Article by Jamie Rhiannon Fehribach, Social Media Coordinator
Humans are wired to categorize. It’s a great strategy, because it helps us draw conclusions quickly, as well as predict and prepare for the outcomes of future scenarios. Unfortunately, our tendency to categorize has some not-so-great consequences, too. For example, humans tend to sort people into either their ‘in-group’ or ‘out-group’. We sometimes do this effectively (I want her on my soccer team because she’s great at soccer!) and sometimes we do this ineffectively (I want her on my soccer team because we both like to talk about puppies!).
We do also do this before we can make a good judgement or where a superficial judgement isn’t a good way to categorize. This is part of how bullying begins. Being perceived as different from the main group can create insecurity and can make a kid feel like they stand out for the wrong reasons. But diversity is so important! Differences mean fresh perspectives and meaningful changes that lead to great benefits. So, how can we help our expat kids – who are inherently exposed to “categorization” on the basis of culture, background, and more – learn to embrace the category of “other”? We asked this and more to our team!
We’ve mentioned the possibility of bullying already, but why else could it be difficult for expat kids to embrace their differences from others?
“When moving to a new place, we often want to do everything to blend in,” Annaleena begins. “This comes from our natural tendencies to want to show that we belong in this place, too. To both try and accept a new culture while being comfortable talking about your own culture, when no one else can relate, can be particularly tough.”
“Differences may also seem exacerbated when a child relocates,” Kate explains. “Things that may have been culturally accepted orappropriate before – for example, how a school supports a learning disability – may now be done differently. Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean parents feeling as if they have to limit what they share with a new school out of fears that being transparent could mean complications with school placement. This fear can come from a place of a parent loving their child and knowing they can succeed given the opportunity, but the fear also sends mixed messages to the child about what their differences mean contextually in their new environments.”
How can parents encourage kids to be comfortable embracing their homeland cultures in a new country?
“As you’re moving in, try and incorporate some familiar cultural objects into your home,” Kate suggests. “This can mean your own family’s culture, too – if you always had special mugs for every household member back in your previous home, bring them along and keep using them in the new country.”
“By not ‘taking a break’ from familiar cultures,” Deniz says, “the transition into the new country and the establishment of a new home can be more seamless.”
“Once you’ve settled down, try to connect to families from your expat kid’s home country,” Annaleena says. “Invite them to celebrate shared holidays or have cultural meals together. Demonstrating that it’s ok to be different and practice these differences will make your child more comfortable, too.”
“And maybe, when they’re ready, encourage your child to invite new friends over to share in the traditions, too,” Kate adds. “Like Annaleena said, keep demonstrating that differences are good things to have and to share.”
Before the move, how can parents prepare their kids for life in a new place? How can parents introduce their kids to the idea of “being different”?
“For young children, reading together about a new country and showing them some of the traditions before leaving is a great starting point,” Annaleena tells. “Try looking at pictures or watching videos of the new country. Let them hear the language and see how people dress differently or act differently. Then talk about it! Point out the differences and similarities together, see how many they can notice. Talk about what they find interesting or confusing or what they would like to learn more about. Form the conversation around curiosity, and explain how other kids may also find their own differences curious and interesting as well.”
“For teens, the conversation would be a bit different, because they have a deeper understanding about what it means to be different,” Deniz says. “What they might not understand is how to accept being different. They may be more tempted to try and do everything to fit in (after all, teens are neurologically wired to want to be like their group).”
“Finding resources, like The Expat Kids Club, is a great option so young people can learn about why avoidance (while tempting!) is not always the best long-term strategy for these challenging life situations,” Kate explains. “Also, connecting young people to other expat teens is another way to support them in their process of embracing differences. Basically, a support system that tells them, “It’s ok to feel weird about being different, let’s figure out what we can do with these feelings together.”
How can we encourage expat kids to be happy with the idea of being different from others?
“The best advice we can ever give in teaching your kids anything is to model it in your own behavior,” Annaleena says. “Demonstrate how you are proud of your differences, in how you talk about them and how you display them to others. Use positive language when discussing other people’s differences, too, and demonstrate your ability to accept differences of others, even if they are not within your own personal preferences. Kids are learning constantly from their parent’s behaviour, and therefore the best way to encourage your kids to embrace their differences is by doing it yourself!”