Parents are not only buffers but lifelines for their children.
Working with expats from all over the world, I see this day after day. Parents uproot their families, drop them off in a new environment, and the parents are the only ‘lifeline’ the child has to their pasts. These are the kids that so often end up in my office. They are looking for an anchor to the new school. I am a minor form of the lifeline they had to give up. These kids can be so hard on the classroom teacher since academics is not the issue. They are the kids in need of just a little bit more TLC and time. This is why counselors are so important in the school setting.
When can the child throw away their lifeline?
There is no magic number on when a child will feel safe or connected again. Often I have this ‘ little soul’ joined to me at the hip as I continue with my regular workday. (as usual as possible when you have an additional person glued to you).
Then as if by magic, they start to breathe deeper, think about their new peers and other connections. They begin to give up some of their panic about being in a new environment. I am soon forgotten. I still get that occasional wave across the crowded playground or a quick high five as they run off to class. They have thrown their secondary lifeline away and are settled into their new school.
But parents are always a lifeline when it comes to learning life lessons.
When your child lies, it is a crisis for many families.
Many parents react first with “If I had not made him move, he would not be lying.” Some even jump to “Because we moved so much, he is feeling out of control, so he lies to control the situation.” I always tell them that a ‘move’ does not cause a normal childhood developmental issue. Lying is universal and normal development, the degree is what matters. I ask the expat parents to focus on their behavior, not the child’s behavior.
The parent’s behavior during a crisis shapes the resilience of their child for future battles in life. The most crucial challenge is this:
Helping children share lousy news early.
Most parents will remember the day when a child hid his math test paper in his bag. He just told you that the marks have yet not come and the teacher was absent. When you discovered his lie, I hope you didn’t just let it pass.
Ideally, I would have had a small chat and emphasized that whatever may happen with tests or life he should tell us early. Along with that, we addressed his fears which he had harbored in his mind. For me as far as kids are concerned, there is nothing like a “lie.” A “lie” is truth postponed, suspended, delayed or distorted, largely due to fear of the “explosive outbursts” at home.
This is why I started my comment with “Ideally, ” and I used ‘us.’ Kids need to know a family is a unit and a united front when it comes to lying.
Parents often say they are concerned when their child lies. I always tell them it is more than lying! I am sure some parents wish they had not brought their ‘small problem’ into my office because it isn’t a small problem.
The emotions behind a lie are ‘huge,’ and we owe it to our kids to help them understand why they made a choice to lie.
Helping kids share lousy news early is the essential trait they need to grow. This prevents the cascade of fear leading to sadness and depression.