Adjusting to A New School – How it is a team effort for the Parent and Child?

“My heart hurts when I think about leaving my friends. I have so many people that I have grown to love.  Everyone says that I will be able to make new friends, but it’s not the same.  I am tired of hearing that over and over again! I don’t want to start a new school and meet new people. I don’t have any control over my life and I am so tired!”

The pain of starting a new school is challenging at its core because you have to make a new group of friends and you have to learn how to live in a new place.  Children thrive upon a fixed routine and that gets thrown apart when you live somewhere new.  Instead of the things that you know you have to do, you have to learn a new system and have to create a different set of routines that work for you and your family.

What You Can (and Can’t) Do

If your child is incessantly whining, trying to talk you out of moving or just stomping around the house slamming doors, it’s easy for you to get frustrated with their reactions. The most important thing you can do, however, is engage their concerns and feelings. Like most problems teenagers confront, simply listening to them – without trying to argue or make a point – can do a world of good.

Relocation is a long process and throughout there are steps you can take (and a few you shouldn’t) to help minimize the stress on your teen. Some of the more helpful tips are listed below:

  • Expressing Their Feelings- Children need to be able to grieve and experience their emotions. When they can express their feelings, they are able to move on and feel open to new experiences. I have heard many parents feel impatient because they want their child to “get on with it and just be ready to deal with a new experience”.  Depending on your adolescent and their circumstances, it can take time for them to adjust because they have created a community that they trust and they have to grieve because it is their loss.  Parents have to remember that the adolescent did not make the choice to move so they need time to make the transition.
  • Making New Connections-Children should join groups and do activities that they are interested in at their new school; Parents can ask their child who they connect with at their new school and then you can pursue playdates so that your child can feel more settled. When adolescents make connections in their new location, they can start to see the benefits of a new location and what this can mean in their life. It is also helpful to make friends with a family who has been here for a year or two so they can understand what you/your child are going through while also feeling more settled because they have found things that make them content.  “Until I met the “Jones”, I did not know that there were women’s groups that I could join. It made me feel more at ease and figure out what I needed to learn. Now, when I feel like I am alone, I realize there are people I can call on and it gets better.”
  • Maintaining the Important Connections – Encouraging and making an effort so that they can still keep their friendships alive will help your children feel more settled in their new location. Children have to keep in mind that there is a balance because if you are only connecting with your friends in your previous country, it makes it impossible to build new friendships. With the internet, it makes it easier than ever to keep up your previous relationships.  If you find that you are talking to friends from your previous location on a daily basis, it can prevent you from getting settled and building close relationships in your new school.
  • Keeping a Positive Outlook-As the first day draws near, begin talking to your child about his/her expectations, hopes, and fears for the upcoming school year. Reassure him/her that other children are having the same feelings and that he/she will be sure to have a great year. Present school as a place where she’ll learn new things and make friends. It helps to show them videos of their new school so they can begin to get excited about what is going to come.
  • Having Some Control over the Situation-If it is possible to let your child choose between a few schools, this helps them feel like they have some input over the decision. Figure out what control you can give to your child so they feel more invested in the move. It could be: How would you want to decorate your new room? What activities would you like to do? How would you like to end your time here-a party, sleep-over, time with your best friend?

Not all children experience stress when moving-many are very excited and face no issues about the change.  It is different and you cannot predict how someone feels.  Even if a child feels excited, it can change when he/she is in a new situation.  Being open and letting your adolescent move through the different stages is important.

It takes an entire village to raise your Child

For parents, it is important to remember that you should not put a negative slant on the life that they had before because a person is a sum of their collective experiences.  In counseling sessions, I have heard families say to their child that, “One country is better than another country so you should feel happier and you won’t miss your previous experience”.  Parents say it because they want their child to be optimistic about the move and feel good about the change. However, a child needs to take his/her time to feel sad and then he/she will move to a more positive outlook when he/she is ready. When a parent says something negative, it takes away from a child and once the child takes in that feeling as his/her own, it can cut themselves off from a very important experience.

“Anarkali” lived in many different countries from the time she was little.  She moved from India to England.  She was 10 years old and had lived in India for the first 9 years of her life.  When they had to move to England, she was devastated because she had so many good friends and she had special caretakers who showered her with love.  Her family told her, “You’re going to be living in a better place.  There are not too many playgrounds here and you will be happier.   You will forget about India after you have lived in England.” She felt depressed because her family felt so different from her.  She came to realize that she could not express how she genuinely felt because they always told her how bad India was.  At a certain point, she cut herself off from the love she experienced and started to talk negatively about her time in India.  It takes a village to raise your child and by allowing her to feel good about her experiences is important.  Parents have to keep their feelings in check when they are trying to understand what a child is experiencing.

In conclusion…

Starting a new school can be challenging and hard, but in time, you will find new friends and things you enjoy.  I am not going to tell you that it does not hurt to leave your friends behind because I know that it is so painful. You have to figure out who you are in a new community and be with what is not known.  That is the part that is scariest and the hardest part of change.  When you start over, we often go through loss because we remember all the friends and the experiences we treasured.  No matter what you do, you cannot replicate the past-you can only create something new and there may be things that are better and there will be things that are worse. Even though you get stronger by going through the difficult experiences, it is not easy and it takes strength to go from a place of feeling sad, to feeling okay, to feeling content, to feeling happy and to finally thrive in a new school/location.  It is a team effort for adjusting to a new school and it involves a joint effort between the adolescents and their parents.  Remember that you will have your ups and downs when you deal with change but that things will get better over time.



Insomnia and How to Get Back to Sleep At Last

“I have been tossing and turning for the last 3 hours! I am so tired but I can’t sleep”  

When we are having a tough time with our relationships, our career, and have anxieties about life-we can experience insomnia.  You could be doing well in your day to day life but the anxiety and worries come in at night and unfortunately keep you awake for hours and sometimes few nights at a time. What starts out as anxiety with situations in your life can make you feel worried about the idea of going to sleep.

Most adults have trouble sleeping because they feel worried or nervous, but for some it’s a pattern that interferes with sleep on a regular basis. Anxiety symptoms that can lead to insomnia include:

  • Tension
  • Getting caught up in thoughts about past events
  • Excessive worrying about future events
  • Feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities
  • A general feeling of being revved up or overstimulated

It is important to change your lifestyle so that you are able to get the sleep you need.  When you are not able to sleep, you are going to have a difficult time managing your work, your family responsibilities, and managing stressful situations.

Why does Insomnia go on for a long time?

We don’t change our habits and we do the same things that we think will get us back to sleep.

  • Watch TV in the middle of the night-This is not effective because you are doing something that is engaging. TV shows and movies can last for a long time and that will keep you awake longer.
  • Social Media-This is also not effective because you can be on your phone for a few hours and that will not help the insomnia.
  • Stay in bed and keep trying to sleep-This does not help because it keeps you anxious about sleeping and you are not trying to do something different. I have gone through periods of insomnia where I have stayed in bed for 5 hours and it made me go crazy. I was so tired from trying to sleep.
  • Eat food-It is not a good habit to eat food in the middle of the night. It can make you gain weight and keep you awake longer.

What can you do if you are facing sleeplessness?

The most important thing to do is GET UP. It is counter-intuitive because when you are tired, you don’t want to get up and do something. It will actually get you back to sleep if you try it. You should also turn away the clock because the more you see the clock ticking away, the more anxious you feel.

You can read a book, journal your feelings, drink some herbal tea, move around, or do muscle relaxation (focusing on different parts of the body and releasing the tension).  Generally, if you interrupt the sleeplessness with another quiet activity, you will actually fall back asleep because your body is tired. One good rule of thumb: Pick an activity that is not too engaging so you can get back to sleep.

It helps to think of insomnia as your friend and be gentle to it.  There is a reason you are waking up and it is a call to deal with something that you might be worried about.  We often ignore feelings that are distressful in our waking day, so where it comes to haunt us is during our sleep.

How can you change your lifestyle and have good sleep hygiene so it sets you up for success?

  • Do not nap during the day-Many people want to nap because they are tired since they did not sleep the night before. It is important to keep your body awake during the day so that you are really tired at night. Otherwise, the cycle of insomnia will continue and you will have sleepless nights for longer.
  • Drinking caffeinated tea, coffee, or too much sugar at night- A 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll found that people who drank four or more cups/cans of caffeinated drinks a day were more likely than those who drank zero to one cups/cans daily to experience at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights each week.
  • Keeping the phone off at night so you cannot read texts and emails from friends/co-workers/family-Why is it so important to be accessible at all hours of the night? For many individuals who have struggled with insomnia, it helped them to leave the phone out of the room.  If it has to be in the room, since it is your alarm, then leave it on silent so you are not disturbed by notifications and emails.
  • Stay away from alcohol at night-It may initially make you go to sleep, but your sleep will not be as restful and it may disrupt your sleep later in the night.
  • You should not work an hour before you go to sleep-When you work right before you sleep, it can make you feel more anxious about tensions at work and cause more stress at sleep time rather than calming yourself down.
  • Exercising Daily-Exercising regularly is helpful because it makes you feel good about yourself. When you are doing cardiovascular activity, it makes you more tired when it is time to sleep.  When you exercise, it also reduces your stress and that will help you feel more relaxed when it is time to sleep.

If you are experiencing insomnia, remember that you need to prepare so that you can interrupt the cycle of sleeplessness.  We tend to become angry and more anxious about insomnia but know that it will pass if you work on it with good habits. If you have persistent anxiety and insomnia, it helps to talk to a therapist to discuss your worries so that you can share and feel a sense of relief.

You should also consult a doctor and discuss if it could be helpful to take sleep medication.  Clients who have struggled with depression and anxiety have intermittently taken sleep medication to interrupt the cycle so that they could have more sleep and then can go off the medication when they think they can go to sleep on their own. With social media and all the distractions in life, it is no wonder why more people are experiencing insomnia but maintaining good sleep hygiene will help you get the sleep you need.

Anita Barot is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist that provides psychotherapy sessions in Singapore and Bangkok. She has more than 10 years of experience helping children, adults, couples, and families to communicate better, to resolve conflict, and to overcome challenges in their personal and professional lives. To learn more about Anita, please visit and can be reached at

How do you help your teenagers thrive?

It is hard to be a parent- there is nothing that you can do to prepare yourself for parenthood and the growing needs of teenagers. To complicate the issues about raising teenagers who are living abroad (TCK’s), you have to be more sensitive because they are dealing with grief, transition, and change. You have to be more empathetic because it is going to take them more time to develop their identity, their values, and who they are in the world because they have lived in many countries and have to integrate their different identities.

It is tough to be a parent because there is a lot to navigate and there is not one right answer to solve a dilemma. What do parents worry about? Not getting into the “right” college, social anxiety, fighting, bad grades, depression, bad boyfriends/girlfriends, peer pressure, drinking problems, drugs, pregnancy, and the list goes on and on.

You want to protect your children from the pain and anguish, but they have got to be able to experience their difficult feelings. It will not help them if you solve their problems for them because they will not learn that they can do it. It is important to create a safe atmosphere so they want to come to you when they have a problem. If you can set the stage for good communication when he/she is a child, it will help him/her as they mature into the teenage years.

To understand how communication can affect a teenager and her family, here is a case history of a client who struggled with communication problems.

Case History: “Annette” (fictitious name to disguise identity), 15-year-old stated that whenever she talked to her parents, they just had advice to give out so she was tired of it. They did not ask her about what she felt and as more time went on, she felt completely disconnected. Her dad was always angry and she was scared to speak to him.  Her mom was busy and had too many social engagements.

“Annette” said that her family was not interested in communicating, she nodded her head and then did things her own way. It was difficult for her because she felt very alone and not supported. The teachers referred her for counseling because she became more isolated and began to hang out with the “wrong” friends. The parents were worried but it was too hard to help her now because she refused to speak to them.

Analysis: Instead of disengaging from Annette, it would have been more supportive for Annette if her parents engaged more in the relationship. When children feel that you are attuned to their needs, they have higher self-esteem, more confident, and are more well-rounded individuals.

The problem is that Annette’s parents had no idea how they could begin to engage with their daughter. Having more than 10 years of counseling experience with teens and their families, here are some skills that can help you connect more with your child/teen.

Let Them Make Their Mistakes

As a parent, you got a chance to live your life and do things your way.  Perhaps you have made mistakes and you do not want them to do the same thing.  You need to let them make their mistakes and be there for them when they do. Your child is unique and has their own way of solving his/her problems. They become better adults if they can have the opportunity to work things out on their own. I catch myself as a parent wanting to do things for my children, but I have to pause and realize that it is better if they can learn to do it for themselves. Of course, you need to be honest about how you feel but then leave it to them.  Continue to engage with your child and let them know you are available.

Talk to them with Respect

Adolescents are interested in being heard.  They want you to ask them questions about their feelings and how they see the world. They have many interesting insights and experiences in their life and the more they can share with you, the better they feel inside.  If we are not curious about what is happening in their life, they begin to understand that they are not as valued.

When you are speaking to your adolescent, you have to manage your emotions.  Sometimes it helps if you take a deep breath and compose what you want to say. When you are screaming, it tends to escalate negative behavior patterns. Instead, be firm and talk to them from a place of empathy.


Child: I want to go to the mall with my friends!!!

Parent: I know, but you and I made a deal that you were going to finish your assignment. You haven’t so you’re not going to be able to go this time.

Child: NO! No! (Crying and yelling)

Parent: I know that you want to go and am sorry you can’t this time.  Next time, you can plan better and be able to go. Why don’t I help you on your assignment and then we can do something else that you enjoy?

Be curious about your teenager

Some of the best sessions I had with teens were when we were discussing what they love.  There is nothing better than seeing a child enjoying something and sharing their passion with you.  When I was working in a school, I was working with a teen who loved basketball and through that channel, I was able to create an alliance with him. When I asked him to teach me what he knew, he was able to feel that he was worthy and that made him feel like he could trust me.

In the same way, find out what your child is passionate in.  If they love art, then do some art with your child. Even if you are busy with your careers, go out of your way to do things that your teen really enjoys.  Many parents may say, “I spend quality time with my kids. We eat dinner and we go to the mall”. There is a qualitative difference in doing activities that your teenagers want you to do with them. Let them lead and tell you want they want to do and see how it feels for them that you did it. After you do one activity, it will lead to more activities and they will feel like you genuinely care about connecting with them.


We need to be role models for what we want to see in our children. We tell them to stay away from the IPAD and TV but at the same time, I see many parents who are not looking at how much social media and TV they are engaging in. If they see their parents reading, doing art, writing, playing, exercising, they will be influenced by your habits so be aware of what you do because they are learning from their environment.


When I think about what it was like to be a teenager, I remember that it was incredibly hard.  I had to figure out who I was, learn about how to communicate my needs, work hard in school, and had to figure out how I can fit in. When you add the fact that they are teenagers in a country away from their “home” (TCK), it is even harder because they have to figure out their identity in the midst of many different cultural experiences. TCK teens have experienced loss as they have moved and have lost friends, have experienced culture shock, have to learn new rules in each new country, and struggle with their identity, and lose touch with what is “home”.

For TCK teens, parents have to be patient, empathetic, and understand what it feels like for children to move and deal with transition. Parents also have to be aware of how their body language (eye contact, being present), what they say (listening, empathy), and their habits affects their teenagers.  When you are empathetic and open, it helps them to be able to trust that you are going to be there when things are difficult.  Don’t worry about having all the right answers-it is okay to not know and better for your relationship to work on the answers with your teenager together.  Rather than your teenager leaning away from you, create an atmosphere where your child can tell you anything and you will be there to support and love him/her unconditionally.

Extramarital Affairs

What does it take to move past the affair and become a stronger couple?

What happens when your spouse tells you that he or she is having an affair? Individuals experience anger, hurt, and lack of trust when they realize their marriage was not what they had imagined. The fairytale idea of being married and living happily ever after seems shattered, and they do not know how to believe in their marriage anymore. Then again, those who have children, are financially dependent on their spouse, or who are emotionally invested in the relationship might not be able to envision a life without his or her partner.

Not all marriages can or will be saved because salvaging a marriage after infidelity calls for a strong will, open communication, and commitment from both partners to work through the issues and establish boundaries for healing to occur. The good news is that many couples consider the possibility of saving marriages after an affair, and the even better news is that it is possible! An affair can be a wake-up call for individuals to look at the way that they relate to one another, to re-establish connection, and to address conflict in a more constructive way.

In Bangkok, temptations—mostly targeted toward men—exist around every corner. The obvious lures are the massage centers and dancing clubs. A bit more hidden is a Thai cultural norm, found in some wealthy households, that permits husbands to have affairs outside the marriage so long as the extramarital relationships do not impact the family unit as a whole (Frayser, 1985). This could result from the unequal power dynamics between men and women, where it may be difficult for women to voice their frustrations and tolerate these behaviors out of not having any other choice, which exists in many different cultures and relationships across the world.

You need to talk about the rules in your family and see what works in your situation. There are people who are in multiple relationships, but they are honest about it and have found a way to make it work for them.  Affairs are much different from these situations. In an affair, lying and deception exist to cover things up, piling on more layers of disappointment, hurt, and mistrust.

Of course it’s not just couples in Bangkok or in Thailand dealing with the occurrence and aftermath of affairs. Worldwide, having affairs is easier and more accessible than ever before because of internet dating sites, dating apps, and web-based pornography. The Ashley Madison scandal brought to light how many people who seemed happily married were engaging in marital affairs.

Let’s now take a look at some questions about love, relationships, and affairs.

Is it true that a happily married person should not ever be attracted to anyone other than his/her partner?

Being attracted is a normal experience that can happen to anyone in relationships. When you have feelings for someone outside your marriage, it does not mean that something is intrinsically wrong in your marriage. The trap is that people think that the attraction means he or she is not in the “right” relationship. but it is also about choice. It is healthier to allow oneself to experience these feelings of attraction and let them go. When you start feeling guilty about your attraction, you tend to act these feelings out rather than understand that it is a normal part of any relationship.

When does it become an affair?

All affairs follow a specific pattern. 1. Developing a close emotional bond by talking and / or chatting on the internet. 2. Keeping the relationship a secret. 3. Dating phase, e.g. meeting for lunch, talking on the phone for hours. 4. Intense sexual and emotional connections.

When should feelings for someone else outside the marriage be discussed?

You should be talking about it if you have noticed that you are experiencing yourself fantasizing about someone or sharing deep feelings with someone outside your marriage. When you continue to keep things a secret, you are putting more fuel into the romance and allowing things to get worse.

At which point in a marriage does cheating usually happen? Why does it happen?

Cheating usually occurs in the phase of companionate love, when couples begin to settle down, have kids, and solidify the life they build together. While they are fulfilled in some areas, such as being a provider, other areas may be lacking, such as romance.

Sometimes, partners become dissatisfied in a marriage because it is not exciting the way it used to be when they were dating. The realities of everyday life and financial pressures are real. Making sure children are taken care of and keeping the house organized tend to take precedence over efforts to keep the marriage alive, fun, and interesting.

Initially, when you meet someone you are attracted to and you don’t have to worry about your day-to-day realities, you can get swept away and idealize him or her. However, this is not real intimacy. It is an escape from your reality that is exciting in the short term, but in the long term it will cause heartache, resentment, and anger for your partner.

If you have had an affair, can you work it out?

As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I have some helpful strategies to help you repair your relationship after an affair. If you both make a commitment to follow these strategies with your whole heart, your marriage has a good chance of surviving the affair and emerging stronger on the other side.

  1. Open and Honest Communication

After an affair, it is most critical to repair the trust in the relationship. If you have had an affair and you want to choose to work out your marriage, you need to be able to be as open as possible.  Your spouse will have many questions and rather than telling him or her to forget it/move on, you need to be able to listen to their feelings and respond to their questions.  In one study of 1083 betrayed husbands and wives, those whose spouses where the most honest felt better emotionally and reconciled more completely, reports affairs expert Peggy Vaughan.

  1. Cut the Ties

If you have had an affair, you need to cut ties from the person or the situation that created the affair.  For example, if it was an internet site, then you need to make sure that you are transparent so keeping the computer in an open space so that there are not as many temptations to be dishonest. If you had an affair with a friend, you should discontinue the relationship with the person so that you can repair your marriage. If it is someone from work, limit your communication as much as possible because it may not be possible to eliminate dialogue if he/she is at work.

  1. Keep talking and listening no matter how hard it is.

If you do not have empathy about what has happened and are not open to listening to his/her feelings, he or she will not be able to heal.  It does not have to be all that you talk about, but you should make space and understand what he or she is going through. You have to understand that there will be waves and some days will be good but other days will be really tough.  If you decide that you are going to stay in the marriage, then you have to commit to to being there through the difficult conversations.

  1. Reconnect

If you are going to build trust, make sure you connect with your spouse by having date nights and doing things that you used to enjoy. What was special about you two as a couple? What brought you two together? What made you laugh? What was it about him or her that made you feel loved?  How can you be happier and content with yourself so that you don’t have unrealistic expectations for your partner?

Affairs are destructive, but it does not mean an end to a marriage. Recovery requires that each person becomes willing to accept responsibility for his or her thoughts, feelings, and actions. A relationship can survive if a couple is willing to work through the disappointment, anger, and resentment.  Doing the work means listening even when you are tired because you empathize and want to work on the relationship.

The reality is that relationships take time, dedication, and work.  It is okay to be attracted to people outside your marriage, but you have a choice not to act out your feelings.  Keep talking and keep the lines of communication open if you begin to have feelings or finding yourself drawn to someone else. If you think that you are crossing the line, what is making you do that? The more you can be self-aware, the better it will be for your marriage. This way, you can create and nurture the connection that you truly want inside your marriage, rather than looking for it outside.


Originally published in Wunderlust <>.

The Silent Problem

In October, a Singapore expat killed his 5-year-old son in a dispute with his ex-wife as they were going through a custody battle in October 2015.This is an extreme example but it serves as a platform to discuss the complexity of moving abroad and how it can affect a relationship for better or for worse.

The life of an expat is amazing, interesting, and rich for many families. You get a chance to experience a new culture, see things that you have never seen, and have an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I want to highlight another aspect of being an expat that you do not always get to hear about-the hardships of the accompanying spouse.

“Carmen” moved to Bangkok because her husband got a new opportunity. She imagined that it was going to be a fun adventure where she and her husband would spend quality time together. However, her husband worked long hours so that made it tough for her as she had to figure out what to do when he was at work. She used to have a fulfilling job, but now it felt more daunting to live in a new country on her own with no family around. She spent her days calling her friends from abroad.  She would wait for her spouse to come home in the evening so they would be able to connect. Whenever he came home, he was exhausted and this led to Carmen feeling angry. What was she here for? She felt lonely and depressed that she gave up her prior life and felt resentful about coming abroad.

Many women (or men) come here as an expat on an assignment with their partner and experience a loss because it is difficult to start over in a new place. Carmen (and many accompanying spouses) had everything before she moved; her job, her self-worth, her income, her friends, and her family. All of a sudden, the roles have changed from both parents taking care of their kids to one person holding the sole responsibility. In addition, more travel may be required which means that you are on your own to pick up the pieces.

It can be harder because you do not have your spouse to talk to and do not feel comfortable sharing your feelings with your expat friends. Everyone knows each other so you feel like you have to act like “everything’s fine”. This can feel like a huge burden because it is hard to get yourself out of this situation when you feel like there is no hope.

What can you do to improve the situation?

  1. Get support by talking about your feelings. It is lonely when you are experiencing these feelings and it is important to find someone you trust. When you bottle up your feelings, you tend to act out with your partner.
  2. Keep talking to your spouse about your feelings. Use “I feel” statements so that he/she can understand where you are coming from. For example, “I feel angry because I am not fulfilled here”, rather than “You are selfish and don’t care about my feelings”. This only makes conflict escalate and then you do not get to have the experience of feeling heard.
  3. Start making friends in your new environment. When you can feel more connected to a new place, it will help you feel more grounded. Join groups so that you can talk and get to know what resources are available.  When you have other people to connect with, you do not rely solely on your husband but you have a community to elicit support from.
  4. You have to re-establish a sense of purpose when you move to a new location. That could be continuing your education, volunteering, joining a language class, learning a new skill, and/or finding work that feels fulfilling. This can take a lot of soul-searching but in the end, it will get you to a place of feeling happier and more connected to your environment. This can help you establish a sense of purpose and be able to engage more deeply about what is important to you.
  5. Continue to make your needs known in the relationship. What do you need in the relationship? Talk to your partner to figure out what is realistic so that you can manage your expectations better. If you expect your partner to read your mind or anticipate your needs, then you will be disappointed. It is empowering to think about what you can do to get your needs met.

It takes effort on both individuals in a marriage to have a strong relationship. Moving abroad can present challenges that can shake up a relationship. You may feel like you are out of your element in a new country and that is tough for everyone involved. There is hope and you are not alone! I have seen many people re-invent themselves in ways that he/she never expected and then be able to experience fulfillment in their new home. Be patient with yourself and keep the channels open in your relationship. The more you and your partner can engage and connect from a loving place, the happier your relationship will be. Keep searching for what you love to do and you will find fulfillment in your relationship, and in your life!

Am I Emotional Eating or Am I Hungry?

It is that time of year and many of us are planning to visit family and friends. Some may be feeling excited and anticipating the awaited celebrations with all your favorite foods. Others may feel like they are going through something hard where they find themselves eating and having no control. They may come back from these vacations feeling worse because they overate and feel guilty about what has happened.

On the personal side, I had no idea how much snacking and late night eating I was doing until it got out of hand. It happened when my husband and I moved overseas to India. I left my job and my life in California, and spent my extra hours watching movies and TV.  I delayed eating until I was completely famished. When I did eat, I would watch TV and be completely disconnected from what I was eating. It was so easy to eat 3 bowls of pasta and not realize how much I had eaten. I ended up eating more because I wanted to watch TV and disconnect from the feelings of loneliness in a new place. It was only when I recognized that I gained 5 kilos in a short time that I knew that I had to do something different.

I began the process of understanding my feelings by journaling and figuring out what I was passionate in.  I could not continue to sit at the TV because it was affecting how I felt about my self-esteem. I recognized that I had to look forward and not continue to think about what I had in the past. As I began to connect to where I live by finding friends, work, and community, it helped build a routine so that I was more productive with my time and was able to have meaningful relationships.

How do you know if you are Emotionally Eating? You can judge it from your relationship with food. You can determine this by looking at how you feel after you eat. If you notice that you feel full and often experience guilt about your food choices, then it is time to think and reflect about what could be going on. The more aware you are about your emotions, the less you have a need to emotionally eat.

Having been a psychotherapist for over 10 years and having experienced Emotional Eating, I understand how it negatively impacts your self-esteem and your self-worth.

What are the 6 strategies of Emotional Eating?

  1. “Do I really need this food NOW?”  Many times we grab something and if we had the opportunity to think about it more, we may have said, “No thank you”. When we are impulsive, we grab food because we want to fill our stomachs and that need to feel full is so great.  If we let ourselves have some time to reflect on whether our body needs something, it would help you make better choices. Plan your meals and snacks so that you have something to eat every 2-3 hours. You don’t overeat if you are eating throughout the day because you are not as famished during meal times.
  1. Do I want to watch this show when I am eating? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied groups that ate a particular meal while watching television and another that ate the same meal without television. These studies found that being distracted or not paying attention to a meal tended to make people eat more at that meal.  Also, they found that when you are mindful with your food, you eat less because you are paying attention to what your body needs.
  1. Can I make time for 20 minutes of exercising a day? Exercise and Move-If you are feeling stress, exercise helps you relieve stress and feel better about your self-esteem. You are less likely to engage in emotional eating if you are taking care of your health by exercising.
  1. How does journaling help me and how do I do it? Journaling seems difficult when you start. Write 1 page about anything that is on your mind. It does not have to be anything important. The act of writing helps you build awareness and helps you to be able to focus. If you are journaling about your food choices and your feelings, you are more in touch with what is happening and you are less likely to lose control.
  1. Can I take this food to go rather than eat it now? Sometimes we overeat because we think that this food is gone if we don’t eat it now. We are afraid that this delicious lasagna will disappear if we don’t eat it right now. Eating it the next day is actually more enjoyable because you are eating the food when you are actually hungry. This way, you can be guilt free and enjoy what you want to eat without feeling bad. Also, if you are craving something sweet, you should eat a little piece of cake rather than eating a salad, potatoes, and bread. It is better to eat the sweet rather than eating the foods that do not satisfy you.
  1. How does your family view eating and how does it impact how you feel today about food? As a child, I used to watch TV while I was eating so I was disconnected from my eating experience. It takes effort for me to sit and focus on my food because it is not what I was used to. It is important to reflect on this question so that you can understand what you need to work out for yourself in your family system.

I hope these tips are helpful and will make the process of eating more enjoyable and help you feel more connected to your body. When you are celebrating, enjoy your family time and have a great time eating the delicious display of appetizers, main courses, and deserts.  If you find yourself struggling with emotional eating, take a deep breath, think about the 6 secrets, and do your best to deal with the situation. I believe that anyone can do it if you put your mind to it and do the work! I invite you for a free consultation if you are interested in learning more about how I can help you.

Originally appeared at

Where are you from?

Helping your third culture kid answer the question of where they come from with a smile can be quite a challenge. Many children struggle with their status of being a third culture kid but there are ways in which parents can support them. 

Lots of different faces looking at camera --- Image by © Christopher Corr/Ikon Images/Corbis

Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city where the culture of children is often in contrast to their race, ethnicity, or country of origin. Children may appear to be from a certain country of origin by their features, but they have often lived away from that home country for a majority of their childhood. These children are called “Third Culture Kids” (TCK).

Their experiences tell us a different story about what is home to them. A child may have been born in Germany, but be able to speak Chinese, German, English, and Thai. This child may have gone to school in four different countries. When he goes back to Germany, he may feel odd and be unable to relate to his peers.  For example, he may refer to specific multicultural experiences that his friends cannot relate to. When he comes back to his host country, he is much more comfortable because his experience is shared by others like him.

What Makes a TCK?

A third culture kid is defined as a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent’s culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all the cultures while not having full ownership in any. TCKs’ lives are characterized with high mobility and traveling between different worlds (according Pollack, Growing up Among Worlds, 1999). While being a TCK has challenges, there are many things parents can do to help children and adolescents find success in their emerging cultural identity.

TCKs have not developed their basic value system, sense of identity, and establishment of core relationships with family and friends in their home culture so they often look to their host country to figure out how to behave in different contexts.  TCK kids have to comprehend the rules in each country in order to better adapt to each new background. As a result, it takes longer for them to develop their personal identity because they have to deal with more changes and then have to synthesize the information from the past with their current life.

How to Help Your Child Adjust to Being a TCK

While it is exciting for individuals to live abroad and see new things, it’s also a huge loss for them as they have had to say so many “good-byes”. Some of the things kids have said regarding the TCK experience are: “I don’t know what home is. It’s confusing. I hope someone does not ask where I am from because I don’t know what to say.”

“Out of the blue, I feel a sense of sadness and I can’t explain why.”

“I am not sure where I am going to be next year. I am not sure how much to invest because I will be leaving”.

What can you as parents do to help your child deal with transition and change as you make another move to a new country? A few suggestions based on years of experience with counselling follow:

Provide Empathy

Empathy means trying to understand what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is not just saying the words but really conveying your understanding by asking questions, listening, and being there through the child’s pain.

For example, if your child misses his old friends and does not want to move to a new country. He might even be angry, acting out, and mad about moving.

The non-empathetic response would be: “You will make new friends like you always do. Do not worry about it. You will be at a better school with nicer facilities. We have to move because of my job. I thought you understood that.”

A more empathetic approach is: “I know that it is hard to miss your friends and I get it. I am sorry we have to leave and we will do our best to come back and keep in touch with your friends. What kind of activities do you want to do with your friends before you leave? I know that they are very important.”

It is important to acknowledge their feelings as real so they feel like they can talk to you when they are sad, and that your children feel validated for their experience.

Help Synthesize Their Experiences from the Past

You can talk about their different experiences in each country. Since a child has experienced change, what helps is that you are talking about his/her experiences and that you are emotionally supporting them through the changes. What hurts a TCK child the most is that they can feel alone and misunderstood by so many people.

They have had a life that is unrecognizable to many who live in their home country or their host country. If parents can show a child that they are genuinely interested in the child’s feelings, it will convey love, trust, and affection. Many times the parents do not want to know because they are experiencing their own grief and guilt for what has happened in the past. The truth is that the more you are open to talking about their experiences, the better it is for you, your child, and your relationship with one another.

Be Clear about Your Future Plans

We tend to be protective of our kids because we do not want to hurt them so we postpone the news of moving so they are not hurt or anxious. If you do not tell your child, they cannot trust you and are more anxious about what is going to happen. It is important to be honest and share what is happening so they can feel a sense of control.

When a child has some notice about the fact that they are leaving, they can process their feelings of loss and can have time to mourn what has been left behind. Sometimes your child is “fine” and does not feel any sadness at the moment. That is okay too as long as you continue to check-in and notice other signs of how they are processing their feelings. It is important for your child to have a chance to say “good-bye” in whatever way they can.

As parents, you can ask the following questions:

  • How would you like to say good-bye?
  • How do you want to mark this transition?
  • Do you want to draw a picture?
  • Do you want to take pictures and make an album?
  • Do you want to do individual activities with specific friends?
  • Do you want to do a party?
  • What ritual do we do the night before we leave?

Model Appropriate Behavior

How can I model to my child about how to deal with change? You have to model by immersing yourself in your new culture. You can make friends and appreciate new things in your environment. It is not easy for the accompanying spouse who has had to give up one’s career to say good-bye to their friends and family, and start fresh. Children might pick up on these feelings from their parent and act out. It is important for parents to show their kids how to talk about personal experiences and have a better outlook on possibilities. It is natural to experience anger, frustration, and loss when you move.

How can we move from the anger to a place of enjoyment and fulfillment? That happens when you acknowledge the loss, identify your needs, and discover ways to fulfill your needs. For your kids, it will help if you plan play dates and help them find people in the community that they feel a connection to. It does not in any way substitute the friends they had, but it helps them channel their feelings of loneliness and longing by developing new connections.

The Upsides of Being a TCK

Finally, you should stress that being a TCK is a gift because he or she has a chance to learn valuable lessons that cannot be taught. For example, travelers tend to get frustrated when they visit countries and find that they are not able to shop during the middle of the day.  According to David C. Pollack, “TCKs understand that this custom not only helps people survive better if the climate is hot, but it’s a time when parents greet the children as they return from school and spend time together as a family. Many TCKs learn to value relationships above conveniences as they have lived in such places and it is a gift they carry with them wherever they may go”( Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds, 1999). They are highly adaptable and learn things quickly due to high mobility and many cross cultural transitions. TCKs think outside the box and are able to understand people from diverse backgrounds.

In order for a child to thrive and take advantage of their international experiences, they need to be taken into consideration and be cared for as they deal with the confusion, anxiety, and grief. Third culture kids have the same needs as any child to be loved, valued, and to experience being a part of a loving community. As parents, you have the ability to help your child navigate through this difficult, challenging, and amazing experience by being open to the full range of emotions that can come up for your child as you start your next journey.

Originally published at