J Simens.com

Early Childhood Success: Don’t focus on academics

Blog jsimens - helping families worldwideI work with the global population as well as US based parents. I am always asked about “fostering childhood success.” I remind them that I am heavily invested and involved in early childhood care.

Parents need to focus on three key things for early success with their child’s preschool experience.

Three Key Things Parents Can Do

First – Kids need to have exposure to letters and sounds, so parents need to read aloud to their children starting at an early age. It is great to share as many possible books with your young child but also have one old favorite story that you read again and again.  Repetition helps a child understand the whole reading and writing process.

Second –  Kids need to learn how to take turns.  If a child has not had exposure to group settings, kindergarten is very hard for them and their new kindergarten teacher. Make sure kids have play dates that make them share and take turns. Events, where they get to mingle with peers but must wait to take their turn in the jumpy castle or stand in line to get their cupcake, are all learning experiences that help kids function in a kindergarten classroom.

Third – Kids need to know how to use supplies and return them to an organized manner to the location they belong in.  Many parents encourage kids to work with letters, puzzles, paper, and paste but then clean up after their child. Kids that can get the supplies they need in a classroom will be more independent in their school work in Kindergarten. The teacher also looks for kids that will help with the flow of the class and a child that returns supplies to their correct area will be seen as a leader or extremely helpful to any teacher.

Note:  I hate it when parents use the words “real school” to mean what comes after preschool.  As an early childhood development expert – I feel those years of birth to age 5 are the most important in your child’s life.


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Summer Time breeds Neighborhood Kids and Overlap: Sane or Confusing

School Buses

School’s out for the summer!

Practical or Foolish, how are the stops in your home from the neighborhood kids?

Do you seldom see your own children? Often as parents, we only remember the negative situations with our children’s neighborhood friends. Parents need to have the real facts and data so they can back up their needs with what has been happening.

Keeping track of time is important

Summer time breeds neighborhood kids and your front door banging open and shut. Summer time generates a lot of children in your living room or backyard. Summer time can foster close family time.

I encourage parents to keep a small notebook with playtime interactions that include the date and the length of time the kids played together in their own home as well as how often they were next door at their peers home. Knowing that your child was also at their home eight times this week makes it not seem so bad when their child shows up the ninth time this week.  It is also important to realize if this was a ‘normal’ week of interactions or if it was out of the norm.

 Stop bad habits before it is too late

It is much easier to stop the overuse of your home when you first noticed it happen than trying to correct a situation after it has become more of a habit. Make sure you know what is happening at the start of your summer so you are able to modify the play dates prior to it becoming a long hot July and even longer, hotter August.

As an international school counselor I often have parents find their family living in compounds or camps so this closeness and setting a play boundary is a huge concern for many families. Some families find that their own living room is overrun with kids as soon as the school day is over. It often helps to have the rule that all kids must “go home” first before they can come back to play.  This allows all those important school papers to get to their own home instead of being left at your house.  It also allows the child to possibly eat an afterschool snack at their own home creating less of a mess in your own home. I think the biggest benefit is it allows you to check in with our own children to see what their day was like and if they have any major things that need to be taken care of before play starts.

Home first then play

This is also wise during summer hours. If your child goes off to a dance class, always make them come into your own home first before going next door to play. This allows her to put up her dance shoes and dance bag. She can grab a snack and get ready for a play date next door.  If your child leaves the car directly, those special dance shoes might remain at the neighbors and will not be easy to find before the next dance class.

Rules and Meltdowns

I encourage parents to be honest with their own children first before they approach the neighborhood kids or parents. Parents should avoid having their own child meltdown when they are addressing the problem of too much time together or limiting the use of playtime at their own home.

Once you make the rules public, you need to keep to your own rules. Families deserve to have special time as a family unit. This is one benefit of the long summer hours and the kids out of school. Don’t let your home become a place where you can’t take advantage of this family time.

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Expat Family : Supporting changes around the world

Many of my friends are International school teachers and they celebrate 100 days of school.  I have put two things I hold dear to my heart. Kids and Emotions.  Here are my favorite 100 emotions that we can help every child know and learn! You can download an easy tool to see all 100 basic emotions here.

 Emotions – Jsimens 100 days


world heart


If you are a parent raising your child abroad, it is important that you know about emotions but you also need to know about “Transition Education”


The first researchers we had on this subject were Unseem and Langford. They said we need to provide children with the knowledge and skills to successfully manage transitions while affirming and celebrating their unique experiences and backgrounds.

Most children are affected by a transition in some way during their lives.

If they do not move, it is likely that at some point a friends, relative, or classmate will move. The children left behind will also experience adjustments. Helping a child understand the cycles of a transition and being able to label how they are feeling helps them and others in their life.

History of Transition Education

Useem said in 1976 – She found children growing up outside their home country shared unique characteristics. She was concerned that few educators were aware of this.

Mary Langford in 1998 shared the same concern and conducted research among international schools. She asked – “What is it that educators understand about global nomads and what are international schools doing to accommodate their needs?”

This was the first study in the field of transition. – Educators thought international schools have to have a role in meeting the needs of these children. It logically follows that schools everywhere have a responsibility to meet the needs of their mobile population. Debra Rader in 1998 made a model of transition education.

I travel around the world giving presentations to educators, parent organizations and school administrators explaining to them the need to support the families as they relocate around the world. Here is an example of one of my talks.

The common experience of international mobility – for kids they can lose their sense of security, feel disoriented when their routine is changed and all that is familiar is taken away. It is important to balance past experiences and focusing on helping them adjust to the new place. As educators and parents, we must “see” and “know the child” and where they have been or their history. This affirms their sense of self and gives them a sense of security that will help them settle into the new place.

Moving back – Children often have certain expectations of “Home” and are disappointed when these expectations are not met. They think they are going to feel completely comfortable and have a sense of belonging – yet things have changed. Some kids even want time to stand still while they were gone…it does not. But most important is – many children moving to their passport country are not really moving back – but in fact, it might be the first time they are going to be living there. “Home” in this case, is actually their parent’s home. Their version of “home” is where they have been growing up.

The process of transition – remember parents and children respond differently to these stages and may move through them at different rates. The attitudes of parents are often reflected in the attitudes of their children.

Problem-solving skills –children who move are adjusting to a wide range of new circumstances and well-developed life skills are a tremendous asset.

Friendships and relationships – leaving and making friends can be the greatest concern for both adults and children who move.

Personal and cultural identity – easily seen, words, behavior, food we eat, clothes, festivals we celebrate – these things make up our culture. Children are influenced by the cultures of babysitters, teachers, friends, neighbors and other people who are significant in their lives.

My favorite books that every school counselor and global parent need to read.

New Kid in School” Using literature to help children in transition By Debra Rader and Linda Harris Sittig – view it here.

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile by Lois J. Bushong, MS. – view it here.

These would be perfect valentine day gift for your international school teacher, counselor or parent.

Don’t forget my favorite valentine day book for expats written by my son when he was 11 years old living in Lagos, Nigeria.

Spirit of Saint Valentine - Grant Simens

A friend made this for me and I am still laughing. Hope you have a wonderful celebration with those that you love.



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Perfect way to spend a vacation -words by five years olds

thinking child

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

A perfect five-year-olds holiday – I hope their parent’s vacation plans matched up to their child’s expectation. (note– child’s spelling as written by them)

  • playing at the beach
  • going to Maine
  • swim in the pool
  • going to McDonalds
  • going to Singapores
  • go on an airplane
  • plaaying
  • going to Bali
  • going to hawwloeen
  • going to holland and the snow
  • going shipping to put food in the hotel rfrigeratr
  • going home ot see my family
  • playng in the sand

I found a random sheet of these words in a file while looking for a “tax” sheet of paper.  It took me right back to my teaching job in Indonesia many years ago.  I wish I had put each child’s name on their statement to help with my memory. I do recall asking them ‘What are you looking forward to doing this vacation?”

Now is the perfect time to capture your child’s memory of their recent holiday.  I’d ask them three simple questions:

  1. If we were able to “re-do” one thing again in the vacation, what would you like to experience again?
  2. Since food, smells or sights help us remember the memories, what item do you remember the most about our past vacation?
  3. What emotion would you put on that memory?

I am always sad when I go into a classroom and see –

“My favorite…”  or “The best part of my vacation was…”

I think adults often want the kids to be happy and express emotions that they find enjoyable.  So putting the label as ‘best or favorite’ only allows the child to feel it is possible to be ‘good’ or have ‘happy’ thoughts. What happens if this past vacation wasn’t that way.  What happens if some other emotion is how the child feels about the events?

Remember to be a whole person we need to experience the highs and lows and learn how to deal with them at a young age.

Crayons - around the world

… and the whole range of emotions.

So many parents do not talk about a vacation after it is over. They just move on to the next event coming up. Young children need to reflect on their experiences and to label and file them into their memory.

So many expats take wonderful vacations but don’t take the time to make these lasting memories for their young children. It just becomes something we have done but not a “Memory” to keep. I always encourage families to revisit the holiday so they can capture some of the critical things to lock away into a memory.

Here is an example of capturing one of our vacations to the  Cook Islands where we meet up with Grandparents to spend the Christmas Holidays. We were traveling from Jakarta, Indonesia and they were coming from San Francisco, CA, USA.  A story as told by my four-year-old:

  1. If we were able to “re-do” one thing again in the vacation, what would you like to experience again? I’d like to visit Grandpa at the beach again to make those circle of flowers to wear. (circlet of flowers known as an ‘ei katu) We had fun making one for everyone to wear Christmas Day. I made your‘s the prettiest! I loved Rarotonga.
  2. Since food, smells or sights help us remember the memories, what item do you remember the most about our past vacation? I liked the really yellow banana chips that were hot, salty and looked neat with red ketchup on them.
  3. What emotion would you put on that memory? I’d put overjoyed when building flower gifts with Grandpa and tickled when eating!

Med and High emotions

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Top Tips on Instilling Confidence in your Child this Summer

Moving somewhere new is never easy, and for a child it can be downright daunting. Starting a new school and having to make new friends is a big task. You can help greatly with this process by instilling a sense of confidence and self-worth into your child even before you make the big move.

Why don’t you use some of your free time this summer working on this!

imgres 3
Summer… ahh

Attachment parenting is one key way to make confidence-building in your children.

Babies are very resilient and it is never too late to start building up your child’s self-image. Getting to know your child and seeing things from his/her point of view will help him or her learn to trust in themselves. Having close connections help us feel like we matter.

There are psychological challenges involved in all moves. One key psychological issue in all expat or people 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, a community, a unit, a race of people, a tribe, a great school, a good job or something. If we feel connected, we are happy and fulfilled.

There are also lots of tips to help parents understand this part of their child’s life.  As an expert on Family Transitions, I have seen thousands of families move around the world. I have also been doing this global nomad style with my own two kids for a long time. Try these suggestions on ways to cope with any transition:

1. Take an honest look at yourself. What are your strengths, weaknesses, skills? How did those influence “positively or negatively” your transition? What is each child’s strengths?  How can they use these strengths to make the new situation better?

2. Step up your self-care. Major changes are physically and emotionally taxing. You need self-care now more than ever. Children need more sleep and good food.  Forget the junk food and the late nights, try to get into a routine as close as their old routine so they feel comfortable.

3. Focus on what you want, and less on what you don’t want. Keep your eye on the prize. This is every important because it helps form the words out of our mouths. If you keep talking about what you don’t want your children will just focus on that. (Remember your kids only hear about half of what you actually say so why are you saying negative things?) Focus on what you want.

4. Work on your thoughts. Calm your fears and reinforce your sense of hope and happiness. Be honest about your feelings and fears because children hate it when their parents lie to them.  So be honest but focus on the reason you choose this type of lifestyle..

5. Create your own rite of passage. Ceremony and ritual help with all transitions. The more family rituals you have the stronger your family bonds will be and the stronger your children will be with coping skills that will help them lifelong.

We really do need to put family first in any move. I often think as parents we need to rethink things as our children get older, but we also need to revisit things.  Many of the things that work and were good parent advice for your toddler works well for your child as he or she heads off to college.  You want them to trust in themselves.

As with most parenting concerns, if we start with ourselves we can help our children better. Try to improve your own self-confidence. In caring for your child, you can often heal yourself. Look closely at your own life.

Notes: Some family therapists ask clients to do this activity.  It is called “passing on the best, and discarding the rest”

List the specific things your parents did to build your self-image.

List the specific things your parents did to weaken your self-image.

Now resolve to emulate the good things your parents did and avoid the rest.

If you find it difficult to follow through with this exercise on your own, get help from a professional. Both you and your child will benefit.

I wish you the best – where ever this summer finds you on your path to a new adventure.

Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child

Five C’s of Singapore… oops make that six

The streets of Singapore can be entertaining for an expat in Asia sooner or later you run into someone you know.  The initial  “you look familiar stare” turns into the “Oh, where did I meet him”, to finally recognition, “Carl?”  It is hard to place someone from your past into a new situation quickly.

Then you have the quick 2-minute talk on the street about where are you living now? How is your family? What are your upcoming plans? Goodbyes and tell your family hello chat. Amazing how quickly you can get into a reconnection if you are both used to doing them.

Singapore is a hub 

Singapore 1989 - Has it changed?

Singapore 1989 – Has it changed?

Singapore has been a base for us since our first international assignment as a family.  It is amazing 28 years later we still do to the same dentist and doctors establishment we used back there. Often when you go to other assignments in this area, you will fly in and out of Singapore to do medical treatments.  I am going to miss Singapore.

We lived in Singapore before we had children and we were a two income family. We thought is was an expensive assignment but we loved it.  We had everything we needed to have fun there.

  1. A pile of cash
  2. credit cards
  3. a car
  4. a condominium
  5. and a club membership

Expats and Dogs make a good combination

We even brought my dog Manaia. He was a black lab.  I got Manaia when I returned back to the USA after teaching on the island of Samoa.

Expats and Dogs Make a Good Combination

Expats and Dogs Make a Good Combination

Each village in Samoa is autonomous and led by a council of matai referred to as the ‘village fono.’ The daughter of a high chief in a village is known as a “taupou” or “sa’o’aualuma” when they perform public ceremonial roles; the male equivalent is known as the “manaia”, or “sa’o’aumaga.” I called my dog Manaia  because he was a “Prince” to me.

Singapore was a fun time for us. Vacations to all areas around Asia and tons of visitors.  It was the first time I learned how to shop during a three week summer holiday to get all that I would need for a whole year. Singapore is a shopping treat for many, but some things were hard to find for my size.

We did all the traditional things like “must have Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel.”  The Singapore Sling is a South East Asian cocktail. This long drink was developed sometime before 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender working at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

We had family and friends all eager to visit us since Singapore is such a step off  point to go to other Asia locations.

Great Friends, Great Locations - Great Memories

Great Friends, Great Locations – Great Memories

Are your global nomads going to be hidden immigrants?

Asia has become a very important part of our family’s background. Our kids might be more drawn to these cultures than they are to the American cultures they never lived in. I believe their identity, their likes and disliked, their beliefs about who they are, are firmly built on their global experiences. When they finally went back to the USA for college they fell into the group called hidden immigrants. They looked like Americans but didn’t know much about being American.

Chopsticks Attempt #1

Chopsticks Attempt #1

My children were exposed to Asia food when they were very young in our own home and where we went out to eat. I believe Jackie had mastered chopsticks by the time she was three years old. Sushi is still one of her favorite meals to eat. One visit to Kansas, my mother, asked what we wanted for dinner. “Lobster and rice”, said Grant. This was our common experience when we’d hit a beach BBQ in Asia. He over heard that grandma might BBQ tonight. So when asked, he went for his ‘go to’ favorite meal.  It did not happen in Northwest Kansas that night.

Being a Farmer means something very different to my son than it does to me

Being a Farmer means something very different to my son than it does to me

I grew up in that area of Kansas and did not move until I was 18 years old.  My version of being a farmer meant growing wheat or  sorghum and corn for grain. It meant being involved in growing hay for the cattle. Grant growing up in Asia had a different viewpoint of what it means to be a farmer.

Grant loved harvesting the fruit we had around our Asian homes. He would get bananas, rambutans, papayas and coconuts out of our yards. He would rattle off the facts about these crops. “Botanically, the coconut fruit is a drupe, not a true nut. It has three layers, the exocarp, mesocarp and the endocarp. (sound familiar). The exocarp and mesocarp make up the “husk” of the coconut. Often coconuts sold in the USA have had the exocarp (outermost layer) removed. The mesocarp is composed of the fiber or hush. Remember it is not a true nut.”

So when you say “farmer”, it does not mean the same thing in our household.

A coconut can float extremely long distances across oceans. I am sure the 2000 American film ‘Cast Away’ seems different to someone who has played a lot with coconuts on beaches than to someone who has not.

Play it forward

I hope when global nomads head out across the world they attack each assignment as one that they might revisit again and again so they make the most out of the situation. Imagine what things would be like if you assumed you might be building connections that would last over 28 years vs. thinking this is a one-off assignment. If I had know that Singapore would have been in my life off and on for this long of time, I would have added a 6th “C” on my Singapore list.

  1. A pile of cash
  2. credit cards
  3. a car
  4. a condominium
  5. and a club membership
  6. Connections and communications



Child Identity – here is a nice write up about identity that includes some information about TCKs.

The Singapore sling has been documented as early as 1930 as a recipe in the Savoy Cocktail Book; Ingredients ¼ lemon juice, ¼ Dry Gin, ½ Cherry Brandy: “Shake well and strain into medium size glass, and fill with soda water. Add 1 lump of ice”.

Kansas Top Ten Cash Crops:

Wheat, Sorghum, Corn, Soybeans, Hay, Marijuana, Sunflowers, Oats, Beans, Cotton.

Fruits: drupe (or stone fruit) typical drupes include olives, peaches, plums, and cherries. Bramble fruits (such as the blackberry and the  raspberry) are aggregates of drupelets. 

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Lost in the Lingo, but loving the knowledge

Lost in the lingo

Lost in the lingo

I was recently asked if I still saw the BRIC countries as my key focus group.

I am honest enough to say “What?” and hope the conversation gets back to one I can understand. I am talking to a global relocation agent. He went on to explain that the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia,India and China) were among the top emerging destinations for international assignments. China is often a top emerging country, but there were concerns about their slowing economy.  Brazil’s vast natural resources and its strategic location cause many international assignments.  India is known for its large strong workforce. Russia seems to be on a decline now due to continued difficulty in making significant inroads or long term investments.

Challenging locations

China, Brazil and India are often seen as the countries with the most challenges for international assignees.  Brazil is known for it’s overwhelmingly immigration complexities and timing as posing challenges.

China and India cultural and family adaptation and quality of life issues were more predominant.

The USA also shows up on this list of challenging locations.

  • immigration regulations
  • taxtation
  • difficulty in obtaining transportation without a credit record

BRIC countries assignment failure

BRIC countries top four of the five locations for assignment failure. China seems to be the highest, then India in second place for failures of assignments. Russia and the United States tied in third and fourth place, followed by Russia in fifth place. The two top reasons for failure were:

  1. Inability to adapt to the culture, family and spouse/partner issues
  2. Quality of life concerns

I can honestly say this was a very long coffee break and for once I did very little talking until he got to the ‘failure’ of the families.

Successes of Families

I was able to counter balance his failures with story after story of successful family transitions.  I shared with him about a friend I knew that went from England to Nigeria, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia,. Also, Papua New Guinea, Netherlands, Trinidad, Tobago, Thailand, USA, Equatorial Guinea were on her “home” list. These locations not in a straight line but much like when I am going around the fruit market looking at all the options in a Bangkok wet market.   She often ended back in ‘repeat locations’.

I shared with him the family that had started out as a newly married couple leaving the USA. They went to UK, Australia, and China where they added three children.  Then they went back to the USA. They found themselves in Nigeria with two children going to high school there and one off in boarding school in London. Then off to Viet Nam they went and the kids headed off to university. A short hop to Indonesia and then they found themselves with an elder parent that moved into their family as they relocated to Bangkok. They went from 2 people, to three in their family, to four, to five, to four, to two, to three.  A very fluid rotation of family members.

I shared with him a family that had one child and adopted a child abroad. Then the family split but they remained in the same location abroad so the children had two households.  Both parents remarried so now the kids had four parents. This family went for two to three to four to six people!

What causes a family to flourish abroad

If you are raising a global nomad the need for communication is even more important for success.  Global families need to have both instrumental and affective communication.  Instrumental communication is the exchange of factual information. “I will pick you up at 2:00 in front of the library.” Affective communication deals with how you share your emotions.

isolation abroadOften global families travel around  in a small cocoon there they rely heavily on each other.  If these global families have indirect or vague communication this contributes to a lack of intimacy and emotional bonding between the family members.  This leads to the feeling of isolation while abroad.

As we finished up our cup of coffee, I realized that families abroad will only be as successful as the people in the family want to be successful. A family can fail when they don’t move around or they can flourish in move after move.

Here is a short video of some of the things I have been able to do while trailing around the world.









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Support your kids when the unthinkable happens: Death Abroad

Working with a global population, I always try to give multi cultural stories as well as stories that deal with the issues that happen when a death occurs in a family.

Death notice

Here are my top four books today:

Fly High – the story of Bessie Colemen” (Borden 2001) determined to ‘be someone’ received her international pilot license in 1921 – a story about her and her death

“My Man Blue” (grimes 2002) death of a father and how a child learns to accept a new friends of his mother.

“Mama does the Mambo” (Leiner 2001) Death of a dad but Mom and daughter still have a passion for music and dance.

“Papa’s Latkes” (Edwards 2004) death of a mom then dad and girls build new traditions.

When I think about all the little global nomads we have running around the world – I think that Sagan’s words resonate more than ever, and will continue with each generation until the human species “wakes up”.

Related blog postings: Death – as an expat (abroad) and emotions during worry or death

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