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Tory Almond is the founder of The English Connection based in Amsterdam, an organisation that provides training for youth and families who will be or are dealing with culture and reverse culture shock. He especially helps TCKs adapt to life in Amsterdam and throughout Europe. “Kids are pretty resilient and adjust well to change” says Tory, “their lives are always in constant change and adjustment, and unlike their parents, who have formed their identity around a specific culture, they are not as connected to their old culture and can meld into their new one fairly quickly. They pick up on social cues easier, learn the language quicker, and connect with new friends faster. Ultimately they will process the whole change faster than their parents.”
Lucille has seen this with her own kids, the eldest of which had lived in three countries by the time he was seven. “Obviously the individual personality of the child plays an important role, but I’ve often realised that I was far more resistant to change than my children were” she says. “They are much braver than I am, and once the initial apprehension of starting a new school or making new friends has been overcome, they settle in no time.”
TCKs are extremely adaptable. They can handle much more than you think. The saying ‘change is the only constant in life’ is their mantra. Jane Barron is a youth intercultural transition specialist, and the founder of Globally Grounded. She’s dedicated to equipping students crossing cultures, along with their families and those who educate them, as they navigate the triumphs and trials associated with cross-cultural domestic and/or international transitions. She believes in the importance of change management and supporting expat kids to cope with moving in a healthy and proactive way.
“Kids do amazing things with the right information,” Jane says. “Those whose parents have been intentional and authentic in managing mobility are the ones who exceed expectations. I am not talking about spoon-feeding or wrapping our children up in cotton wool. I really do mean manage, not taking over or helicopter parenting. This is about arming children with the right information and providing them with a nurturing and supportive training environment at home and school that places them in a position to succeed. What they do with that information will determine the level of success.”
Tips for adapting
The key to successful transition lies in information, observation and communication.
At home, include your child as much as you can with regards to moving. Through information you can build inclusion which ultimately empowers a child. This is an important mindset to achieve.
Observe your child. Look out for behaviour patterns that are different as they may signal transition trauma. For example, younger children may become more needy, show separation anxiety or be more prone to tantrums. You know your child best, so be on the lookout for these changes (Further reading: Signs that your child is having difficulty adjusting to life abroad).
Communication is absolutely key. Talk to your child about the move, the future, the country and friends you’ll be leaving behind. An honest environment in which children feel able to express themselves is vital for successful transitions.
Jane Barron says “Schooling is such a big part of children’s lives. How they feel about school flows into every other facet of their being. I recently worked with a cross cultural family who had lived in Asia and Europe before arriving in Australia due to the relocation of their dad’s job. Having moved schools and countries a number of times before, both Tom and Alexander, aged 13 and 10, knew what it was like to be the new kid and to feel lonely. Through open communication, both boys came to realise their mixed emotions were normal which brought relief, created a home environment where each family member could communicate openly and honestly, and placed both boys in a position to engage in their learning activities. The time spent exploring social nuances and language colloquialisms allowed them to connect with their new peers and feel a sense of belonging. Also, examining their previous and new educational cultures resulted in them both feeling comfortable, valued and understood in their new classes from day one. The knowledge and understanding gained, removed the feelings of chaos and uncertainty and replaced them with calm and confidence, allowing them to get on with the process of learning, making new friends, engaging in their extra-curricular activities, creating a sense of belonging, feeling settled and adding to their cultural identity.” Knowledge is power!
With help, children can learn adaptability and in future moves they will have an ever-greater arsenal of tools to use to adapt to their new surroundings. Erika Robertson is a teacher at an international school in Amsterdam and has lived in seven countries so is all too familiar with moving with a family. Her twelve-year-old daughter has lived in six countries, her nine-year-old son, in five. “Even at a young age kids are able to draw lessons from previous moves” she says. “We talk about feeling worried and nervous in new environments, and also about the importance of baby steps. Settling in is a process that happens gradually.” She continues, “it’s really helpful for my kids to know that everyone in their class at school has also been new at some point, and that they also move around as my kids do.”