Whether it’s your first move abroad or your fourth, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to supporting your expat kids. As parents, adjusting to a whole new environment is rarely easy, let alone the exhausting months of planning and organising it takes to get there. But as a young person still finding their feet in the world, the challenges of relocating can become so overwhelming that it can become a threat to their mental health.
Enter The Expat Kids Club. The EKC is a psychology practice that specialises in supporting expat kids, teenagers and their families. While based in Amsterdam, they provide therapy sessions both locally and world-wide via video-chat with custom treatment plans tailored to each individual child. For this week’s blog, we caught up with EKC’s founder and psychologist, Kate Berger. Read the full Q&A below to find out more about The Expat Kids Club and their advice on how you can support your kids when on the move.
Why was The Expat Kids Club formed, and what is its goal?
EKC was formed when I discovered that there was an under-served population in The Netherlands. I wanted to see if I could establish a practice that would support expat kids so that they could feel empowered to make positive contributions in their non-native environments (rather than having to hide their immense strengths or be seen as a population that was a strain on the social system).
The idea of calling it a "club" is so that kids can feel they belong. Often, expat kids lack a sense of belongingness because they've relocated and don't have a real sense of "home", so this way any child that participates in the supportive services offered by The Expat Kids Club can feel that they do so in the company of others just like them, and therefore they belong! The practice started out with just me, and we’ve grown to a team of 5 to date, serving the local expat community as well as offering our services globally (via online consultation).
Talk us through your slogan, ‘Kids Have Many Pieces - We Help Them Connect’.
We want to take into consideration all the aspects of Expat Kids. They are complex not only because they are kids growing up in today's world (!) but also because of their vast life experiences. We want to make sure that there is a place - and opportunity - for them to feel validated, so they have an integrated understanding of themselves to be able to share with others in healthy, happy ways.
In your experience, what are the most common challenges that expat children face?
One of the biggest challenges we see is that the communication between a child and parent is strained in the midst of a relocation because often parents - with the very best intentions - get lost in the "doing-mode" of a move and miss opportunities to really be present and connect with their child. We are always encouraging parents to work on finding moments for (re)connection during all of the chaos.
In addition, we see many kids struggle to form meaningful and lasting relationships when they are living “between worlds” and therefore can have a lot of stress/anxiety with regards to social environment. This definitely leads to challenges in terms of finding a sense of belongingness and community which is a big struggle for expat kids.
In general, would you say the challenges of relocation are more difficult for older children and teenagers? If so, why?
Each age group has its own unique challenges when it comes to relocation. Of course, teenagers are biologically programmed to focus more on social acceptance and reciprocal relationships and therefore prioritise their friendships over family-life so can find it particularly challenging to be up-rooted and have to say goodbye to peers and re-establish these relationships in a new setting. Older kids also start to wonder about their role in a family and society. When they start to process the complexities that come from their moving experiences, they can feel a bit lost or overwhelmed.
In general, younger kids can manage a relocation relatively well if their primary caregivers and daily routines remain intact. However, there are exceptions and we certainly get inquiries from families with very young children who seem to be grieving the losses of life in their prior location.
You often talk about mindfulness on your platforms. What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness for expat kids and teens in particular?
Mindfulness allows the opportunity to cultivate life skills that can be applicable for coping with inherent stress that comes with relocation.
In addition - here's my favourite part - expat kids develop skills from their experiences (e.g., resilience, communication, etc.) that make them uniquely qualified for leadership positions later in life. Mindfulness can help kids develop capacities for compassion and empathy (for self and others) so if you put these two aspects together what it (could, hopefully!) means that we are supporting and encouraging our young people to become kind, empathic leaders - and the world needs them!
Obviously, you’ll know that each family situation is unique. But do you have any universal words of advice for parents whose children are struggling to adapt to expat life?
Reach out for support. We find that when we talk about our work with anyone, the stories come out. So many people don't realise that they have a chapter in their life story that is relevant to the relocation experience and once they start talking, they can make sense of aspects of their life and personality that they didn't know had a place. For kids, helping them and supporting them in connecting these pieces can mean avoiding challenges later in life, and more importantly perhaps, enhancing their overall well-being and positive contributions to the world around them.
Words of wisdom indeed! Sound like this could be helpful for your family? If you’d like to find out more about The Expat Kids Club and how they can help your child or teen adjust to life overseas, check out their Family Services section here.