Category: Teenagers

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.

 

 

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.

Example:

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.

Modelling

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.

Conclusion

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.