots have gone deeply enough, we have a child who allows him or herself to venture out into BEING KNOWN.

This creates the foundation for virtually every relationship your child will ever have, beginning with parents, and later with siblings, friends, and intimate partners. This attachment is the cornerstone of parenting. It can help with keeping your child on track academically, managing challenging behavior, and maintaining the all-important role of being the one they turn to for advice and support.

But Sadly – 

Parents often put more of a focus on their child’s friends than they do on their own parent/child connection. They take it for granted that because they are the parent this parent/child connection will be strong and secure.

goodbyeI feel that a child to child friendship is vital, but they are also very ‘natural.’ If children are given some freedom with the day, they will find friends and enjoy doing things together.

If a child has too much structure and no free time, finding and keeping friends becomes the job of the parents, and it tends not to be natural and therefore not a very strong connection for the children.

Summer Friends

This is the time that kids can foster fun friendships and learn how a relationship webs and flows. It is important that parents allow down time, free time and fun time for their kids during the summer. Let them seek out older friends or younger friends. Let them play. Let them make a great connection. Even if you know, it is just a summer thing. Each and every friendship we make and let go of helps us as global people to grow.



Photo – #1 Quotes About New Love Interest Quotes – Quotes Likewww.quoteslike.com500 × 692

#2 Chameleon Kids


Comments off

Thailand: A weekend of awe

world heartOut of the vault –

Showing Awe

I had the pleasure of seeing two different events this weekend where a young child felt or showed an overwhelming feeling of reverence or awe. One event was beautiful, and one was a simple everyday event.

As the breeze came off the ocean, a small little girl grabbed a towel and snuggled down into a beach chair. Suddenly the sky overhead burst into bright colors and beautiful showers of fireworks. She said, “Oh, Ahh” and her chin dropped leaving her mouth speechless. We all enjoyed the fireworks for the King of Thailand’s birthday. Her father explained what was going on in Thai and she pressed her palms together near her chest and completed the wai. The wai is a unique, graceful action practiced throughout Thailand. It plays an essential part in showing respect and is central to Thai etiquette.

Being American, I have had many opportunities to experience fireworks and at times have felt awesome feelings of respect for what they were being shown as part of a celebration. Events such as the ‘Tahoe Blue Fireworks Festival” at Incline Village, NV the summer after 911 or the fireworks over Cape Town, South Africa to celebrate Nelson Mandela presidential win after serving 27 years in prison on Robben Island. It was hard to find words to show my appreciation and respect.

This little one said it best. Sometimes being speechless is a perfect choice.

Earlier in the day, I ran into a small boy who had the same sort of wonderment over an escalator. He was either running across the hotel lobby to get to the stairs or weaving wildly from the top landing of the stairs to us below. My favorite moment was when he stopped directly under the sign that stated that children had to be attended. We certainly had our attention on him, but I don’t think that was what the ‘attended’  sign meant.

Teaching emotions

Children love escalators so you can easily use them to explain how emotions can vary in intensity and change.  All children can work on building their emotional vocabulary. I set up the story with these examples:

Do you ever go on those moving stairs in a big building? We are going to look at these six emotions and see how they work with each other. Let’s make this our “ground floor.” You are on the ground floor.  Here are six emotions that are in ABC order. Let’s put them on the emotion escalator.

The child receives these words on individual index cards, anxiety, comfort, confident, discomfort, hope, and worry. I read each word as I hand it to him.

“Make them into two piles. You will have one group that is going down the escalator. Things you worry about or things that bother you.”

I use the exact word “worry,” so this can guide your child since this is the first time he has been introduced to the emotion escalator. Watch him shuffle the cards and answer any questions he has about the words.  Work together to show how on the ground level you can choose to go up to comfort or move down to discomfort.

Going down you find after discomfort comes worry and then anxiety.  When you are back on the ground level, you can head up to comfort again, and then you can get to hope and move on up to confident. Use words that imply you have a choice in which way you move and to take ownership of your own emotions.  Children love to move the index cards around. Some children even take small dolls to travel up and down the emotion escalator. One child colored the lower levels red and the upper levels green.  She made a colorful flower garden on the ground level and a rainbow on the top floor. She got this example and personalized it.

How do you learn?

When I talk about their “learning” in class, I use five emotion cards: boredom, curiosity, fascination, indifference, and interest. It is important to highlight to your child that when she is feeling indifferent during a school lesson that she has to be very careful to not slip down into boredom because this means she is switched off learning. I had a young girl yell out across the crowded playground, “Ms. Julia, I was indifferent, but I didn’t go to boredom.”   She was a very proud five-year-old that was struggling to learn her ‘home language’.  She had mastered English but was behind in her home language and found these classes hard to stay focused in.

When working in a school, learning is always an important focus.  I have kids think about how frustration then confusion and on up to puzzlement puts us on the ground level of our building.  When we go upstairs, we get insightful on up to enlightened and then the top floor is euphoric. These are hard words for many children but using the emotion escalator, they really understand them and enjoy learning new ways to express how they are feeling. I encourage them at confusion to talk to their teacher, so they don’t go down to frustration. This is their choice, to get help or get stuck in the basement.

Awe can be a hard emotion to explain. Start with terror at the lowest level. Move up to dread. Then travel up to apprehension. You are on the ground floor.  Now move up to calm, then up to enchanted. The next level up is enthralled. The top floor is awe.

My weekend was full of young children who experienced enchantment. They were enthralled.  Their faces were full of awe.

Being five is great!

Comments off

What you need to know about the FIGT board. Upcoming #FIGT2019 Conference

Each person on the board dedicates their time and effort to bring together people around the world to share in the joy of ‘global nomads’. The Board of Directors provides the leadership for FIGT. These individuals are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of internationally relocating families. Directors are elected at annual meetings for a term of two years.

FIGT committment:

Families in Global Transition is a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them. We promote cross-sector connections for sharing research and developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world.

David C. Pollock Scholarship

The David C. Pollock Scholarship Fund pays tribute to international educator, sociologist and co-author of Third Culture Kids, David C. Pollock. His tireless support, vision and dedication to families in global transition impacted countless people in every corner of the globe. Building on Pollock’s legacy, FIGT aims to attract, involve and educate emerging, global-minded, intercultural leaders.

The David C. Pollock Scholarship provides highly motivated individuals working or studying in the intercultural field the opportunity to attend the FIGT conference. The ideal Scholarship applicant will demonstrate how attending the FIGT conference will help jumpstart a project, profession and/or entrepreneurial endeavor that contributes to others in global transition. Each Scholarship recipient will have the opportunity to establish life-long professional connections and contribute his or her unique gifts to FIGT during and beyond the conference.


The FIGT Conference, often referred to as the grassroots “think tank” for families relocating globally, offers leading edge methods, research and cross-sector collaboration. It is the only conference in the world where representatives of the corporate, diplomatic, academic, military, mission, arts and entrepreneurial sectors gather to share their knowledge and skills. In an open and inquisitive environment, FIGT specifically addresses the developmental impact of international relocation on families and children, and the conference offers a fertile exchange of strategies toward realizing successful global transitions.

Put April 26-28 on your calendar!  See you at the NIST International School, Bangkok Thailand https://www.figt.org/2019_Conference

Comments off

Kansas Day Jan. 29 – Do you celebrate your roots?

Kansas Day Celebrations

Kansas Day commemorates the admission of the state as the 34th in the Union ( USA) on January 29, 1861. Schools have been marking the anniversary since 1877 by learning more about their state’s history.

The Simens family of four have been celebrating Kansas Day for many years – Why?  I spent the first 18 years of my life in northwest Kansas.  It is part of me.  I wanted to keep this part of my history in my life.  I have held Kansas day parties in American Samoa, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Honduras, as well as in California, Hawaii, and Texas. BUT, I have never held a Kansas Day party in Kansas.

Words of Wisdom

Global families often wonder what holidays to celebrate. They wonder what should be important for their children to have memories of or what events they should celebrate. Selecting holidays is never an easy decision especially in our cross-cultural families or for our families that have lived in a variety of locations.  Whatever you choose to celebrate – make it a ritual.   Celebrate that holiday every year no matter where you are or who you are with at that time.

This year – we will be doing a take on the pioneers who lived in Kansas. Several of our friends in Roatan will be meeting us on the pier for “Pie” and “Beers.”  Thanks to Heather a friend from college, who told about this type of celebration and it seemed perfect for my annual Kansas Day party on Roatan.

Here is one of my favorite stories about Kansas, God, and a pet. (Sounds like a great country western song.)

God was missing for six days. Eventually, Michael, the archangel found him, resting on the seventh day.

He inquired, “Where have you been?”

God smiled deeply and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, “Look, Michael. Look what I’ve made.”

Archangel Michael looked puzzled, and said, “What is it?”

“It’s a planet,” replied God, and I’ve put life on it. I’m going to call it Earth, and it’s going to be a place to test Balance.”

“Balance?” inquired Michael, “I’m still confused.”

God explained, pointing to different parts of Earth. “For example, part of Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth, while another part of Europe is going to be poor. Over here I’ve placed a continent of white people, and over there is a continent of darker people. Balance in all things.”

God continued pointing to different countries. “This one will be scorching hot, while this one will be cold and covered in ice.”

The Archangel, impressed by God’s work, then pointed to a land area and said, “What’s that one?”

“That’s Kansas, the most glorious place on earth. There are beautiful rolling hills and prairies, rivers and streams, lakes, forests, hills, and the plains.” Then God Said, “This is Kansas, the center of America.

The people of Kansas are going to be handsome, modest, intelligent, and humorous, and they are going to travel the world. They will be extremely sociable, hardworking, high achieving, carriers of peace, and producers of good things. They will care about animals and have pets.”

Michael gasped in wonder and admiration, but then asked, “But what about balance, God? You said there would be a balance.”

God smiled, “I did have to put a few idiots in other parts of the world.”


Global Identity

I always wonder how strong my own child’s sense of identity or “where they are from” will be since they have spent all of their lives in chunks of four or five years on different continents.  As my one child said, ” I am 4% Australian since I was born there and lived there for a while.  I am 25 % African since I have lived there a long time.  I am 25% American since I spend most of my summer holidays there. I am 45% Indonesian since I lived there so long. Of course, I am 1 % Thai since this is my home now.” He had decided to map his timeline by months so it would reflect the summer months he spent in the USA.

On another note, I wonder how he will introduce himself to peers in college? Or more importantly, will he be able to find that small of group friends that have grown up like him, a citizen of the world.



But seriously, You have got to love most titles of Country Western Songs!  Here are a few of my favorite:

Julia’s top 20 hits for any Kansas Day Party anywhere!

Please note these are not in any specific order, I just hit random and let the party begin!

1. Get Off the Table, Mabel (the $2 is for the Beer)

2. I Don’t Care if it Rains or Freezes, As Long as I Have My Plastic Jesus

3. I Just Can’t Get Over How You’ve Gotten Over Me

4. I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me

5. I’ve Got Tears in my Ears from Lyin’ on my Back in my Bed While I Cry Over You

6. She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy

7. You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’, Darlin’ – You Never Even Called Me By My Name

8. At the Gas Station of Love, I Got the Self-Service Pump

9. Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth ‘Cause I’m Kissing You Goodbye

10. It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long

11. Billy Broke My Heart at Walgreens, and I Cried All the Way to Sears

12. I Was Looking Back to See If You Were Looking Back to See If I Was Looking Back to See if You Were Looking Back at Me

13. Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well

14. Your Negligee Has Turned To a Flannel Nightgown

15. The Last Word In Lonesome Is “Me”

16. Walk Out Backwards Slowly, So I’ll Think You’re Walking In

17. And There was Grandma, Swingin’ on the Outhouse Door, Without a Shirt On

18. How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?

19. She Got The Ring, And I Got The Finger

20. They May Put Me In Prison, But They Can’t Stop My Face From Breaking Out

Comments off