J Simens.com

Is Christmas a Mandatory Holiday at Your Home?


Santa hat on Globe

jsimens- helping families worldwide

The older people are, the more likely they are to celebrate Christmas as a mandatory holiday.

I used not to have to ‘think’ about how we would spend Christmas. I’d have a quick chat with the family, and we’d discuss several options, I’d book flights and off we would go.  Then years turned into where we had to coordinate two college schedules; a VISA or Kitas card extension (legal document to stay in a foreign country plus online VISAs for our travels) and an aging dog.

One year the Airlines must have loved me! One ticket had to be changed two times before December!  When I went on-line to recheck everything I would start to panic.  What had I forgotten? Entry Permit for Indonesia for both children – check upon arrival, Australia VISAs online and approved for our trip – check.  Multiple hotels and transits – check. Wine tours, Sydney Tour, New Year’s Eve plans – check. It was a great holiday taking the kids back to their birth country and well worth all the planning necessary.

This year will be much simpler. All of us are living in the USA, and everyone is planning on coming to Lake Tahoe to visit our home.  No extensive travels or international hassles until 2018.

Being an expat increases the likelihood that somewhere along the rental car line you will have a ‘concern.’

When we returned to Western Australia, I booked a nice van for my family to travel in. I was somewhat worried they won’t like my Indonesian License or Kevin’s Thai License, but at least we did have one child with a USA valid license, so I assumed this would not be a ‘concern.’

It is always so confusing for the rental car agent to deal with us.  We are living here, a credit card from there, insurance from a different place and licenses from other countries. In hindsight, this is when it might have been a good idea to have a “loyal” program so that the database would show you as being a consistent person.

Today I drive with a USA license, and it scares me that my photo will remain the same for another eight years.  I am sure I will not have aged at all in these upcoming eight years.

Being a parent increases the likelihood someone will put up a Christmas tree.

 Every year we try to have a Christmas tree put up where we are at Christmas. When we are home, it is easy. When we are in a hotel, it is not so easy. When we are on a beautiful tropical island, not easy at all. By now, my family is one that thinks outside the box.

Christmas in the Caribbean Sea

Here is a photo of our tree – one year on a tropical island. Grant made it.  Yes, sixteen red solo cups made our lovely little tree. It was just perfect on Christmas morning when we had our stockings casually draped on the floor waiting for the anticipation for the kids to get up and open their Santa stockings. We did this in the wee hours of the morning, but as the kids got older, we are just hoping it to happen before noon. Amazing how tired young adults can be after finals and a long semester.

As we all get older and the kids get older, the clutter of wrapping paper and the massive display of gift giving is getting smaller and smaller. We are not giving up consumerism totally, but we are all on the same page. We have a lot of beautiful things already in our life, so we just give the most precious gift of “time.” It is an excellent feeling.

We value time together, excellent food and exceptional sunsets.

My family has been lucky enough to spend Christmas in a variety of locations due to our jobs working abroad. Because we are a global family, traditions are necessary to keep. One tradition we have is the kids Christmas stockings being placed under our Christmas tree each Christmas Eve hoping Santa arrives. The stockings have a special meaning to our family since they were cross stitched and made by their Aunt Jennifer and  Aunt Jackie.

What is more important is the place where the kids hang the stockings – it must be under their Christmas tree. This is hard to do if you are not spending Christmas in your own home. Now that my kids are both adults, Santa has arrived in Australia, Borneo, The Cook Islands, Canary Islands, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Honduras, as well as multiple locations in the USA.

A look back at a special times

The one Christmas tree that makes us all still smile is the one my son made in the Cook Islands. He had been in the hotel lobby watching the hotel staff get all of their decorations set up for the holiday event. They showed him how to weave flowers into strips of leaves and drape them over the vast tree in the lobby. He then went out into their gardens and collected enough natural supplies to decorate the Christmas tree in our hotel room. There was only one small problem. We didn’t have a tree!

He took every pillow and cushion in our hotel suite and fashioned a pyramid in the corner of the room. He draped all the leaves and flowers over this pile of cushions and proudly announced that it was our “Christmas Tree!” He then went and got the stockings and put them at the base of the cushion tree. We all remember how it was the rest of that day and night waiting for Santa!

We had to watch TV as we were sitting on a brick hard couch without cushions. We tried to sit on the balcony to watch the ocean but found the rattan chairs without any cushions unbearable. The hardest thing was trying to get his older sister to go to bed without a pillow. My husband and I were able to pull our pillows off the “tree” for our bed after the kids went to sleep and before put them back before Santa arrived.

One year our creativity was not hard to do. We were staying at a beautiful B&B in Scarborough, Western Australia for Christmas Eve. I was hoping they would have a lovely tree up.  If not, we planned to find a small tree and tape it to our picnic basket as we head out to the beach.

This year, we have our Christmas tree permit in the Lake Tahoe Basin on our table, strings of lights on the floor and ornaments in various boxes. Now, all we need is a boy from Honolulu and a girl from Los Angeles to show up so they can go cut down the tree and drag it home.

We love our holiday rituals at Christmas.

Family reunions are important because they allow the family to create rituals that connect the generations. Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner, and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought.

I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and one fundamental way to do this is to have family reunions. Christmas is a great time to do this! We will be spending another tri-generational event this year.

 

 

Does Family Time during the Holidays turn into Drama?


Drama with Pancakes

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it.  Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are Emotionally Enriching. It is Never too Late to Start a Ritual.

Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals or ceremonies are presented in a non-controlling manner, and you manage your expectations, all family members will “get on board” much more readily than you thought. I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and sometimes the rituals begin with just one person, but if that person feels it is essential and keeps trying sooner or later, the event can become a routine that the whole family looks forward to attending.

Rituals are Good for Families.

  • They create a climate of support and security.
  • They can provide emotional healing.
  • They create a sense of family togetherness.
  • They create a structure of shared time.
  • They can develop a sense of shared joys and positive memories.
  • They can bring humor into the family.

Most children enjoy reminiscing about good times. Many family rituals are what make up our memories. Talking about the fun times that your kids had together in the past can be a great way to help them reconnect. Build these connections when they are young so everyone can stay connected through their teen years and when they go off to college. The family rituals and emotion stories of your family’s past will keep siblings connected because they are sharing a collective experience.

Good Memories Help Eclipse the Upsetting Ones.

It can be a smoothing experience for both parents and children to review past experiences (pictures, video, stories), sharing your emotions to past experiences. Many families seem to have gaps in their lives. Usually, this is because everyone got too busy to ‘recall’ the fun times while they were still a memory. Maybe your ritual will be for everyone in the family to record the ‘moment’ that was the most fun this past year. Then do the ‘moment’ that causes you to laugh the loudest this past year. Finally, do the ‘moment’ that made you feel the happiest with your family this year.

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.

One ritual we have is making your initials with the pancake batter. I make a killer “S” actually it is a “2” but when modified just a little and when flipped over – it is a perfect “S.”  Then I have to make “J” these are easy just a make a loose “L” and when it is flipped you get a perfect “J.”  I got lucky and only had to master making a “G” which I discovered is a backward “9”.  I am not sure if my kids thought my pancake initials were perfect but I do know that they loved the ‘drama’ in my breakfast making! So the Christmas I made snowmen pancakes, I was amazed how much easier it was. Three circles in various sizes connected just big enough that the cooking tool could still flip them. I breezed through the bowl of batter and wondered if we could now do special snowman birthday pancakes instead of the initial pancakes! My kids said “no.”

Our Christmas rituals are not what many of our extended family members think of when they think of Christmas.  Often we do a trigenerational Christmas on a warm tropical beach. We have loved Ko Samet, Ko Chang, Rarotonga, the Canary Islands, Roatan, and Aitutaki plus more tropical islands at Christmas. Our ritual is often sitting on the beach and watching the sunset on Christmas Eve then an excellent seafood meal.  Our kids have had to make Christmas trees in strange and far away places because we didn’t have a tree to put the packages under. One year a tree was made from the plumeria tree on the balcony. One year all of the pillows from the hotel room including the couch pillows made an awkward leaning tree by our young children.  One consistent thing that we have always carried around the world for our Christmas is the handmade Christmas stocking that my sisters made for my kids.

christmas stocking
Used from 1991-2017 Yearly

These precious Christmas stockings often find their ‘privileged’ position in my carry-ons as we go from one assignment to the next assignment. Somethings just can’t be put in a suitcase and somethings can never go by ‘slow boat’ to our new home. I am sure the TSA people wondered why I was carrying two Christmas stockings in my carry-on bag in August when we moved from Bangkok to Borneo one year.  It was to maintain one of our family rituals!

I think it will be hard for me to pass on these stockings to my children – I might want to keep them always.

Guineafowl is to Turkey as Family Traditions is to Resilience


Thanksgiving sprouts

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Why are these memories important? Are celebrations like Thanksgiving good for us?

I am often asked, “How can we identify risk factors for our children so that potential problems are minimized?”

My Top Three:

  1. Family is the key!
  2. Knowing your ’emotions’ is essential.
  3. Family memories and family traditions build strong kids.

Do emotions help us make more ethical decisions?

I believe they do. If the child cannot understand their own emotions or tune into the feelings of others in their family or with peers, this is a considerable risk. If the child is unable to make ethical decisions, they are a risk to themselves and a risk to society.

If the child does not have a sense of “family,”  this is a huge risk. The impact of a strong family identity and the connectedness factor is often long-lasting, giving messages to the child that they are loved and accepted and belong to a broader network of people who matter.

It is my perception that no child is immune from pressure in our current, fast-paced, stressed filled environment so families have to be aware that at any time in their life a child might need help and support. They need to cope better with everyday challenges and be able to bounce back from disappointments. The concept of resilience is straightforward if you think about kids needing to thrive emotionally, behaviorally, academically and interpersonally. Families need to use Thanksgiving as a time to connect.

This is one of our favorite Thanksgiving memories

I can handle the first insult (according to my culture) but the second one puts me over my comfort zone.

It is Thanksgiving.

And we invited the guests.

And it was early in the evening.

But remember – First, you move me 1,500 miles away from where I call home.

Second, you invite a whole table full of your co-workers.

Third, this sets up the magic to make this a Thanksgiving that is memorable.

At first, when my husband suggested that we invite his co-workers from China who have never had a traditional American Thanksgiving to our home, I was eager. I had visions of everyone sitting around smiling and enjoying the feast I had carefully constructed.

Sunflowers, Pie, and Friends – what more does an expat need?

I was up early; the house smelled fantastic with the mixture of butter, onions and sage and a host of other things ready to be stuffed in the turkey. Then I tackled the homemade pies. Growing up in Kansas and spending hour after hour in my grandma’s kitchen, I can make a “mean apple pie” and the ‘absolutely must have’ pumpkin pie. Of course, through in an berry pie to make eveyone happy. I stirred, stuffed and muffed around the kitchen all day.

At 5:00 pm our guests were expected to arrive. At 4:45 pm everyone came right on cue but early! This should have been my first hint that this might not be a typical Thanksgiving dinner.

For you see my new husband was the BOSS

Yes, I had forgotten to factor in that perhaps our guests that I thought were so eager to come to Thanksgiving was, in fact, doing a “work obligation” on their day off.

At the start of the event, everyone just mingled around, and I started to relax. We exchanged names and polite words while my husband was eagerly getting everyone a drink. Then our first cultural mishap occurred.

The Chinese spokesman cleared his throat and said, “Mr. Simens, Thank you so much for having all of us here to celebrate with you and your fat wife.”

My husband looked awkwardly at me but his “deer in the headlight look” told me he was apprehensive of my reaction, wanted to wait, and intervene if he needed to.

As you know, I am well aware of cultural nuances, so I tipped my head and smiled. Pardon the pun, but I knew I was a big enough person to take this comment as a praise in China – a compliment and not an American putdown.

As we all settled down to the large dining room table, they asked me to explain each dish and tell them a little about them. This was more like the event I had in my mind, as a teacher sharing the joys and education of Thanksgiving.

Once a teacher always a teacher

I talked about the importance of corn bread, from the American natives “Indians” such as the Cherokee or the Chickasaw and the original recipes they had for these corn dishes. I explained how cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs that produce vines up to 2 meters or (7 ft) long. The fruit is a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially white but turns a deep red when fully ripe. Then I explained why we have both sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. I saved the best for last – the huge turkey. Then the observation that made the first “fat” remark seem tame happened.

“Mr. Simens, Wow, your turkey is as fat as your wife.”

“Let’s eat,” my husband said, trying to avoid any more discomfort.

Then the ‘Second in Command’ felt my husband just didn’t get the compliment, so he said, “Mr. Simens, We mean you are a very lucky man, you have a really big turkey and a really big wife.”

“Bon Appetite!” my husband tried again as he laid his hand carefully on my leg and patted my thigh. He was stroking my leg. Was he trying to comfort me or was he just getting into position to restrain me if I decided to lunge across the table at the company representative? Was he checking to see where the huge carving knife was?

I was only able to relax and start to enjoy the meal when I noticed everyone was eating. I hoped no one would talk with their mouth full of food (another American issue). I also wondered if there would be any burping. I then gave an inaudible Thanksgiving prayer – “Please don’t let anyone mention the word fat again this holiday season.”

Then I silently wondered what this group of people might be doing for Christmas. What might they say about a huge Christmas Ham?

I hope you and your family are creating Thanksgiving memories and better yet . . . Telling stories of Thanksgiving past so you can build up your child’s family emotion stories.

Please share one Thanksgiving Memory!

Notes: The Guineafowl made its way to Europe from Africa via Turkey. Therefore they called it ‘turkey.’

 

Psychological Challenges When Relocating


What are the psychological challenges one faces when relocating to another country?

imgres
Hong Kong

The most significant challenges always seem to be to give up the stereotypes that you already have about the new location and to be able to genuinely understand that culture and geographic location.

Media always puts in your mind what this location will be like, but it is often the best of the best (ideal vacation spots) of the worst of the worst (crime/property). There is seldom any reality check on what is the norm for that area.

When you land you already have full knowledge of what happens in your new location, but you do not have the complete picture. You do not have a balanced understanding of that city or the lifestyle you will be having.

I was recently interviewed by a company in Hong Kong that deals with parenting issues. Hong Kong is a perfect example of needing to let go of stereotypes since a person seldom experiences what you see on TV while living in Hong Kong. Just now if I google Hong Kong, I get investments and tall buildings. Hong Kong is more than securities and futures and skyscrapers.

Hong Kong for kids, at first, seems hard with it’s packed streets and heat, but soon the only thing you’ll find yourself short of is time because there are so many events and attractions.

One of my first exposures to schools outside of the USA was a stop in Hong Kong with the Semester at Sea floating educational system. It was eye opening for me since I had always made the assumption that kids got recess and recess meant in a playing field or grass area.

Semester at Sea

One critical psychological issue for all expats who move around is the need to belong or have loyalty to their tribe. After we cover Maslow’s hierarchy of food, water, shelter, safety, and security – after all our basic needs are met we need to belong. We need to connect. We need to belong to a family, community, a unit, a race of people, tribe, a great school, a good job or something. If we feel connected, we are happy and fulfilled.

Parents can ensure social and emotional stability in their changing environment by blending past and present. You have to connect to both the new location and your previous locations or homes. The importance of attachment and those vital close connections is what makes a person happy.

If you understand how relationships develop, then you have more success as a global nomad.

Relationships develop in this order:  Proximity – Sameness – Belonging – Loyalty and Significance as levels in a healthy connection.

Let me give you an example of this: In Hong Kong – Often work is a place to ensure social and emotional stability because of the connections you can make in this environment. At the school, you have many different people you come in contact with (proximity).

You may be from different nationalities but have children the same age (sameness).

We are all very different, but we have the similarity of belonging to the same school that brings us closer together. When you spend the day to day situations in the same environment, a person should feel like they belong. It is only people who choose to work, take breaks, eat lunch in isolation that misses out on the critical ingredient of belonging. Many people have loyalty to the job they are working in, or they would just quit.

The significance is key for global people. You need to feel like you got something beneficial out of your time in your host country and you need to think that you gave back something to it.

In Thailand, we saw lots of expats helping out with the floods. Students from area international schools are bagging up survival food and making care packages. When the earthquake hit Nepal, these same expats sent supplies and money to help.

The way you leave a location sets you up for your new place.

If you continue to feel liked you missed out of something because you didn’t live in your home country or you felt put out because you assignment was “too hard” or you thought that you wanted to quickly leave the country and say good riddance…then your next job will also seem shallow and non-important. 

Maslow Theory

Things to think about . . . 

Notes:

Our Your Predictions Off?


 

thinking child

What can you do when your brain doesn’t match your hand?

With two kids through a four-year college degree, I thought I had most of this ‘child-rearing’ figured out.  I do not.  I realize that half of what I have been telling my kids is possible wrong.  Or at least outdated. The world is constantly changing and nothing is for certain forever.

Are you OK with the notion that what your kids are learning in school may contradict what you learned in school? For some reason, that notion worries me!

Then I read this book – Yikes!

Samuel Arbesman’s “The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date” is very interesting and makes you think.  Most medical schools tell their students half of what they’ve been taught will be wrong within five years – the teachers just don’t know which half.

I think this also related to parenting. Some of the foundation of wanting your child to be ethical, kind and engaged will never change. But so many other things will have to change because things are changing rapidly.

Are you comfortable with scientific knowledge?

Are you comfortable with changes in scientific knowledge?  How did you handle the status of Pluto changing?  What about the age at which women should get mammograms? Facts change all the time.  For decades, we were convinced that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur.  For some people, they just don’t like this type of change.

Arbesman, a Harvard University-affiliated practitioner of scientometrics likes to look at how we know what we know.  He feels facts change in a regular, predictable manner and obeys mathematical rules.  Whenever I am faced with a mathematical rule I don’t understand I ask my children. One has a Master’s in Applied Mathematics and is very helpful!

They get this so much better than I do and they can break it down into bite size pieces so I really understand the rule.  Sometimes I watch the TV show, “Numbers” and then ask my children the hypothetical situation that was shown in the TV series.  Sometimes TV is spot on and sometimes the storyline doesn’t hold true to real mathematical rules.

Working with parents and change

I work with global parents, and there is always a lot of change in their lives.  Sometimes things so smooth and sometimes things just don’t go smooth. At times, there seems to not be any ‘rule’ to why things are done the way they are done.

When these families realize that there is nothing they can do about the changes then they decide they need to embrace it.  They are ready to move on to the next change they will have to cope with.

Arbesman states, “Once we recognize  facts change in a regular, predictable manner and they do obey these mathematical rules, we’ll be ready to live in the rapidly changing world around us.”

 

 

Notes:

This book is on Amazon – Here.

Original Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lemaipictures/41766940/

What would Halloween be without friends?


 

Sometimes Halloween abroad is not a treat!

Sometimes Halloween abroad is not a treat!

Then it got me thinking about all the issues friends can bring up around Halloween when you are an expat child (or any child).

“Should we dress alike?”

“Should we let ‘so and so’ go trick or treating with us?”

“Do we have to share with them?”

What should be a time of family fun and fun with friends can often end in an evening full of tears. There are of course some expected heighten emotions when you add too much sugar and a later bedtime, but parents can do a few simple things to help the evening go smoothly.

1. Remember if you are celebrating this holiday abroad, the expectations might not be what the parents or the kids want. The local candy might just be ‘awful’ so remind your child that there will be lots of local kids that would love to have the candy so focus on the ‘giving’ instead of the ‘taking.’

2. Remember that it can be an evening where fitting in is more important than the outfit.  Let your child pick what they want to be or dress like and forget the parent’s wants on this when you are abroad.  Nothing ruins a holiday more than an unhappy child.

3. Remember if your child decides to exclude ‘friends’ to remind them what the core values of your family are with words. “Our family values  politeness.” Or “Our family values courtesy.”  Or “Our family values civility.” Try not to say, “You should invite her.”

Halloween is for friends! Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Let your kids celebrate. Love your child unconditionally, but hold him/her accountable for decisions or behavior that go against the family’s values.

Sunflower Bob - "Do I have to wear this?"

Sunflower Bob – “Do I have to wear this?”

In “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, I wrote short stories that take place in a variety of locations. The emotions are described in these short stories. Then it covers why the area is so unique. Some of these stories were from Jackie’s experiences around the world, and some were from Grant’s. To make it more predictable for young children to read or understand, I have made each story be about a boy called Jack.

If you are reading to a two or three-year-old, sit with them in your lap or lie down next to each other. Let them hear your voice acting out Jack’s words and his mother’s words with two different voices. Let him see the pattern in the stories.

If you are reading to a four or five-year-old, you can ask them if they know what is coming next. You can take turns being Jack and repeat his words after they are read. You can also do as suggested above.

If you are reading with an older child, ask him what he would like to do. How would he want the story to be read?

See if your child can take some of their experiences and place them into their own emotion stories. Most children can relate to other kids. Ask your child, “When did you feel like Jack?”

Joy During Halloween – Jack’s Story

Oxford English Dictionary

  1. A vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well- being or satisfaction; the feeling or state of being highly pleased or delighted; exultation of spirit; gladness, delight.
  2. The expression of glad feeling; outward rejoicing; mirth; jubilant festivity.
  3. A source or object of joy; that which causes joy, or in which delight is taken; a delight.

For a young child: Your face is really, really happy. You feel wonderful. You might even want to dance. This is the joy.

Geography

Neighborhoods around the world where families are involved in Halloween. You can experience joy while going through your trick or treat bag after a late night of running around the neighborhood. As you pile the candy into two very different piles; Candy that is well worth keeping and Candy that needs to be given away as soon as possible. As you take your fifth piece of candy and slowly unwrap it, so the wrapping does not make any noise, you smile with joy.  It has been a fun evening for you and your friends. You wish it could have lasted longer.

Jack’s Story – Joy

The evening ritual begins. The moon starts to shine, and Jack rubs his eyes. As Jack and his mom start the short walk across the neighborhood to their home, she asks him, “What was your evening like?”

“Let me think about it,” Jack grabs her hand, looks up with a smile and continues the walk home.

“How was your evening?” she leans over and asks again as he snuggles into his bed.

“Mommy, I had a good night at “trick and treating.” What should I dream about tonight?”

“Dream about what you experienced this evening,” she softly says as she leans closer and smoothes his pillow.

“Mommy, I am thinking about all the joy I felt tonight. I am going to dream about the parade we all took part in. I am going to remember the smiles on everyone’s faces as they walked around the neighborhood. I will remember their joy when they realized that they received some Halloween candy that they love. I am going to remember my joy when I saw you dressed up in your pumpkin hat. I am going to remember how much joy I had when I got to lug my huge trick or treat bag back home. Mommy, that is what I am going to dream about.”

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“You love me a lot.”

“More than you will ever know,” she says as she smiles and kisses him good night.

He just smiles and snuggles down in bed pulling the covers up towards his chin.

“Mommy, I love all the things we do on Halloween. I loved being a werewolf this year.  It was fun to go all over the neighborhood shedding my hair! Good night Mom.”

“Good night, Jack.”

Leaving Hair all over the Neighborhood!

 

Imagine my surprise when this video was sent to me from a friend!

 

 

Buffering or Being a Lifeline – Huge Job for Parents


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.

Resources:

http: //www.myeducationtimes.com/educationTimes/CMSD/For-Parents/78/2011100420111004170118164ddb8713a/A-stitch-in-time.html

Expat Halloween and the Importance of the Pumpkin!


I  never met a pumpkin I didn’t like.

When I lived abroad and got ready to celebrate another international Halloween…I needed to get all my ducks (or pumpkins)  in a row. This was always hard when living in a new country or location and you are trying to celebrate American Halloween for the first time in that place.

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers.  Tis near Halloween.

I realize it is now October 1st,  but for many expats, the planning of Halloween started long before October. Some people put things into their suitcases from this past summer holiday in plans for the upcoming Halloween. Others commander the suitcase space of their traveling spouse to ensure that treats are in their new home country before this candy loaded holiday.

Others commander, the suitcase space of their traveling spouse, to make sure that treats are in their new home country before this candy packed holiday.

What I hadn’t realized is how this impacts places like Canada. This photo was taken on July 31st at a sale at Loblaws in Westboro, Ottawa. This means there were only 92 more shopping days left before Halloween.

Early shopping for Halloween

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When many Expats move, they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some nicely sugar-coated layered experience. Blending their home culture into their new culture.

Making layer after layer build up into a wonderful, beautiful experience for the whole family. They are just like kids going trick and treating, they want all their old and favorite candies in their tick and treat bags along with some new and exotic candies.

They want to cling on to some of their background, their history, and their Halloween rituals.

Halloween pumpkins

Expectations are hard to meet!

Parents need to be careful and connect with what is special about this holiday for your family. As an expat, you can easily get sidetracked and forget what is most important for your family. You get worried about your child’s interactions. You worry about the exposure your child has to something different from his or her home environment. You worry that your child will miss out!

I have talked to a lot of five-year-olds and their parents from around the world. Here are a few things I have been told about Halloween. Remember my sources are five-year-olds!

Austria – We leave bread and water out at night for the dead people.

Belgium – We light candles for dead people in our family.

 Canada  – The best part is the Jack O’Lanterns!

China – ‘Teng Chieh’ we put food and water by the photos of our dead family. We have lots of lanterns.

Czechoslovakia – We put one chair by the fire for each person in our family, even the dead people.

 England – Our pumpkins or ‘punkies’ are made out of large beets. We sing a ‘Punkie Night Song.’

 France – We also see pumpkins at McDonald’s near Halloween. We are all ‘scary’ not ‘fairy princesses.’ We get treats in the stores, not at your home.

 Germany – We have to be careful on Halloween, and we can’t use knives.

 Hong Kong – ‘Yue Lan’ (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) It is about spirits!

 Ireland – it is just like in the USA. We do costumes and go trick-or-treating. We play ‘snap-apple,’ (an apple on a string and you try to bite it) and ‘knock-a dolly’ (where you ring the doorbell and run away).

 Indonesia – We don’t have Halloween, but we like candy.

 Japan – We don’t have this Halloween. We have ‘Obon Festival’ with our dead family members. We clean the house and the graves. It is in July.

 Korea – We have ‘Chusok.’ It is in August, we visit our dead family and take them rice or fruit.

 Spain – We have ‘El Dia de Los Muertos’ (days of the dead), but it is a happy celebration. We go to the grave and have a picnic. We have parades.

 Sweden – We have ‘alla Helgons Dag.’ We get to have a vacation day from school.

But this is our life, and as Expats, we try to fit into the host country, but most American’s want their children to get scared, overindulge in candy, wear costumes and even let the local children have this holiday.

Halloween Night Pumpkins

 

Family rituals are important

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual.

Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner, and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought.

I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and sometimes the rituals start with just one person, but if that person feels it is important and keeps trying sooner or later the event can become a ritual.

Sometimes the ritual comes from having another culture in your life

We have often celebrated Halloween over the top! In Duri, Indonesia the expat engineers took over one of the houses on camp and made a truly ‘scary house’ for all of us to experience. I am not sure who had more fun the adults making the house or the kids going through it.

When you let a group of engineers take over the event, it can be way over the top!

I thought the eels in the stairwell with plexiglass that you walked over them was a great touch!  The pig’s head that moved in and out of the toilet – scared me, I can’t imagine what it did to my seven-year-old.  The electrical engineers did a great job with the lights and sounds.  What took the engineers two full days to complete allowed all of us to be like kids again on that Halloween night.

Years later, I wonder if people are still calling that one home the haunted house?  I know the family that moved into it only a few weeks after Halloween. They had no idea what it took to get their empty house back to normal.

Some of my highlights of Halloween living overseas with our young children were carving our pumpkins –

One time our pumpkin was a green coconut!  We have used Cassava Root to be a pumpkin in Indonesia. We used a Taro root as our pumpkin in Nigeria. Now that was a scary ‘pumpkin.’

Root vegetable in the market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have made sure that our unique global situations allowed us to still have Jack o’ Lanterns that are uniquely ours. It has become a family ritual.

Families who move together – grow together.

Halloween tradition

 

Photos:

Cassava Roots – http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44493000/jpg/_44493567_02nigeria_afp.jpg
fancy carved pumpkins http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124412397@N01/2962675525/in/photolist-5vNudv-5vSLhh-5vSLXQ-5vSMZW-5vSNXj-5vSPpA-5vSPyb-5wFHwT-5wL3vA-5wMPqa-5x3TWv-5x3XeV-5x3Y8x-5xuiTH-5xHcG2-5xWN7c-5y57h7-5BiPJf-5BJKm9-5Cexc1-5DtTqE-5Nddv4-5NhtLq-5QQikP-6aqioL-6bYozM-6xGtDz-6xGtKt-6xGtNH-6xGtR4-6xLCqG-6xLCtw-71Zedv-75mvd7-76CAMk-77KG2c-77ZLJp-7a7Fvr-7abvfs-7aBR4a-7aFDtE-7aFDY3-7b5g3T-7bz9Gn-7cpKLw-7fENbM-7gfK2W-7gKNAh-7hiRsB-7ipDvY-7mhGSH
peanut free: http://www.flickr.com/photos/93663762@N00/4872539224/in/photolist-8qz39Y-7E6yWk-dpRtDc-dqxymx-aBjdrE-8uXDLT-8uXDQa-fYyQ2W-8NNSeK-aALxBh-8Pz1Pm-dgdv7U-aAXkYY-88fysa-aAB3oK-at1upA-dq2SLW-dq2GUp-dq2SNY-dq2GNk-dq2GQT-dq2SRh-arcK1B-dpBaRe

Sophomore Slump : Full Speed Ahead as an Expat


Blog jsimens - helping families worldwideRemember When – – – A shout out to my expat friends who just sent a teen off to University

For many young American adults returning to the USA to attend college or university after being expats or global nomads since they have been following their parent’s careers overseas, “Sophomore Slump” starts after about six weeks in the new university.  This is when it dawns on them that their lifestyle of travel is now over.  No more vacations in foreign countries on long weekends. No more traveling to and from exotic places at Christmas. No more team sports that cause you to carry a passport.

Some global nomads find the start of college so hard but can usually settle down into the new system soon. After the orientations, the parent weekends and the new student events, campus life can get stressful. This is when it is key to have some support system on campus. Or near by. Teens are often good at masking what is going on for them by text or even skype. They seldom want to admit to their parents that things are not going as well as they wanted.

Changing Universities

Sophomore slump hits repatriated teens often, and they show how upsetting this is by changing institutions.

If you look closely at the retention rate in a university from a freshman to a sophomore at some schools, it is alarming. What is causing all these teens to try one university for just a year and move on? Most of the time it is not because of grades but because they are finding a ‘slump’ or the excitement of the university does not match up to their expectations.

As the author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, I am greatly concerned about these children as they return to the USA to attend university in their home country. I often feel we have not prepared the child enough for this transition without their family.

Two children = Two Locations

Since our two children decided to look at two very different locations for college, it has complicated our travel plans. Colorado is a state that receives many teens repatriating because it is such a lovely state. Toronto is also known for its high rate of international students. Many expat children do not have a ‘home’, so they pick a geography site that they love.  Then the match of a university to this location to the child’s long term goals is applied.  This is hard for many families.

We are slowly approaching our second year in this location, Balikpapan. In our short time here, we have already seen a tremendous amount of turnover in the Expat population. The things that have bothered me the most during this expatriate move without children are:

  • My relaxed lifestyle of booking four tickets to one place is no longer possible. We now have to book three different travel plans to get to a single location.
  • I no longer want to go on long weekends out of the country since I am saving up my days to be with my kids.
  • My kids have done the exotic places for Christmas and now wish to do something more relaxing and mainstream.
  • My passport does not get used as much as it did since I am not traveling to see my kids in all those high school events that international schools are so good at setting up.
Travel - worldwide leaving a part of yourself

Worldwide –  Leaving a Part of Yourself

 

 

You might say I am in a sophomore slump.

 

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What you can learn from Grandparents about interacting with your own child


Picture 5
Tri- Generational events are the best in the world

Happy Grandparents Day

National Grandparents Day originated with Marian McQuade in West Virginia, USA. Her primary motivation was to champion the cause of lonely elderly in nursing homes. She also hoped to persuade grandchildren to tap the wisdom and heritage their grandparents could provide. President Jimmy Carter (1978) proclaimed that National Grandparents Day would be celebrated every year on the first Sunday after Labor Day.

In 2017, (USA) Grandparents Day falls on Sept. 10th

I hope your family can connect somehow on this upcoming Sunday. Family reunions are important because they allow the family to create rituals that connect the generations.

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such ceremonies. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought. I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time and one key way to do this is to have family reunions.

Let me give you an example:

Memories are highly personal and so is how a family wants to ‘remember’. Having a global connection allows a family the ability to participate on any level that is in their comfort zone so they can determine what they need. For many people having a structured event allows them the ability to connect to others easier, therefore, a family reunion is perfect. I work with families on “emotion stories” and tri-generational ones are the best.

Having events or creating rituals builds resilience.

As a parent, you cannot help your child learn to be resilient unless you let them take responsibility for their own growth process. Learning from your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins is vital for your children. It is one way to make sure they understand the importance of family connections.

These times of connections can be priceless. Some families are lucky enough to get to do tri-generational family vacations.

Julia’s top Five Books for Families on Grandparent’s Day

  1. HALMONI’S DAY  – by Edna Coe Bercaw
    About a Korean-American girl who is self-conscious about bringing her different-seeming grandmother to school on Grandparent’s Day.
  2. To Grandma’s House We…Stay – by Sally Houtman
    This is a very wise and helpful book, especially for families headed by grandparents. Ms. Houtman tells it like it is, saying “The fact is, families are changing. We can either bail with all our might or look for a lifeboat.” You’ll definitely find plenty of life preservers in Ms. Houtman’s writings.
  3. I Don’t Want To Talk About It – By Jeanie Franz Ransom features a comprehensive afterword that describes children’s common reactions to divorce and offers parents suggestions for helping their own children adjust and thrive. Grandparents are vital when a family is going through a divorce.
  4. My Grandma Lives at the Airport  – by Rebecca Rudner is about keeping families connected when they live far apart. Author Rebecca Rudner shows how absent family members can stay present in the hearts and minds of young children. The story is about Shelby, who concludes that Grandma must live at the airport because that is where she and her parents always pick Grandma up when Grandma comes to visit.
  5. The Gifts of being Grand by Marianne Richmond acknowledges the grand people whose love and care we treasure…and who truly celebrate the grand little people in their lives.

My children were blessed with having two grandparents that they collected memories with for a long time. Being expat children they have been able to keep in touch with both and see them often. Many family vacations would happen when they would come to see us in our overseas assignments or we would visit their homes in the summer time.

janetgrand marshal
Grandma Wright – Grand Marshall

The annual Old Settlers Day Celebration in Russell Springs, Kansas starts off with a church service than the parade. After the Parade, the annual Cowchip throwing contest is held.

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Grandpa Simens – Annual Family vacations in Lake Tahoe

Tahoe if a time for us to go fishing, sit on the beach or play lawn bowling games.

This year we got to celebrate Grandpa’s 86th birthday.  One of the highlights was a whiskey tasting at Incline Wine and Spirits.

Notes: A great grand parenting book is: If I Knew it was going to be this much fun I would have become a Grandparent First by Willard Scott.  It has short stories from Phyllis Diller, Phil Donahue, Mike Wallace, Stephen Covey, Maureen Stapleton and many more.

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