Planning a visit to your homeland? Our resident Child Psychologist, Kate Berger, MSC, offers some sound advice for helping children adapt to their new (or old) surroundings.
During the school holidays, many international families pack up and head back to their native countries. It can be an exciting time that you and your family have been looking forward to for months. However, in the midst of the travel and excitement, it is important to consider how your kids will be feeling about going back to the place where they remember as ‘home.’
Your children likely have an image in their mind of what your former homeland looks like. Going back to this place over the holidays can bring back memories (both good and bad) and can become tricky if, in reality, things are different than they once were. You might notice that your children are acting differently during your trip home, so it is important to understand the difficulties they may be going through in order to help make your holidays more enjoyable.
Important things to keep in mind during your visit home
Friends Change As kids develop at such a fast pace, it is almost certain that no matter how long (or short) you have been away from your native home, your child’s friends will have changed. Your child may be surprised to find out that Jimmy is now best friends with Bobby, or that Tina and Elise now do gymnastics instead of ice-skating. Your child may also feel that he/she can no longer relate to the same friends, which can cause loneliness during your stay.
Places Change Unexpected changes may have occurred to places while you have been away. The grocery store where your daughter remembers buying her favorite cereal may have gone out of business; the school where your youngest child learned to read may have been renovated; your old house may have been painted a new color. All of these changes can be upsetting for your kids and can make them feel lost or out-of-place.
New Life vs. Old Life Although your kids may have adjusted to their expat-life relatively well, sometimes going back to their previous home can make them realize how different their two ‘homes’ really are. Your kids may want to talk about their new life with family and friends, but could have a hard time when they realize that people are not interested in Sinter Klaas and hagelslag. Feeling like they have to adapt their interests in order to get along with people at home may cause them to feel insecure.
New Life Resistance On the other hand, you may find that your kids are having a blast being back home and do not want to return to the Netherlands. Maybe they feel that at ‘home’ they have more in common with their peers, or they like the culture and customs better. Leaving at the end of the holiday could cause your children to feel sad or lonely.
Key things you can do to help your children before, during, and after your visit
Prepare in advance Help your kids cope with their feelings by being prepared in advance. Talk to your kids about how they can expect things to be different, and reminisce about how things once were. Alert your kids that their old friends may now have different interests, and explain why others may not want to hear all about life in the Netherlands.
Stay active within moderation Keeping an active schedule during your trip can also help. Take time to do things that your kids are interested in and enjoy. Too much down-time (or time spent shopping, driving, etc.) may heighten any negative feelings they may be experiencing. Having said that, remember that some down-time is definitely needed so that your kids do not get overwhelmed and exhausted. Everything in moderation!
Allow space for sharing feelings Before, during and after your trip, talk to your kids! Provide a dialogue in which your children can express memories (both good and bad) of their previous home. Give them the opportunity to express how they have witnessed things that have changed. Acknowledge how they may be feeling due to these changes, whether it be sadness, frustration, or a sense of loss. Share with them your own feelings about what you see around you, so that they know they are not alone in their thoughts.
Lend support when needed If your children are having a hard time with the idea of returning to the Netherlands, remind them why you are going back, while acknowledging what they are feeling. You probably have mixed feelings as well, so let them know that it is normal to feel that way. Mention to them all the positive aspects of their life in the Netherlands, and - most importantly - help them feel supported by your family unit so that they do not feel alone or insecure about returning. Remember that what your kids are going through is normal – and probably expected, to some extent – so being prepared can help make the most of your holidays. If you feel that your child is really struggling or that you do not have the ability to help the situation, it may be time to consult a professional.
Child Psychologist, Kate Berger, MSc, offers emotional health services for expatriate children and adolescents in the Amsterdam area through her practice, the Expat Kids Club.
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