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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  Or at least outdated.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.”




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.


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!



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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.


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

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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



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
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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.

IMG 0176
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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How to Survive the First Month of School

Parents (locally and abroad) search for things that make their children successful. What would you do if I told you the top three ways to help your child were free? Would you take time to help your child be successful?

School Buses

Every Family needs help when it comes to school success – three free tools!

The backpack already has some crusty unknown item on the corner, the colored pencils are half in the smashed box, and half of them in the bottom of the book bag and your family wants to know how it can survive the rest of the school year. I want you to focus on that but also what you can do to help your child for the rest of his/her life.

Parents need to focus on what is most important to a child’s success. I know the focus of academics is what most of us what to focus on.  It is easily measured. Somewhat confrontational – you just have to get the grades and for many families this focus in never ending. The “B- ” really needs to be an “A.”  But we “A” could be a “higher A” so it factors into the honors at graduation. Academics is the wrong focus.

Focus on friendships more than academics

According to a recent study, friendships is what parents need to focus on. Adolescent social connectedness was a better predictor of adult well-being than academic achievement. Please read that sentence again and share it with your family. When kids have a lot of friends in childhood and adolescence, they tend to grow up to be happy adults. I am not saying grades don’t matter, we all know they do.  I am saying turn the focus so at least 50% of the time you are aware of the social and friendship needs instead of just the academic pressures of school.

Concentrate on breathing

Practice this with your whole family: Put one hand over your heart and one hand on your stomach. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Focus on the air coming into your lungs and on how it feels as your belly expands. Pause briefly, relax, and then exhale through your mouth, counting slowly to five. We all know this simple exercise will diffuse stress, cause us to focus, and to keep ourselves from overreacting. But we seldom teach our children to breathe! We need to let them see this in practice so Mom or Dad…breathe in public so your kids can see the benefits of this simple free tool.

For students the power of breathing is amazing. Research has shown us that focusing on their breath can be powerful for students: It reduces stress, stimulates creativity, boosts test scores, and improves focus.

Focus on play and family time

Don’t stress out your children.  I love the concept of play time, down time and family time.  This video explains “PDF.” Play-Down-Family

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Expat Empty Nest Syndrome: Fact or Fiction?


Is empty nest syndrome a real psychological condition to be reckoned with or just a natural process of life?

Is Expat Empty Nest Syndrome a delight or torture for all of us?

With August here, many expats are heading back to their work locations. Some kids are going back to their International Schools; other teenagers will be leaving the nest and going to university.

Empty nest syndrome is a psychological condition experienced by parents when their coming-of-age children leave home (the nest). The symptoms that parents suffer are typically feelings of sadness, anxiety and excessive worry over the welfare of their child. Throw in that parents will be half a world away from their child and pow…interesting!

Experts say those hardest hit are parents without career obligations and/or parents who might have an unstable relationship. I gave up a job that I loved and have taken the longest summer vacation in my life thus separating me from the love of my life, so this might be an interesting time for me.  I decided to come up with seven self-tips to help during this time.

Here are my seven tips to ease the impact of EXPAT Empty Nest Syndrome:

1) Remind myself that it’s very normal to feel sad during this transition. So quit dancing around his empty bedroom. Quit jumping up and down with joy enough that it makes Raja bark and run around the house.  Get back to my normal life of quilting, blogging, and reading! Quit that foolish smile!

2) Think of this as a new beginning instead of a loss or sad ending. Not a new beginning for my kid off at college but for me and my husband’s new beginning. We can now just eat when we want to eat, watch TV we want to watch. We can stop giving each other the ‘deadly silent eye treatment’ when we wanted to make sure the kid does as we wanted with least amount of fuss. We can just actually talk out loud and communicate like the good old days when our child was under the age of one. Quit enjoying this time so much!

3) Stay connected to my kids via technology but do it on my time and my schedule. I don’t need to answer each email within 5 seconds.I will treat my child like I treat a job.  If a question comes up during my regular working hours, I respond, but after hours, the response can wait until morning.  This keeps my sanity and also helps my kids become more resourceful.  Remember as an overseas parent – time zones suck so why set the ground rules that will allow me to be worked up or irritated right when I need to go to bed. I won’t log on!

4) Lean on friends – Yes there is life after kids! Now I can stay out as late as I WANT or just go to bed when I want. I no longer have to wait up to do the “hug and smell test” good night squeeze! I can bug my friends and have fun. If I want to give late night hugs, I can just wake up Kevin.

5) Do nice things for myself on a routine basis. ENOUGH SAID if I have not already been doing this…do MORE of this.

6) Experts often say “Don’t make any major changes in your life during this time, like selling the house or moving to another city or state.” As an Expat, THIS IS THE TIME MOST OF US MOVE because we have stayed trying to get that last child out of High School and the company was kind enough to let us stay. Now it is time to move on.  In many ways this is great.  Few children want to come home to a ‘home’ they have never lived in.  Perhaps this means they will want to find that holiday job or summer job and start becoming a productive member of society instead of my couch potato in a new location.

7) If at all possible do not have/get another baby. That would give me 18 more years before I can once again feel this ‘bad’ about letting go. Find a friend with a baby and offer to rock it one afternoon, then run like hell, so I don’t have to change the diaper or hear the baby cry!

Expat Empty Nest Syndrome is a time to thrive!

I am sure some of my expat friends who have already hit this transition in life and have succeeded will have great words of wisdom.  Please add your comments about what you did during this time in your life.


Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walkn/4858954172/

If you want a great article on real self-help for this, check out this article by John Tsilimparis

On a real personal note:  I still miss Jackie every day and I am sure my time away from Grant will be spent thinking about him.

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Starting a New School? Tips to Help Your Child


Are you excited or nervous?

Are you excited or nervous?

 See the new environment

Families often do not use their new school until the start of the school year. I always suggest to my parents who are moving to call the school and ask them if you can bring the children in to see their new environment. This often takes some anxiety off the first day of school, but it also allows you the opportunity to ‘run into’ other new families or those families that are involved with the school. These are both valuable resources. You can ask them, “Where do kids this age play or hangout?” as you point to your children. You ask them, “What are you finding to do while your family is still in the rental apartment? Sometimes this on-site visit gives your child the opportunity to see what other kids are wearing, so they don’t get stunned on that first day of school. This can be very important if the school does not have a uniform. Most kids just want to belong and not stick out too much.

Get a local resource person

Use the school secretary as a resource. Ask the school staff, “Where is the best playground around here?” – “What activities do kids in this school get involved in?” I have had students take a weekend class on pottery to find out that a child in that class would also be in their grade or classroom in a few days. Make sure your child understands how many sections or classrooms there will be with kids their age. When a child moves from a huge school to a small school, it is important for them to realize how important first impressions might be because there is a smaller pool of possible friends. This also is important if your child is going from a tiny school to a larger school. Often the first days of school have grade level assemblies or school assemblies; your child needs to know if these will be in a group of 40+ or 400+. The more information a child has on their new environment, the more in control they might feel.

Proper use of “Family Time.”

Use family time as “out of home time” not “bonding in your environment.” The more exposure your child has to get around the new town, eating at the local places close to school and knowing the names of the large streets or apartment buildings gives them more to talk about the first two days of classes when friendships are being formed. Often we are stuck in a service apartment while waiting for the shipment to clear customs. This means we have very little to do and can easily get on each other’s nerves. Take that energy and go out to explore the new environment.

#1 Rule for Success

My number one rule for all parents is – Do not show up late to the start of the school year. Friendships form so quickly that a kid that misses out on the teacher trying to make class connections with peers, he/she will suffer. This also means do not show up to school with an overly tired child. Getting off a plane on Sunday to start school on Monday can set up a child for social failure. As parents of global families, what has been your “rule of thumb” or “success strategies” that work for you family? I’d love to hear them.

Note: Related posts to starting a new school – New schools and emotions and Ahhh – Survived the first week of school




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Never Again: A look at change in an Expat’s life

Never again – words that a mother might cry about

calendar August 01

Pinch and a Punch the first of the month!

August is one month that can bring tears to a mother’s eye. It is not so much the growing up, the changes that summer brought to your family or even the fact your child will never be in this school grade again.  It is the fact that change has happened and it is possible that as a mother you will never again have that moment in time.

I used to measure my start of a new school year with the type of notebooks my children wanted to purchase or the style of their backpacks.  Sometimes it was the kind of new shoes to start the school year with. Now it is measured in ‘what my kids care to share with me.’  Never again – will the start of August be the time I am needed to ensure that this school year (year) starts out right.

For an Expat Child – sometimes the changes are massive

Often an expat child will start August in a new location. Many times this is with their family unit, so the change is manageable. They still have everyday things around them and standard family rules to obey.

Then they move out of the family unit and head off to university!

This is a milestone for all children but even more so for an expat child. Most kids are giving up the convenience of having mom and dad help them. Or someone to do the laundry and to cook.

Expat children are giving up someone who does laundry and irons each piece of clothing. Never again will the expat child have underwear that is ironed and folded into tiny little squares. Never will his cargo shorts have the seams folded and ironed together. Never again will his t-shirts be wrinkle free.

Also, he will not find his refrigerator always full of clean fruit and vegetables. His meals will not always have salad or soup with fresh bread and butter. His meals might just consist of one item, a cup of soup or a bowl of ramen.

He might find his shoes are dirty and no one thinks to clean them up after a rainy night on the busy city streets. The old dried crud on his book bag might never get wiped off. Ever.

He might not have the luxury of getting batteries for his math calculator or strings for his guitar by just writing a note and leaving it on the kitchen table for the maid or driver to pick up when she/he is out and about.

He is giving up the driver that drops him off at the front of the movie theater. He is never going to have someone stand by the side of the car and wait as he has last minute talks with his friends and then just jump into the car and know that the driver was not mad because he had to wait. Never again will be he 100% sure his designated driver has not had a drink.

Expat children often lose a ‘village’ when they go off to college.

The hardest part for many expat children when they go off to college is the fact they often also lose at the same time…their family home. Many expat families try to coincide their work move to line up with a transition of schooling for their children. This means the kid moves off to college and the parents pack up the home and move to a new location. Now the college kid does not even know what ‘home’ is like because they have never even seen where their parents are now living.


This is a whole new type of “growing up” and expat children around the world do it so well.
Please share your child’s most positive achievement during this time of growth.

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