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Three day weekend – Gaps between our values and our actions


unspoken wordsThe experiences in the early years of a child’s life profoundly impact them for the rest of their life. Having a close connection to a parent allows a child to reach their potential. Many parents let situation after situation happen in their family without using it to ‘grow’ a better relationship. Their actions do not fit their values.


How will you spend your three-day weekend?

Will your actions fit your values? Will you connect with your family or make a faulty connection? The types of faulty connections often continues in a family as the child ages. The strongest deterrent to high-risk teenage behavior is a strong emotional connection between your child and yourself. Healthy relationships create resilience to dangerous acting out behavior, but some parents can’t seem to understand how to connect with their teenager.

To forge that vital close connection to your child, you need to know the way healthy relationships develop. Attachment 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.

The most primitive and primary stage of attachment is proximity.

Through touch, contact, and closeness, the infant begins attaching to their parents. Research data supports the notion that young children feel most comfortable in an environment approximating that before birth. One dominant stimulus in the prenatal environment is the constant rhythmical beat of the mother’s heart. But often, as our children get older we forget the benefits that proximity gives to the role of parenting. The Parent- Child connection is greatly enhanced by gentle proximity.

Keys to proximity includes:

  • Sitting with your child on your left side – closer to your heart beat.
  • Sharing the warmth – is comforting for children but this is often neglected by parents as their child gets older.
  • Slight movements (stimulation) or rocking might be helpful.
  • Skin to skin contact – massage of shoulders or temples help with close connections.

Proximity must be built into the first stage of a secure connection. Parents often take the easy way out and talk to their child as they come into a room or even talk from one room across to another room. Some parents call out as soon as they get home from work and the child responds through a closed door, and yet, both parent and child feel this is communicating.

Imagine the power a regular intimate conversation would have on your child.

The number one overlooked situation for good parenting practices is being close enough to the child that they can hear your breathing, smell you and see that you are non-threatening. If you sit down or lie down side by side with your child, they can miss the ‘uncomfortable eye to eye territory” where a child might feel judged.

Placing yourself on an even playing field such as both sitting on the floor, or both lying on the carpet, where a parent is not taller or where the parent is not in the position of authority since they are so much bigger causes a child to relax and be more comfortable. If you can match your breathing to the rhythm of your child’s breathing, your child will feel safer. Being in this close area of proximity to each other usually keeps your voices at a more acceptable and comfortable level so more will be accomplished in understanding each other, compromising or negotiating what needs to happen. Children can be more honest when they don’t feel threatened.

Start with small steps!

If you do not have a relationship with your child, you will need to start in small steps, so it does not seem so demanding. Many families start developing a gentle proximity of four feet. Be in the same room, sit on the same couch but don’t press for conversations. A clear connection is usually not apparent until you’re within a few inches of each other but any starting place is better than giving up on the relationship.

Expat family with staff

A 4-year old view of his Expat family with staff drawn in pencil 

Many cultures raise their children in extended village families, where the babies are always ‘attached’ to someone, giving them security. This is not the case in many of our families. Some families even have caregivers who are interchangeable due to the family moving or the need for day care while a parent works. We owe it to our children to reconnect with them so we can make the most out of our relationships. Although the attachment relationship is universal, our parenting beliefs and practices do differ around the world.

Attachment methods are those responses that parents use to develop a deep and lasting connection with their child. There are an increasing number and diversity of these practices with all the movement of people around the world.

Attachment influences early brain development, which has an impact on a child’s lifelong abilities to regulate thinking, feelings and behavior. When you invite a child to be in your company, you’re promoting proximity. This most basic invitation to be near your child – whether it is a cuddle, playing a game or sharing a reading book together sends the message to your child that you want to be close and connected.

There is only one ideal way to work in close collaboration with your children – you have to get physically close to them. They need to hear you without you being too loud or demanding, so you need to lean in towards them and speak gently. Sometimes just sitting side by side without words can be very powerful. You need to be close enough that your child can feel your presence. This is a ‘comfort’ for many young children. It can also mean love for a teenager even if at times they appear not to want you close.

As a Parent – Rethink eye contact and pre-censoring

eye contactMany times it is important to avoid eye contact because our children are very good at reading our faces and our emotions. As, parents, you owe it to your children to give them honest verbal and nonverbal communication about your own feelings.

You also have to be careful that you do not pre-censor any activity or event that your child might enjoy or grow from with your facial responses when your child is telling you about them. In seconds, you can change how your child feels about an event, new toy, or new friend. This is particularly the case of anything that puts us out of our comfort zone or into our dislikes. In schools, a common concern is how a parent views his/her child’s new teacher. If the parent is not supportive or positive about the teacher, the child will quickly stop investing as much energy in learning.

Violence is closely associated with deprivation of close human physical contact either in infancy or adolescence, according to the neuropsychologist, James Prescott. Close proximity and contact define attachment behaviors in children.

Get close to your kids. The mixture of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory and other physiological sounds as well as movements have been found to have a calming effect on one person to another. All over the world, parents know that a combination of touch, movement, and speech calms an upset child. Research has proven that verbal empathy alone was ineffective as a soothing strategy, but if verbal empathy is combined with close physical contact, the soothing strategy is paramount in the emotional support a human feels.

Make the experiences in your child’s life impact them and have valid meaning for the rest of their life, get close!

Grangy Avery

In loving memory of one of the best Huggers in the world – My Grangy!  Edna Hawley Avery in Russell Springs, Kansas with my family. In this photo, Jackie is the oldest grand-daughter, followed by Jeff, then Jill and baby Julia.



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Learning from Failure with Marshmallows at Home and at School

As an expat family heading “home”, I am often asked what am I looking forward to this summer.  I wish I could come up with wise and wonderful words but often I just say what comes first to my mind.  Yesterday, I said, “I am looking forward to buying marshmallows.”   Yes, I will be excited to be back in the USA where I can buy marshmallows that have not already been melted by sitting on a dock somewhere waiting to be unloaded. I am excited that I can buy several different types and sizes of marshmellows.

From “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child”

smores cupcake

Family rituals create closeness

My family has a series of rituals that we love. Some are tied to holidays, birthdays, and special events but some are just around because of their longevity and fun. When your children are expatriates, often parents look for things that might connect their child to their “home”. Also many rituals can be based around food. We make S’mores. They are a favorite campsite treat for young and old. They are sticky and gooey, and loaded with sugar and carbohydrates.


We always spend our summers in Lake Tahoe so during this prime campfire time we enjoy our S’mores ritual. But, we don’t limit our consumption of S’mores to the campfire. We have them in fireplaces, the dashboards of hot cars, gas kitchen stoves, and microwaves.

Jackie is five-years-old. She tries to replicate our ritual all by herself. As the burning marshmallow smell fills our home, we are baffled. No one is cooking in the kitchen. We head out across the house looking for an explanation. I see Jackie sitting on the edge of her bed and notice a black lump of ash on her fingers.


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Min’s Move – The beginning of a TCK’s life

This story is for you to read to your child as you prepare together for moving to live in another country.

(Words I love to hear or see whenever I review a book) – Julia Simens, 2014

Min’s Book written with the help of four child psychologists is a great one for your family to get. There are several things I like about it. They really do try to make Min’s Move exciting and unscary (and lifelike).

Off to Hong Kong!

Off to Hong Kong!

Dr. Anandhi Narasimha, M.D. talks about how important transitional objects are such as a stuffed animal that can make a child feel happy and safe. This reminds me of the new book out by Valerie Besanceney, her book B at Home: Emma moves again” is all about a young child and her bear.

Dr. Hani Talebi, PHD. talks about having two or three smaller farewell get-togethers so it gives your children a more organic sense of closure and lets your child say, do and feel what he/she needs. This makes me think of the upcoming FIGT conference where we will get to hear Doug Ota  help us understand how to maintain our attachment system. He believes this is the key to surviving and thriving on the front lines of work in transitions. Doug Ota’s closing keynote will challenge us all to look at these most challenging of questions.

Dr. Shimi Kang, M.D. stated children should pack their own belongings and toys, as they will feel more in control of the moving process. Grant Simens at an early age realized how important this was for children. In his book, “Spirit of Saint Valentine: An Expat’s Tale of Love” his tips for moving for parents and children also lists this as important. Grant was in fifth grade when he wrote these wise words.

Dr. Lori Woodring, PHD. shares how important is to spend time learning about your new destination together… make it fun and age- appropriate…get a map and create a list of what they want to explore in their new neighborhood. You might want to also check out her book, “My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move’, based on her own family’s move between London and the United States.

Another thing I love about Min’s move – is the fact they are moving because Mom has a new job in Hong Kong. As more and more families we used to call a “traditional” family is changing. It is important for our literature to showcase all the different configurations of family as well as why people move around the world.  According to a new poll released from Internations (http://www.internations.org/expat-insider/2014/expat-types), there are generally ten different types of expats. I will be blogging about these ten types at jsimens.com in the near future.

Seen through the child’s eyes, important questions are raised in Minnie’s mind. How do you imagine smells and sounds you’ve never known before? I loved how as Min’s world expands. As her friends are playing cops and robbers, but due to Min’s move to Hong Kong, they have become dragons and pandas. Children are very resilient and often not given enough credit to how they handle the news they will be moving. Many parents I work with have at one time or another not shared with their children that a move would be happening. This shatters the child’s view that her/his parents are honest.

Minnie must have wonderful parents because she gets to have three different going away parties!  It seems this family really does embrace the importance of saying goodbye. It is also wonderful how the book explains to children that they might have a combination of feelings about their upcoming move. Minnie feels nervous and sad and excited and hopeful, all at the same time. I also liked how the two siblings in the story had to count on each other as they moved around the world. So often the expat family is the only support you have as you move. Those connections to your siblings as you move around are a secure foundation.

The illustrations in Min’s move were done by the team at MoveHub. They are bright and very colorful. It is nice how they engage the younger readers to seek out some of the illustrations while the book is being read to them. You can purchase Min’s Move at http://www.movehub.com/buy-mins-move

Review: Is your summer plan helping your child?

School Buses

School – Out for the Summer!

Many families put children into summer programs to “help” the child.  Sometimes you need to re-evaluate these programs. Are they doing what you want or need them to do?

Sometimes summer is better off spent in quality summer family time!

When I first started working with children, I would have said 99.9% of the time it is great to be five years old.  Now, I listen to kids…really listen to them.  It is just as hard to be five as it is to be fifteen.  Just different things matter but they still matter to the child.

Often a five year old will say his or her mind says one things but his or her mouth says another. This seems to be a common theme in teen years also. After working with some people, I have come to know it is also a common concern with adults often. How to teach a child to listen to their inner voice or mind, WAIT, and then let their mouth work is really hard work? You have to catch them in teachable moments so you can point out the skills they might want to have done instead of what they just did.

Research after research shows that this type of work is best done in small groups so each child can learn after each others comments, mistakes and successes. But it takes a very special person to do this group work.  They can’t preach. They can’t compare the kids in the group. They can’t expect their suggestions to be done the first time. They do have to be consistent. They do have to like each child in the group. They do have to have the patience to go over and over basic social skills.

Often parents put children into summer classes or situations hoping they will gain some ‘social skills’.

These classes seldom address what the child really needs. In fact, they often let the child try on more unsuccessful peer interactions and get away with more inappropriate behavior.

Children learn so much more with the interactions between themselves and their parents. This is when real learning starts to happen.

As a five year old told me…some fun things can be hard to do…and some hard things are actually fun!  Depends on the teacher!

Think about who is spending time with your child this summer – are they sending the right messages to your child?  If not, you need to step in and inform them that your expectations are higher and your child deserves more.

Don’t be passive when it comes to the role models in your child’s life.

Notes:  Photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/52462679@N06/5

Listen: Why Do Your Kids Tune You Out?

http://kidzedge.com/ Posted on June 9, 2013 by Victoria Marin 

By: Julia Simens

Can you hear me now? . . . Can you hear me now? . . .

Not all children listen to their parents



Parents often claim that their children tune them out or don’t listen to them. This is easy to understand. People tend to belong in groups in two ways: they will either belong through contribution or they will belong through misbehavior. Your family is a “group”.

Do your kids belong or misbehave?

This ‘tune out’ of parents appears to be a global concern!  Young children are egocentric so often if they do not choose the activity, they could care less. Parents need their children to get ready in the morning, but children could care less. Parents want children to pick up their toys, but children could care less. Parents want to know where their teen is going, but the teen could care less.


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Do words matter?

Screen Shot 2013 05 02 at 7 47 08 AM
Word Choice is Important

I believe that they do.

“Mom, I am so ugly.”

How do you respond?  Please tell me you are not one of those parents that say, “No honey, you are not ugly.”

Kids love to announce that they are not good at something. They usually do it just after they try something new and challenging, and they say it with finality, as if issuing a verdict. I’m not good at math! I’m not good at volleyball. They also like to throw out “I’m ugly” or “I’m fat”  or “I’m not macho”.

At that moment, your parental instinct is to fix the situation.


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Stop ‘disrespect’ in a classroom or at home

respect worldwide

I am often asked how to deal with a child that continues to be disrespectful in a classroom situation. Parents also use ‘disrespect’ when they share their concerns about home life.

Case study and the process

Joe (or Jill) this is not gender specific. It is about being clear about the borderline between respectful and disrespectful interactions.

Step One – decide if the lessons will only involve a few kids or the whole class  I like to use the “can you count them on one hand” policy.  Generally, if more than five students are at times disrespectful the lessons should be for the whole class. If the situation is at home, all members of the family should be present.  It sends the wrong message if you exclude the baby. Everyone deserves respect.


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I wish I could send my Father a Valentine’s Day Card

The videos I have are real kids and real dads…the message being sent is, I love you. I enjoy time with you. I care.

With Valentine’s Day approaching – I wish I could send my father a Valentine’s Day card.

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Gearold Wright’s HS Graduation

We often talk about the love a father has for their children, but what about all the children who do not get to send love back to their dad?

Expat Fathers do they get to spend enough time with their kids?