Tips for living abroad with kids: Mama Mariken Bouhas Janssen, a specialist in parenting and child development & founder of Pure Parenting, shares her tips
Our newest contributor Mariken Bouhas Janssen is the Founder of Pure Parenting, a brilliant online service which offers personal help and guidance for any questions that you may have about raising young children without leaving the comfort of your home. In there first of her features, Mariken shares her top tips on helping our expat kids feel stable, secure and in touch with friends and family in our home countries.
Living abroad as a family, can be a fantastic experience, allowing you to have a lot of quality time together. The biggest downside, however is missing your trusted support network of parents, friends and social systems, who share the same values. Day to day living and getting into a routine is harder as you can not fall back on your old or predictable patterns. Most things around you are probably different to what you were used to as a child or to how you were raised. The schooling system, medical care, the food and safety of your children as well as the culture, language and social norms are different. All the things you took for granted back home, you now have to look/ search for or adjust to. You basically need to find out how to fit in. And while you are creating a new system for your family, things around you change all the time as people around you come and go. This can make you feel like you are thrown out of your comfort zone constantly and who would not find that challenging?
What can we do to help our children not to feel displaced?
It is important that you prepare yourself and your kids well, so they know (a little) what to expect. Keep them informed, by reading and telling them about the place you are going to and try to involve them where you can, depending on their age. The way you feel about living abroad impacts your child’s experience. Even with very little children, you have more influence on your child(rens) emotions and feelings than you might realize. Yes really! So if you feel your new place is your new home, your children will be very likely to feel the same. I have met many mums and they told me to that they found it most challenging themselves and this has indeed impacted their child’s feelings/ emotions. If you, as a parent, see new challenges as learning experiences and teach your children to think, feel and act positive towards these, you are teaching them great skills of how to cope with and enjoy new life experiences.
What can we do to help children whose friends move back to their home countries?
Saying goodbye to dear friends is difficult for everyone. Allow your child to feel sad or upset, empathize with him and give attention to these big feelings and the situation. Take time to sit and talk about it or use other ways to let your children express how they feel. Let them know it is very understandable what they are going through. Read books about saying goodbye or draw pictures with your little ones. Keep memories alive but also define the time to think about it, how to move on and that it’s good to make new friends while keeping others in your heart!
And what about when it’s time for us to move on – how can we help kids with the transition?
When it’s time to move on, it is important to manage transitions carefully to make these a positive rather than traumatic experience. Do make sure that some things stay the same wherever you go and inform your children about the plan in advance. This helps children to feel more safe if they have some time to get used to the idea and have information and awareness about all the changes. Take familiar materials or physical possessions with you. Children are likely to feel safe and secure when their environment resembles something they know. To a little child, you can easily say; “Your bed will always be your bed with your stuffed animals. What will be different is the room where it stands in. You can adapt this conversation depending on their age. It can also help to take somethings they love to eat, as it can take time to find things which suit our taste or adapt to new foods.
Try to stick to familiair sleep, food and play routines– this works best with children as chaos can make childeren feel insecure. Create some daily quality time where you sit with them will help them to feel safe and reassured that they don’t have to worry about their new home.
How can we maintain relationships with family and friends back ‘home’?
It can be difficult to share your situation with your family and friends as it’s not always easy for them to relate to your circumstances. Therefore you have to put effort in those relationships to stay connected, as connection is the key for relationships. Think about what it is that you want your children to have for relationship with their family and translate your ideas practically into their (daily) lives. Talking online is nice but most children are not big fans. Here are some alternatives as todays technology really makes it easier to stay in touch! Grandparents can read stories on skype or record reading a story. My mum read my sons favorite book, she recorded it and he was able listen to it any time. Remember occasions! Such as birthdays, anniversary’s and send photo’s, & small video clips as messages to family. Let them draw pictures and take pictures of these to send. You can add photos to cards online or just send regular pictures. Short frequent modes of contact moments work better than long occasional conversations.
Parenting can be a challenging and stressful role no matter where you choose to settle in.
Remember for your child, you are their world and that experience of a warm, loving bond between parent and child can supersede any environmental change and help a child feel secure no matter where in the world they are living…