I attended an interesting workshop this week at my children’s school on the topic of bullying. This is obviously a subject that all schools have to deal with, whatever type of educational establishment they are and wherever they are in the world. But being an international school there were some issues – not all of them related to bullying – that came up that are perhaps more unique to our children and which have really started making me think.
It’s pretty tough for our kids. First of all, we drag them away from their friends, family, school, home, possibly even pets, and take them somewhere completely new. Often they have had no say whatsoever in this move but it has been presented to them as a fait accompli. Of course many of those whose lifestyle has been a global one ever since they can remember will be aware this is coming and be prepared for it. Nevertheless, any international move is always going to take its toll on a youngster (not to mention the rest of us!).
So they get somewhere new. They start a new school, they make new friends. And then the next thing they know, those new friends start leaving. So they feel the wrench again. And again. And again. Life at an international school is often one leaving party after another. And that can have quite an impact on someone – especially an emotional teen.
The reason this came up in the bullying workshop was because one of the signs that someone was being bullied, so we were told, could be that they told you they had no friends. But one of the mums pointed out that with five children having just left her daughter’s already pretty small class, it was quite possible that she really did have no friends. It really brought home to us all how difficult this life can be.
One of the teachers running the workshop has had a lot of experience in international schools and she had some good tips on how to help our children deal with this sort of constant emotional pounding. First of all, she said, acknowledge with yourself and with your child that this is part of international life. There is no getting away from it, friends will leave. If you are lucky you may have one or two that stay for the duration of your assignment; but at some point either you will go – or they will. This is part of your life now and as a family we have to accept it. There is no point in pretending it isn’t going to happen.
Secondly, she said, let them know that you also feel this way. You are sad too when friends leave, you miss home, some days you may want to leave. Talk to them about culture shock in an age-appropriate way and – if they are struggling at the beginning of your time in a new country – assure them that things will get easier over time.
Although we didn’t dwell on this topic for too long as we were straying from the main subject of the workshop, enough was said to make us all realise that this is an issue that we all needed to tackle. As well as the tips from the teacher, I also think it is worth talking about technology and how we can continue to keep in touch with friends even after they have left (or you have). Just because they are in another country doesn’t mean you will never speak to them again – or even see them. The world is a shrinking place and you never know who you will bump into in the future. And of course think about all those wonderful places you will have to visit in the future!
There is a lot more that I could say on this topic, but there is also a lot more already written. So to finish I want to share a few links to other sites that you may find useful. Firstly is the Expat Child website, which has sections focusing on the different age groups (although I found the 9-12 year old section a lot more relevant for my 8 year old than the 4-8’s section). Here, for example, is one article from the site about Expat Child Syndrome.
Then there is a website called International Family Transitions, which includes a number of articles and links on the subject of moving with children.
And another interesting expat website, Expat Family Health, has this article on Helping Your Child Adapt Abroad.
Finally, if you haven’t already seen it, the Pixar movie Inside Out is highly appropriate for families moving overseas (although the film is actually about an American family moving to another state within the same country). You might want to think about when you watch it with your kids – eg possibly not just after you have arrived somewhere new and they (and you) are feeling particularly emotional. But it can be a great way to open up discussion about the move.
Do you have children at an international school? How have you helped them cope with the constant comings and goings? Or perhaps you were an international school child yourself – if so, how did you feel when friends moved on leaving you behind?