J Simens.com

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?


Global Shipping: The Art of Letting Go with Treasure or Junk

Am I the only one that gets stressed with change?

As we fill up another twenty- foot container leaving Bangkok to go to our new home in Borneo my husband and I don’t see eye to eye. If you have not moved a lot this 20 foot container is an “in exact unit of cargo capacity – often in a metal box” that can easily be transferred between different modes of transportation. If our stuff would be going from Borneo to our home in Lake Tahoe, this container would work in the ship, the train and the truck.

I know all of my global friends will relate to this part of the move…your spouse picks up an item and casually says, “This is trash.” He doesn’t even look to see if you agree. He misses the panic in your eyes and the catch of your breath. This happened to us over a box of “Lego pieces”.

Picture 17
Simens_ Lego Land – Creative Moments and a Lifetime of Memories

I see them as treasured memories of a lifetime of fun. He sees them as things we have “outgrown”.

I am always open to change and willing to learn and even willing to let go. But Lego pieces? Come On!

What happens if our child becomes one of a handful of artists in the world who have been certified by Lego to create contemporary sculpture with its bricks?

I am amazed at Sean Kenney’s design shop. He works in Queens in a bright study with about 2 million Lego pieces. Sean quit his Park Avenue six-figure salary as a software designer to take up a new career. He calls his current career “a professional kid.” He is indeed an artist.

One thing Sean and I have in common is the concern of “shipping” our items. He is often worried that his sculpture might not make the international shipping well and the prospect of breakage can cause him anxiety. I always worry about items breaking in our moves. But I worry on two points.  I worry that my stuff will not survive the shipment and I WORRY that at some time all my stuff will show up at the same time in the same location.  I have been doing this for so many years, so many shipments with items going back into storage…if they all showed up at one time this would be a nightmare.

Back to Sean, he made a life-size polar bear for the Philadelphia Zoo; it has 95,000 bricks in it. Imagine that!

I think of it as I move our box of legos with 5,000 pieces in it.

Sean has also worked with Google, Marriott Hotels, JPMorgan Chase and the New York Yankees as well as private collections. In my mind he is an artist.

Perhaps my son or daughter are “artists” that just have not yet found their medium. Or someday I might have a grandchild that is a budding Lego Artist!


ps_ the Legos went into our shipment.

ps_I am about to cause a cultural miss – step.

I just got the call that said ” Raja made his flight to Jakarta.”  I said, “Well I am glad, I was concerned that he might be doing duty free shopping running up my visa bill or hanging out at the bar prior to boarding and he might have missed his flight.”  All I got was a quiet silence moment before ‘thank you’ and the dial tone. Was this not funny? Perhaps I am much more funny to myself when I am stressed with moving than I am actually funny!  But I thought…I paid you…you took my dog, I would expect him to be on the flight as we had planned. If he didn’t make the flight…what did you do wrong?


Momma brought me up to think I could do anything

Well she was wrong!

As I grow older and I become more aware of all the things people do in the world, I have to admit my mother was wrong.  There are a number of things I could never do.  I am OK with this. But I do wonder if we are not being honest with our own children.

As I watched the London Paralympics it became clear I would have never been able to do a job like Josh Karanja or James Boit .  Josh and James are guides for the visually impaired 1,500 meter run.  James helped runner Samwel Kimani of Kenya win the gold in a world-record time of 3:35:37. Josh helped the runner Jason Dunkerley win bronze for running the 1,500-metre race in a time of 4 minutes 7.56 seconds.

When a parent says “Honey, you can do anything you set your mind to” they need to add “With enough perseverance you could master the skills you need to be successful.”  Are we being to easy on this generation?  As a parent, do you let your child quit when things get a little hard?

Think about homework – Do you step in and help your child?  

Are you teaching helplessness or perseverance?

janae baby
Here is another great photo added to the simens project – Building emotional awareness around the world
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A Walk Down History Lane: Your Childhood Games

Picture 17

We all have our favorite games from childhood, which we enjoyed for hours with friends and family. Those games offered unique combinations of strategy, entertainment and originality. And, as a result, many have remained around for decades.

I grew up on Monopoly.

Monopoly is an American board game published by Parker Brothers. Hasbro even conducts a worldwide Monopoly tournament. The first Monopoly World Championships took place in Grossinger’s Resort in New York, in November 1973. It has been aired in the United States by ESPN.

The Wright Family ( my maiden name)  each summer conducted a worldwide Monopoly tournament. We all got together in the upstairs bedroom and started to play a long marathon of Monopoly playing. I was often the youngest member playing the the game. I often lost! My bothers, sisters and cousins were much better with banking and investments than I was.

Being an expat, I am pleased to see Monopoly is a world-wide game. The current world champions have come from the following countries:  United States, Ireland, Singapore, Italy, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Netherland, Hong Kong, Japan, Spain and Norway. This means children must play Monopoly around the world

The memories I have about Monopoly in Russell Springs Kansas on a hot summer night are special. We did not always do as the game rules suggested.

For example:

Setup time – 10 minutes

This would take my older brothers and sisters the average time but for me the youngest. I swear they were always telling me to hurry up!

Playing time – 240 minutes (3 to 4 hours) [average]  But…But…we had games that went late into the night and everyone took their money to bed with them and we resumed playing the following morning. I guess we trusted our hotels and playing pieces to remain where they needed to be, but cash, well cash is cash!

Skill(s) required Negotiation, Resource management –  Huh?  I thought it was the skill of sticking to a task and not giving up. Perseverance!

Yet toy makers just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to updating the classics. They insist on adding electronic features that take away all the joy (and education) from playing the game.

Does Monopoly really need credit cards and an electronic bank?

Is a Magic 8 Ball more fun if the answers are shouted out by a TV character? What about a dice game that doesn’t have dice? My list of good toys being turned into non-thinking actions can go on and on.  Stop the madness – buy the classic games and toys and let your child learn. The most important thing to remember is that kids need to play board games to learn to take turns, negotiation skills and being honest.  Are your kids experts in these areas?

Notes:  Yes, I was considered Ms. Wright for almost 30 years~

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