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Strengthen the Global Family – Emotions and Storytelling Techniques


 Sameness – Fosters a Strong Connection

When you and your child have something in common, whether it is a fondness for food, a sports team, or working on this memory book, you’re strengthening your attachment through ‘sameness.’

Emotional Resilience and the EXPAT CHILDSeveral of the families I work with have seen the movie, “Inside Out” and it has made them want to re-create some of the emotion stories they had written.  I encourage families to build emotion stories based on their lives and have written Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family. When I watched the movie, I loved how Phyllis Smith (Office) portraited “sadness.” According to director Pete Docter, each emotion is based on a shape: Joy is based on a star, Sadness is a teardrop, Anger is a firebrick, Fear is a raw nerve, and Disgust is broccoli. He noted that he likes broccoli very much, however. The writers considered up to 27 different emotions but settled on five (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger) to make it less complicated. Some of the primary emotions that ended up being cut included Surprise, Pride, and Trust.

Working with emotions and understanding them

Throughout my workbook,  I include a dictionary definition of the emotion about which you are reading. This will ensure that both you and your child are clear about the meaning of that emotion and share the same understanding of it.

Most people believe they know what emotions are. They think of emotions as particular kinds of feeling that they label with such words as happy, sad, angry, or mad. We all recognize that emotions are a part of our daily lives, and they are continually being expressed indirect or subtle ways in our relationships to children, parents, friends, co-workers, and lovers. We assume the listener understands these terms because of similar experiences and through their resulting empathy with us. What should you do, though, if the listener does not know what a word such as anticipation or disgust means? It is up to you, as a parent, to help build your child’s emotional vocabulary through their experiences.

 Some people can hide their emotions while others are like an open book. Although no one teaches us the meaning of the emotional expression on the face, most of us believe we can read emotions from people’s faces. Parents will attest to the fact that they are the experts when it comes to understanding their own children’s faces!

 

Humans interpret and use a repertoire of about one hundred emotions in their routine interactions.

 

Steven Gordon (1990), in Social Structural Effects on Emotions, asserts that the origin of emotions is not in biology but culture. Children who straddle several cultures as they move around the world, and children who live daily in multicultural homes, need to have the firm foundation of understanding emotions.

In the movie, did you notice, that the size of the console expands and grows more complex as Riley gets older?

There are some reasons why the study of emotions is difficult. Among them is the fact that the language of emotions is complex and often ambiguous. People are aware that they, and probably others, disguise or hide their feelings for various social reasons. We usually do what our culture informs us is normal or expected. The expectation of air travel is often that children belong in the back of the plane. If they are allowed in the business section, they should remain quiet, and others should not notice them. As Expat families, we know this is not true. If the company gives you a business class seat when you relocate from one assignment to another assignment – Enjoy!

Painting on a plane! Perth, Australia to Denver, Colorado

Painting on a plane! Perth, Australia to Denver, Colorado

Concept of opposites

When I start to work with children on building an emotional vocabulary, I like to begin with the concept of opposites. Children love to talk about opposites, and many children’s picture books cover topics such as short/tall, big/small, and hot/cold. I usually start my consultations with the emotions happy/sad, but to build up your child’s vocabulary, we will use the word joy.

BASIC EMOTION / OPPOSITE EMOTION

Joy (Happy)/ Sadness (Sad)

Acceptance (Like)/ Disgust (Not Like)

Fear (Scared)/ Anger (Mad)

Surprise / Anticipation

In the movie, aside from the five standard colors of the memory orbs based on their corresponding emotion, there are also grey memory orbs, which contain general, non-emotional based information such as phone numbers, names of U.S. Presidents, and piano lessons. When a memory is old and faded, it darkens to a sepia-black color, and the “video” of the memory in the orb becomes faded and blurry and with muffled sound.

It is hard to work with any emotion in isolation. Your child will usually pair up emotions because he/she likes to understand extremes. Some parents go directly to the emotion that they feel their child needs to work on; other parents will go smoothly from one emotion to the next. If emotions seem to be hard for your child to express or understand then, you need to start at the emotion that is the easiest for them to connect with. I encourage you to do what feels right for your family.

Travel and the TCK – global family

 

The expatriate lifestyle usually allows families to live or travel to unique locations. Talking to your child about his experiences will help expand his emotional vocabulary.

In Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, the initial eight stories take place around the world. We go to Australia, the Cook Islands, and Egypt, where you will experience joy, surprise, and anticipation. Then you are off to South Africa, Thailand, and Indonesia to experience fear, anger, and disgust. Since many of our emotion stories revolve around the stories of children in international schools, please note that international schools can be in any location in the world. You will experience sadness at one international school. The expatriate lifestyle usually allows families to go to live in unique places, and it builds on geographical skills due to the ability to travel on relocation and during vacation time.

 

Primary emotion stories

Our family’s short stories that take place in a variety of locations. The emotions are described in these short stories. Then it covers why the situation is so unique. Some of these stories were from my daughter, Jackie’s, experiences around the world and some were from my son’s, Grant’s experiences. 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 views. 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? Would he like you to read the dictionary and location page and he could read the story page?

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

boy with animal

Nature and Joy go hand in hand.

 

 

Joy

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 joy.

Geography

You can experience joy while swimming with the dolphins at Monkey Mia. Monkey Mia is a remote spot geographically; it lies on a long, thin peninsula within Shark Bay in Western Australia. The water is warm and beautiful. As you stand in knee- deep water, wild dolphins come right up to the white shell beach and swim around you. Wild dolphins have been coming to Monkey Mia for over 50 years. It is the only place where dolphins visit daily, not seasonally, and it is free. It is a World Heritage landmark. If you are lucky, you might get to swim with a mother dolphin and her calf.

 

A child’s version of the story of Joy

The evening ritual begins. The sun starts to set, and Jack rubs his eyes. As Jack and his mom start the short walk across the beach to their beachfront villa, she asks him, “What was your day like?”

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

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

“Mommy, I had a good day today. What should I dream about tonight?”

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

“Mommy, I am thinking about all the joy I saw today. I am going to dream about that baby dolphin and how he stayed so close to his mother. I am going to remember the smiles on everyone’s faces as the mommy dolphin swam right up so close to you. I will remember their joy when they realized that the dolphin picked you to swim with because both of you were having a baby. I am going to remember my joy when I saw you with the mommy dolphin and how you laughed and played with her. I am going to remember how much joy I had when I got to touch a baby dolphin. 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 mommy and baby dolphins. Good night, Mom.”

“Good night, Jack.”

Joyful - happy

 

 

Sad

Oxford English Dictionary

1. The condition or quality of being sad (in various senses).
2. The gravity of mind or demeanor; seriousness, soberness, staidness. 3. Gloomy appearance; dark or somber hue.

For young children: Your face is almost crying. You want to hang your head. You keep your eyes down towards your feet. You sigh really loudly while you take a deep breath.

Geography

You can experience sadness when your friends leave your international school. Sadness is an emotion characterized by feelings of disadvantage, loss, and helplessness. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) often have unresolved grief due to the amount of loss they experience as they move around the world.

Often children may be thinking, “I was just getting to know my friends, oh great – more goodbyes and I was just starting to feel good.” The frequent breaking-off of relationships due to relocations may often cause sadness in children.

A child’s version of the story of Sadness

 

Time goes on. The evening ritual continues.

The sun starts to set, and Jack rubs his eyes. As Jack and his mom start the short walk up the stairs to his bedroom, she asks him, “What was your day like?”

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

“How was your day?” she leans over and asks again as he snuggles into his bed. He is no longer smiling.

“Mom, I had a very sad day today. My friends are leaving my school. I’m sad. What should I dream about tonight?”

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

“Mom, I am thinking about how sad I was today. I am going to dream about my entire list of friends who will be leaving this year from my school. Did you know someone from my cross- country team is leaving? My best friend who arrived here the same time I did is also leaving, and two kids that I always go to the movies with will be going. Mom, that is what I am going to dream about tonight. What will I do without my friends?”

“I know you will miss your friends. How are you feeling?” “Sad, very sad.”
“Do you want to dream about being sad?”

“Yes, because I will miss my friends, but I also want to dream about new friends. Well, maybe I won’t dream of being sad. I am already looking forward to new people arriving at my school. Since I am on student council, I will be involved in the new student orientation. Maybe I will get a new friend when I help all the new students settle into our school.”

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“You love me a lot.”

“More than you will ever know. Maybe you can keep in touch with your friends. Perhaps you will get to know some of the new kids coming to your school.” She smiles and kisses him good night.

He does not smile but just shrugs his shoulders and snuggles down in bed pulling the covers up towards his chin.

“Good night, Mom.” “Good night, Jack.”

 

Min-A is sad

Notes: Pete Docter‘s inspiration for this film came from watching his daughter go through this turbulent part of growing up.

Phyllis Smith (who plays Sadness), Mindy Kaling (who plays Disgust), Bill Hader (who plays Fear), and Rashida Jones (who plays Cool Girl’s Emotions) have previously starred together in The Office (2005). While Smith, Kaling, and Jones have recurring roles in The Office (2005), Hader had a cameo appearance in one episode.

For those of us that have lived in the San Francisco area – When Riley is on the bus back to Minnesota the bus is leaving San Francisco. The bus approaches the on-ramp to the Bay Bridge, and a sign says something about a toll ahead. There is no toll going eastbound on the Bay Bridge.

Avantika is sad
Shir is sad   Keenan is happy

Four, no Five! Sentences All Parents Can Say Daily to Build Resilience


Parents are always asking me what they can do to build conversations with their children.  I always tell them to keep it simple.  Here are my top five sentences to use with children of all ages.

Jsimens valentines
Jsimens Happy Valentines Day
  1. Talking about school. Kids will talk more if you ask them about their job (school) than if you ask about them. “How’s school?”  This involves gathering information, listening, and problem-solving.”How was your day at school?” takes the focus to just them and this can be hard.
  2. Keep it strength based. “You tried so hard at ___ your perseverance really paid off.” If parents focus on their child’s strengths instead of where they are lacking, the child is more prone to share and talk to their parents.
  3. If parents value cooperation – Teach cooperation – give it a name, “I appreciate your cooperation,  or following directions,  or planning activities and joining in activities.” Children will often respond to things their parents ‘value’ if they understand what you value.
  4. Teaching self-control is often an area of concern for parents. Instead of saying “Don’t …” try ” Remember the rules” This allows your child time to re-correct his behavior and teaches him/her so much more about how they function with others.
  5. Problem-solving is a great skill to pass on to your children. When there is a problem, don’t solve it for your child. Say “Let’s figure it out.”  Looking at a problem as something to address rather than an obstacle helps kids want to talk more to their parents.

    Expat’s World Full of Heart


    These are my top five.  What works well for your family?  Please leave them as comments below so we can all become better communicators with our children.

Our Kids: Filtering and Connecting will be hard to do in their lifetime


CCK minority puzzle

Out of the Vault:

Talking to Parents at International schools is the very best way to spend the day!  We had an excellent turn out at ISB of Parents, Teachers, and Staff.  Then I got to do a very small presentation to interested students in the High School. Every one of those kids had an exciting story to tell about their life at a TCK or CCK.

I was fortunate to return to International school of Bangkok this week to share my passion about our global nomads.You can view the Prezi that we covered here.  Use your right arrow key to advance through the presentation.  You can read some of the transcripts of the presentation below this Prezi.

This is one of my favorite quotes -it is off the blog Third Culture Kid life by James Mitchener.  On his blog, he said, “Third Culture isn’t so much the experiences you had, but the way you adapted to each experience at the time you had it. We aren’t TCKs because of where we have been. We’re TCKs because of the way we absorbed the cultures of the places we have grown. Even now that I have left Hong Kong, I still relate to it closer than any other place I’ve lived. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, an idea that can easily make me sink into quite a severe depression, but I do know that I will carry the culture of the city and time that I lived there for the rest of my life.


Of course, that would make sense to a Self Aware Third Culture Kid. While I have been a TCK since I turned 4, I didn’t know it until I was 15 or 16 years old. And even then, I didn’t understand it until I was 17 or 18. Why? Because I have known no other life.”

My World

Having worked with over 8,000 families as they move around the world. I am aware of many of the concerns parents have as well as the issues the come up with our cross-cultural kids. I used to always talk about third culture kids but as I see more and more children the term I am more comfortable with is often cross-cultural kids or global nomads.

I raised two children in the following countries, Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Switzerland, Thailand and a small part of the time in the USA. They are not like anyone in their extended family. They are not even very much alike as siblings because they didn’t share several years of their high school with each other.

Filtering – Connecting and Choosing

The topic that I want to share with you and cause you to think about is will our children have trouble with filtering – connecting and choosing in their lifetime.  I believe that they will.

Identity Development

To understand the international school child, we need to see how they form their identity. There are five steps of global nomads identity development.

  1. Pre-encounter is just living life as you all know it (wonderful holidays-excellent learning experiences) My children’s education took them to trips to Greece, France, Buthan, Russia and even a week with the elephants. This was their normal everyday life.
  2. Encounter – can be at any time, but if often when kids are off on their own living their own life without mom and dad around for support.
  3. Exploration -This is the time to try new thing – explore. Change friendships back and forth.
  4. Integration – Embrace parts of their cultural identity form the place they have had exposure to.
  5. Recycling – most global nomads talk about this happening in college, but that is because this is often the first time they are entirely on their own, and this is also a high time for self-reflection.

Wen’s excellent project on identity development

Here was a great project made by Jessica Wen at Maryland Institute College of Art. She worked with other TCK or CCKs on the topic self-identity. Each person’s story was made into his or her own mini accordion book.The covers were all marked TCK – the idea is that each child, on the surface looks just like an ordinary person with an average background,  however, once the reader opens the book you start to see the unique international perspective this person has.

Why “corporate” needs to get involved

I knew that working with parents would help a lot of families but I wanted to see how we could help more and more families, so I had to go corporate. This year I have taken a year off from being a counselor and have been busier than any “retired” person should be. I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at an event in Hollywood during the summer. It was a blast. The outcome of that talk was a book called Ready, Aim, Soar.  The editor said “life in the 21st century is volatile and unpredictable. Unprecedented advancements in technology are transforming the global business environment as well as everyday life, making many traditional practices and techniques that guaranteed success in past decades no longer viable today.”

I hope more and more corporations understand that their global children are as important as their employee.

Understanding the needs of our children in this world is very very important.

Understanding your filtering – The filtering processes are key and often very hard to do. It takes a real knack to be able to zero in on what’s most important. I ask families to focus on the stuff that success is made of: emotions, confidence, interaction skills, thinking. I even like families to think about, attacking and defending arguments, also problem solving and cultural knowledge. I feel we all will have a real challenge deciding on what to focus on for real growth in their family. Filtering will be paramount. For example, a family might come in with the overlying concern about their child’s lack of friends. But the family is missing the larger picture of their own connection time with each other. A family must connect while the kids are young because it gets harder and harder to make authentic connections as children get older. Yes, they do have a concern about the child’s friends, but they need to filter out things that are surface level concerns and not the real issues.

Unsure of how to connect – Social media for sharing is a continuous process in so many people’s lives, but it does not have the same effect as a close one to one contact. Our kids are so connected (600 + Facebook friends) but are these real close connections? Then we have another concern…Many kids might use facebook or tweeter to talk about personal feelings or situations that would have been disclosed privately in the past and only to people in their physical, social circles. Now it is worldwide news. Online disclosures can make a person feel raw. Kids have to know where and how to move forward. What is also key is how you are going to connect with your child. Start habits that are going to build in lifelong skills. Don’t fight technology – connect!

Issues of choice – trying to instill your own values at times runs up against the values of the people your kids hang around with. It happens with adults too. As families absorb more and more cultural norms of other people, they might move away from their core beliefs. The option of choices of values will clash if people are not careful. I love Michael Jospehson from the Institute of Ethics, he says, “The longer you wait to adjust the trajectory of a rocket that is going off course, the more severe the adjustment will have to be.” This is so true for our children.

Tips that might help your child

Please use “Foreign” carefully in your child’s vocabulary. When we use it to describe a policy or use it as ‘foreign policies,’ this is acceptable. When your child (or you) uses it referring to a person, it is not acceptable. Calling a person a ‘foreigner’ is offensive to most people in the world. If your child has this mindset, it automatically sets them that the other person as an outsider. It makes it seems as if that someone doesn’t belong. You wouldn’t want your child to be referred in such a negative way. Most kids just want to fit in regardless of where they are living. Help them out by not letting them use the word foreign too often.

Please limit ” Overseas” as a standard word in your global nomad’s life. Remember they don’t cross-oceans each time they travel to a new country. Many people prefer the term ‘abroad’. Nowadays, more and more people use worldwide or abroad in lieu of saying ‘overseas.’

If you are coming from the USA, do you kids a favor and don’t let them use “America” as a common word. When we refer to “America” as a country, some people around the world can get very confused. Do you mean, North America, Central America, or South America? It is wrong for your child to think they are from THE America, it seems so negative. It seems acceptable for citizens of the United States of America to refer to their country as America, but when your child is abroad, it is seen as ethnocentric and in poor taste. Teach your child to say “the United States.”

Introduce “Yet” into your family

Kids love to announce that they’re 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.”
At that moment, your mom instinct is to fix the situation. You say, “Oh yes you are!”

HINT  – This never works, because it puts the kid in the position of actively defending his or her ineptitude. It’s a lose-lose. As a parent, ignore the instinct to fix things. Instead, just add the word “yet.”

Add the “yet” in a matter-of-fact tone – “I’m not good at math becomes You’re not good at math yet.”

“I’m not good at volleyball” becomes “You’re not good at volleyball yet.”

The message is: Of course you’re not good because you haven’t worked at it. But when you do, you will be good. “Yet,” tells a clear story about the value of effort and struggle, and that story is aligned with the way the brain grows.

Valentine’s Day does not have to only be about LOVE


Not all classes or kids want to talk about “Love” on Valentines Day.  Try these positive and lively emotions instead:  Amusement, Delight, Excitement, Happiness, Joy, and Pleasure.

An added benefit is the pictures are from around the world and all ages of people so kids can connect to something. It is also with the music, “Believe in you.”  So a positive message is being sent out to everyone on this special occasion. I feel all children need to know more ’emotion words.’  Enjoy!

Share stories of Caring/Love

Each time a child describes an experience he has had, he constructs part of his past. This adds to his sense of who he is. Every story your child tells, or acts out through play, or writes contributes to a self-portrait.

I love to show teachers and parents how to use storytelling to strengthen their classrooms and their families. Did you know that being an expat puts in you a category that would make up the fifth largest nation in the world?

Land Locked or Water? Torn between two loves.


Roatan sunset“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” – Lao Tzu

 

As 2018 starts, I recall several conversations that I have had with family and friends. These conversations are as varied as the locations that they have taken place in.

As we left the two lane county road that was paved to enter a dirt driveway, I knew I was almost home. Or the place I’d call home for 18 years. Our rental car pulled into the driveway, the dust rolled over the top of the car and settled on our windshield and top of the car doors.  This was to remind us that we were land locked in Kansas. As we slowly opened the car doors the fine light dust settled on our hair, arms and even lips.  I was home. As we sat in the car, I tried to answer the questions of “Was it fun here?” and “Why didn’t you ever come back to live?”, the list of questions my children had was long. It is amazing how many questions can be asked when the earbuds are out and the entertainment off.   I answered each question with as much truth as I could.

Later that year, we find ourselves in the middle of the Caribbean sea with little land insight. The sea water stings our newly acquired bug bites as the sun starts a slow burn our cheeks. The mild wind blows our salty coated hair again and again into our eyes. Once again, unplugged, the questions started coming.  “Why did you pick a global lifestyle?” and “Was it hard living alone in your twenty’s?” Once again I tried to answer each question with as much truth as I could.

The hardest thing that an Expat has to deal with is the constant reminder that the life we have chosen becomes… by default… the life of our children.

In a family, we are not all the same and we do not all have the same feelings, dreams or wishes. Also throw into that equation that a child never has any say in what their ‘plans’ are. As an expat mom or dad we are just hoping we made the best choices we could at that time in our lives  and that through connection and communication our family thrives.

Three things to help with an global life and family

  1. Invest in experiences, not things.
  2. Invest in time with family. Appreciate the members in your family by learning their stories. Ask them questions and find our more of their history.
  3. Be grateful. A ritual of gratitude is a great lesson to pass on to your children. Gratitude rewires your brain for happiness.

I hope 2018 is wonderful for all the global nomads out there.

Crayons - around the world

Happy New Year 2014

 

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:

Comments off

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/