All kids struggle in one area or another. That’s normal, and part of growing up. And all parents feel some level of guilt about it. In the expat world, that guilt a parent feels can be even stronger, due to that secret terror we have about how much moving around every few years is screwing up our kids.
When an expat kid is struggling, guilt can really take over the parents and hijack their ability to help the child grow.
When parents come to me for help, I know they’ve already tried to understand the problem and they’ve tried all they could think of. They feel like a failure. But, I also know that they’re the experts in their child and they will find the answers in themselves with the help of some good questions.
My invitation is to look inside first.
The clues to what’s going on with your child are enmeshed in your relationship: in what you feel, in the unspoken communication, in which of your memories are triggered in you.
For example, if you feel incompetent every time you fail to “make” your child do their homework, it may be a clue that the child is feeling incompetent too. The feeling in the child is triggering the feeling in the parent, and vice-versa, in a relational communication dance. This can change how you see your child. So, instead of viewing them as lazy and bad, you can empathise now and, from that place, come up with different approaches to help her, or him.
I find that the following unexpected question brings some of the most powerful insights to the parents I work with.
- What was going on in your life when you were your kid’s age?
If that little voice in your head says, “How’s that important?”, just be reassured it will be ok and dive in. At the very least, you will remember what it was like to be their age and increase your understanding of what they may be going through.
Just welcome any memories; don’t try to make sense of them or to select the most important ones. Take your time to really explore as much as you can. Some people find it useful to take notes.
Here are some exploration questions to help you get started. Remember, this exercise is about what you thought and how you were feeling when were the same age as your child is today.
- What was going on in your life?
- How was your home life?
- How did it feel to be that age?
- Any big events happening at the time?
- Any friendships beginning or ending?
- How was school at that age for you?
- Who were the key people in our life, and why?
- What did you enjoy doing? And, what did you hate?
- Did you or someone close face a similar challenge to what your child is facing now? If so, how did the adults around you react?
After your trip to the past, you can play with this question:
- How might your experience at that age shed some light on your child’s challenge right now and on how you are dealing with it?
And, if you found this useful, you are welcome to share with your friends.