Kids on the Move: Maintaining Psychological Wellbeing for Expat Children

Yana's Blog Pic 31st Aug

 

By Yana Ricart

There is one constant in expat children’s lives: Movement. Whether it is relocating to a new country, moving houses within the country they live in or coming back from long holidays (“home leave”), expat children are frequently experiencing some kind of change in their lives.

These movements and changes produce contradictory feelings. The loss of familiar situations and the excitement of new adventures coexist during these periods of change. Both children and adults need time to process and make sense of these feelings.

At school, children eventually adjust and make new friends. Since they attend international schools, their close friends also go through many of these changes as well. All of a sudden, their close friends leave the country or neighbourhood, and their daily routine is changed again. They experience movement even when their own family is not going through it.

At home, when the whole family goes through such a period, each person processes the stress in their own individual way. Depending on age and personality, children might display different behaviours (eg. acting out, withdrawing), although the root cause is the same: trying to cope with the stress of moving. Adding all up, it comes as no surprise that levels of stress for the family as a group escalate during these times.

Tips to deal with children’s psychological wellbeing during any kind of Move:

  • Pay attention to your own levels of stress. By paying attention to how you are coping with your own stress, you can demonstrate healthy ways of dealing with stress (eg. taking time to relax or have fun together) and become a role model for other family members. You can also be more emotionally present for the children when they need you, or you can explain to them why you might not be as available at certain moments.
  • Create Familiarity. As soon as you arrive (anywhere), strive to create some sense of routine either through nutrition or activities scheduled throughout the day. You can bring a toy or something they like to the room where they are staying (eg. depending on age, it can be a book, phone). Familiarity helps to create feelings of safety. As they feel safer, children can cope better and start to venture out.
  • Listen to Children’s Concerns. It is very important to listen to what is worrying or concerning the children during this process. When they feel heard and validated, they can process their feelings easier and they can start taking steps to go out and interact with their new surroundings. While you listen, you can also normalize the situation by explaining that these feelings are natural, using examples and books appropriate for each age.
  • Help them start tracing their own resilience stories. Even little children remember things that they’ve done well in the recent past, if you help them recall these situations. Focusing on those moments and how they managed to do well, will connect the children to a memory of success. From those memories, when they engage in other types of activities (eg. sports, arts) in their new environment that display their strengths, you can help your children start tracing and experiencing their own resilience stories.
  • Be patient and allow adjustment to unfold. During this transition period, be patient. Depending on the child and their own particular situation, adjustment can happen quickly in some areas and not so quickly in others. In the meantime, notice positive behaviour and praise children for their efforts. It will help in the adjustment process, teach children positive interaction and also make it more enjoyable for all in the family.

Putting it all together: Balance-on-the-Move.

When kids learn to ride a bicycle, they stumble, they fall, and they get back on the bicycle. Slowly they learn to balance and to realize that their centre of gravity moves with them as they ride their bicycle up and down different paths.

Maintaining psychological wellbeing during movement and transition requires a similar search for balance. As we try to understand what stresses and concerns us, we try to create feelings of safety. At the same time we remember our strengths and resilience, and how we have succeeded to adjust to new surroundings in the past. We practice patience and we finally realize that our centre moves with us as we move along a new path.

We learn to balance and we can help our kids discover their own balance-on-the-move!

Take A Break For Good News – The Awe of the Olympic Games Philip Meehan, SACAC Counselling

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Between the Summer and Winter Olympics, every two years we celebrate athletic achievement on the world’s biggest stage. More than just celebrating, the feats we witness and stories we read can be truly awe inspiring, from athleticism and perseverance to sportsmanship and nation building. This sense of awe can have a profound effect on daily lives and experiences. Though still in its early stages, the study of awe is starting to show the tangible benefits to individuals and society when we experience goosebumps.

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., UC Berkeley professor of psychology and founding director of the Greater Good Science Center, is a ground-breaking researcher on awe. So far, his research shows that:

“Experiencing awe seem(s) to make (people) more inclined to help someone in need… We have found that awe—more so than emotions like pride or amusement—leads people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others, all of which are requirements for our collective life. And still other studies have explained the awe-altruism link: being in the presence of vast things calls forth a more modest, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness toward others.” (Keltner)

There are many ways to experience awe in daily life; most involve experiencing the the world around you. I believe that the Olympics are a great example with many moments that can leave us awestruck. Here are my top five moments so far. What are yours?

  1. Watching the super-human athletic achievements of Usain Bolt as he smiled his way to another Olympic gold medal.
  2. Reading about swimmer Yusra Mardini of the Refugee Olympic Team, who literally saved 18 lives when she and her sister swam their broken down boat to shore.
  3. Witnessing the incredible sportsmanship shown by American Abbey D’Agostino and Kiwi Nikki Hamblin who helped each other in turn to finish the 5000m race after a collision.
  4. Experiencing the euphoria and pride shown by Singapore after Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s second gold medal ever (after paralympian Yip Pin Xiu’s 2008 gold medal in the S3 50 backstroke).
  5. Seeing the hope in the selfie taken by gymnasts Lee Eun-ju of South Korea and Hong Un-jong of the North after their competition (5).

This isn’t to gloss over the problems of the games, and oh, there are problems. But for two weeks, and individual moments in time, it’s OK to take a break for good news and experience  the best of humanity on display at the Olympics. And if the feelings you feel are more than just positive and uplifting, but actually awe, you might find yourself being changed as well.

Keltner, Dacher. “Why Do We Feel Awe?” Greater Good. UC Berkeley, 10 May 2016. Web. 17 Aug. 2016. <http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_do_we_feel_awe>.

More on the moments:

  1. http://www.news.com.au/sport/olympics/sports-life/usain-bolt-photo-taken-by-an-australian-thats-sent-the-internet-into-meltdown/news-story/f71b44ef114c2cdfba4146eb7a8c2b0b
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/sports/olympics/a-swimmer-goes-from-syria-to-rio-from-refugee-to-olympian.html?_r=0
  3. http://olympics.cbc.ca/news/article/nikki-hamblin-shows-true-olympic-spirit-000m-race.html
  4. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/hundreds-welcome-joseph-schoolings-triumphant-homecoming
  5. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37018914

By Phil Meehan.

Assertiveness for Everyone

Assertiveness is an essential component of good communication in all aspects of our lives, personal and professional.  Yet, it is often a poorly understood concept.  Many people would like to be more assertive, but are not sure how to go about it.  Sometimes aggression is confused with assertiveness. Aggression is always totally unhelpful in communication and is not assertive.  Passivity is the opposite of aggression and is also not assertive.

Sometimes people fear that if they are assertive they`ll come across too strong and others won`t appreciate it. This is not helped by some definitions of assertiveness whereby the word ` forceful` is sometimes used to describe it and people may not want to be forceful. There is no need to be forceful when being assertive.

Mutuality is the bedrock of assertiveness.  It is different to equality in that it acknowledges the presence of `self` and `other` in all communication, irrespective of any power differentials that may exist.  Mutuality affords us choices in our communications – either we choose to deal with something or to let it go.  In order to optimise communication, both parties need to be assertive.  However, even if only one person is assertive, the communication will be better than if neither is.

The key ingredients of mutuality are Dignity and Respect for `self` and `other`.  Dignity is of course a human right whereas respect is a choice.  Assertiveness requires both dignity and respect for `self` and `other` to be present.  Often respect for `self` is missing when people are struggling to be assertive.  Bodylanguage, including good eye contact and calm tone of voice, timing and place are also factors in assertive communication.  

Sometimes even though we`ve assertively chosen to let something go, it continues to bother us. When this happens it`s probably better to respectfully voice our concerns, factoring in all of the above. This is known as having a `Difficult Conversation`.  It has three parts FACT, FEEL, Want/Would Like as an outcome.  It is important to implement these sequentially.

It is necessary to know at the outset what the desired outcome of this communication is, bearing in mind that we don`t always get what we want and we have no control over `other`. However, if we communicate our wishes assertively and do not get the desired outcome, we will feel better knowing that we have done our best to communicate our wishes assertively.

The first step is to lay out the facts as we see them, knowing that facts are often disputed. The other person may have an entirely different version of the facts.  This is where communication often gets derailed as it just goes around and around, back and forth.  It is important to remain calm at this stage.

The second step is to convey how you feel about it.  It is essential here to use the word “I”.  If you say “You” or “It” here, the other person will feel attacked and become defensive.

The third step is to convey what you would like as an outcome. It takes a bit of practice, but is worth it.

Dr. Anita Corfe

Clinical Psychologist

Early years childcare: choices and challenges

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Parents face a bewildering array of childcare choices for very young children in the years prior to compulsory school age. All the more so in Singapore, where expat parents grapple with unfamiliar childcare; extensive ‘enrichment’ options; and the local and international school sectors; and where the availability of affordable, live-in domestic help is an additional consideration. Singaporean parents have learned just this year of major changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination that will come into force in 2021, fundamentally altering the grading methodology for this high stakes assessment, leaving many local parents wondering how best to prepare their children for academic success from infancy onwards.

How can psychological research help us evaluate the options available and determine the best choices for our own family’s needs? At first glance, the research evidence can make for challenging reading, especially for employed or self-employed mothers, or mothers who wish to return to formal work while their children are very young. Going to a nursery is a stressful experience for children: a recent study showed that cortisol levels (a stress hormone) were between 75 and 100 per cent higher in toddlers starting nursery while they were at nursery, compared to when they were at home. Cortisol levels reduced slightly over time, but still remained elevated five months after starting nursery, despite the children in the study showing little outward sign of stress or anxiety.

Does this mean that nurseries or preschools are bad for young children? The reality is complicated. It depends on the age of the child; each individual child’s temperament; the nature of the care provided at the nursery or preschool; and the length of time spent within such childcare each day, amongst other factors. The needs of the family, and mothers especially, are also vitally important. In many families, parents have no realistic choice other than to work to meet their financial commitments, and even where this is not the case, many women wish to work professionally for their own fulfilment and life satisfaction. Encouragingly, mothers working outside the home who enjoy their work have been found to be happier and more responsive parents, and often compensate for the time spent away from their child by spending more time actively interacting with their children when they are together at home. Indeed, this study found that the amount of direct, quality one on one contact time with young children does not vary significantly between mothers in formal employment and ‘stay at home’ mothers, who are often busy with a range of domestic responsibilities and personal commitments in addition to providing childcare.

Research evidence clearly indicates that, not surprisingly, the quality of the childcare chosen makes a real difference: so, what are the factors parents should look for to identify a suitable option for their child? The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development Early Childcare Research Network (US) defines quality childcare as: “warm, supportive interactions with adults, in a safe, healthy and stimulating environment, where early education and trusting relationships combine to support individual children’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual development”.

The reference to emotional and social development here is important; even though high quality childcare can improve school readiness and cognitive and linguistic development, the more time a young child spends in childcare, the more behavioural problems they demonstrate in later childhood. Childcare where children are able to develop close, caring and affectionate relationships with a consistently present caregiver or caregivers is well placed to meet the emotional needs of young children and to promote secure attachment relationships. It is valuable and important for a child to be able to develop a strong bond with an appropriate individual carer, whether in a daycare setting, nursery, preschool or with a domestic helper – this protects the very young child from high levels of stress and anxiety. Nurseries, preschools or daycare centres with lower child to adult ratios are therefore desirable and staff should be able to balance taking account of the needs of the whole group of children in their care, with plenty of positive individual attention (not an easy task!). Given the availability of live in domestic help in Singapore, it is also interesting to note that research clearly indicates, especially for children under 12 months old, that care from one main carer in a home (not necessarily the mother) is a better option for children’s wellbeing than care in a group setting, such as daycare, nursery or preschool.

What about parents focused on supporting their children’s academic development and seeking the best enrichment or childcare options to help their child put in place strong foundations for structured learning? The most important finding here is that the quality of the relationship a child has with its parents is a far better predictor of academic performance and social functioning than is the quality of childcare or enrichment activities. So whatever options work best for your child, your family and you, nurturing a loving, warm, empathic relationship with your son or daughter, while setting firm, consistent and age-appropriate limits, will give your child a strong foundation to thrive.

If you are seeking support with parenting challenges, the team at SACAC Counselling can provide confidential, expert help. You may also find the following resources useful:

Dr Shefali Tsabary’s books on parenting: The Conscious Parent; Out of Control; and The Awakened Family

The website of Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, which has an extensive resource library: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/   This site is highly recommended for parents seeking sound, science-based information about children’s developmental needs, to inform their own parenting choices.

All research referred to in this article is cited in Music, G., 2011. Nonmaternal care and childcare. Nurturing Natures: Attachment and Children’s Emotional, Sociocultural and Brain Development. Hove: Psychology Press. Ch. 13.

By Laura Timms.

 

 

 

 

Tapping Your Way to Health and Happiness – with Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)

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Have you ever felt upset or distressed and wished you could do something about it in real time? EFT might just be the solution you have been looking for.

EFT is a tapping technique clinically proven to effectively reduce a broad variety of emotional distress including stress, anxiety, tension, depression, physical pain, fears and phobias, limiting beliefs and blocks and is being widely used to heal psychological issues and improve quality of life. It is easy to learn, can be used by kids, adolescents and adults, and can bring stress-relief in seconds. EFT is a non-invasive process which combines the wisdom and power of ancient acupuncture (without needles) with the science and insights of modern psychology.

EFT involves gently taping on/stimulating certain acupoints on the body, while zoning into the issue that we wish to resolve – combining cathartic truth statements focused on the problem and positive affirmations of self-acceptance. This process clears and harmonizes the blocked/disturbed energy in the meridians, leading to a deep release of stuck emotions which allows for natural and often profound shifts in the ways we think, feel and react. Since EFT activates and works on all levels of our system – mind, body and emotions – the release and relief are long-lasting, holistic and deep. Studies also show that EFT works much faster than traditional forms of therapy, is similar in effectiveness to EMDR and often more effective that CBT within a smaller number of sessions.

The effects of EFT are incredible and undeniable at the same time. It isn’t something you need to make yourself believe – it’s a tangible shift you experience in your body. I have been using EFT for over 5 years now to help improve my mental and physical health and as a powerful technique to help my clients with the multitude of concerns they struggle with.
EFT can be learned and used easily and quickly as psychological first aid – helping you deal with the day-to-day upsets, stress, physical pain, anxiety, negative thoughts or anything else that pulls you down while also giving you a tool for self-development – empowering you to take charge of your emotions, health and life.

EFT is also highly effective for deeper work with limiting beliefs, low self-esteem and confidence, core issues, negative thoughts, trauma and abuse, PTSD, painful experiences/memories, depression, fears (like public speaking, failure etc.), test – taking anxiety, specific phobias, body image, athletic performance, cravings, headaches and pain management, chronic illness, insomnia, fibromyalgia, guilt, grief and loss, anger and almost any emotional distress.

Tapping is proving to be a powerful, well-researched and easy to learn and apply technique.
As further advancement, Matrix Re-imprinting combines advanced EFT techniques with inner child work and quantum physics. Matrix Re-imprinting allows for a gentle resolution of painful traumas and old wounds in a wholesome and integrative manner. This allows the person to safely process the shock and pain of the experience, release stuck emotions and cellular memories, reclaim lost parts of themselves and re-engineer/rewrite the memory into a happier, empowered picture of their choosing – as they integrate the new positive feelings and beliefs intellectually, emotionally and physically. Matrix re-imprinting allows for powerful and deep-rooted change in a rapid and gentle manner.

Please feel free to connect if you wish to experience or learn EFT. To view sample videos introducing and describing EFT, please visit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFKVVP8KXd4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiD72cZ5mcU

Written by
Mahima Gupta Didwania (M.A., MSPS, CRT, C.Ht.)
Registered Clinical Psychologist (SRP), EFT Trainer, Integrated Clinical Hypnotherapist, Certified Regression Therapist (EARTh), Advanced EFT Practitioner (AAMET), Breakthrough Coach, Matrix Reimprinting & NLP Practitioner
Therapist at SACAC Counselling
www.sacac.sg

How Do I Know That My Child Needs To See A Counsellor?

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The thought of childhood reminds me of learning to ride a bike, watching cartoons, playing board games, going on play dates, sleep overs, and above all having grandparents to spoil you. Childhood is supposed to be a carefree time, full of fun and excitement for every child.
Unfortunately, some children experience difficulties very early in life and need help. Some common challenges are school stress, mood swings, bullying, peer pressure, lack of motivation, poor academic performance, social anxiety, family issues particularly if there’s a major transition, such as a divorce, move, serious illness or loss of a family member. These difficulties may lead to emotional distress disrupting daily functioning, overwhelming the child or interfering with the achievement of age-appropriate milestones.

Each child reacts differently to different issues in their lives. Children might not have the ability to understand, share or adequately express their feelings. This is when the need to seek psychological support arises. Parents react in varied ways when faced with the idea that their child needs psychological support. Some may tend to feel guilty and blame themselves for their child’s problem whereas others are unsure of the right time to seek professional help for their child
Some common signs that a child may benefit from seeing a counsellor include:
• Behavioral problems (such as excessive anger, acting out, fearful)
• Significant drop in grades and motivation to excel
• Missing deadlines in school & excessive school absenteeism
• Episodes of sadness, tearfulness, or depression
• Social withdrawal or isolation
• Being the victim of bullying or bullying other children
• Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
• Sudden changes in appetite (particularly in adolescents)
• Insomnia or increased sleepiness
• Mood swings (e.g., excited at one minute, upset the next)
• Increase in physical complaints (such as headache, stomachache, or not feeling well) despite a normal physical exam by your doctor
• Signs of alcohol, drug, or other substance use
• Problems in transitions (following separation, divorce, or relocation)
• Bereavement issues
• Custody evaluations
• Experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or other traumatic events
• Developmental delay in speech, language, or toilet training (younger children)
• Learning or Attention problems (such as ADHD)
• Bedwetting or eating disorders

Few of these signs are fairly common and are seen in most children at some point; but if there are multiple signs, if these signs are frequent, become extreme or have been there for an extended period of time, then it might probably indicate a need to see a counsellor. Confusion about this may lead to delays, resulting in smaller issues becoming bigger. As the child gets older, the complexity of situations increases and things might get tougher for them.
Counsellors and psychologists are trained to provide support to you and your child in a safe and non-judgmental environment using various techniques. Some effective therapies that the therapist may use with your child is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Solution Focused Therapy, Mindfulness or various forms of Expressive Therapy (Sand, Art, Play or Drama Therapy).
By recognizing the problems and seeking help early on, parents can help their child and the entire family moves through the tough times towards happier, healthier times.

By Vinti Mittal

Two Steps Ahead: Leading Children by Example

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There are moments when we see a reflection of ourselves in our son’s words, our niece’s gestures, our students’ movements…

Can you recall a moment like that? Was it pleasant? Was it unpleasant?

Did you ever wonder why these reflections happen?

One of the factors that influence our children’s behaviour is our example. Our actions while we are around them play a vital role.

With the discovery of mirror neurons, neuroscientists argue that primates and humans imitate one another on a neurological level. Neuropsychiatrist Marco Iacoboni in his book “Mirroring People” explains how neurons on an observer’s brain respond to the actions of someone else performing an action as though the observer was doing those actions himself. He maintains that we are neurologically wired for empathy and connecting to one another.

Looking at our children’s actions from this point of view, we recognize the responsibility we carry to behave in ways that influence them in a right direction.

But this responsibility does not need to be a burden… It also involves the journey of looking at ourselves in the mirror and deciding which parts of ourselves we would like to transform and which to treasure.

It’s really a win – win situation. We continue to develop ourselves and we can better lead the children in our life. And in the process, we can create a bond beyond words between us.

At this point we start thinking: What values do we want to instill in our children? Which direction is most important for us now? What do we need to transform to go in that direction?

We start with “Just a small step” in the direction that most beckons our heart at that moment. (See blog entry June 23, 2016, “A small step towards a brighter path”).

Step by step, we develop the habit of becoming more aware and mindful of our actions, at least in a specific direction. In the book “Fully Present”, Susan Smalley proposes 4 steps or ingredients for behaviour change:

Simple steps – Starting with a small step, something that we can do.
Supportive environment – Surrounding ourselves with helpful people or situations.
Motivation – Wishing to see our children walking towards a better path.
Repetition – Continuing step by step until it becomes part of our actions.
As we walk in mindfulness, we realize that we don’t need to be experts. On our way, we will start helping the children around us, because:

They start mirroring our behaviour as we go on our self awareness journey and start connecting to their own self awareness search.
As we continue finding unique paths for ourselves, we understand how to help them discover their own paths.
We realize that we need to walk just two steps ahead of our children to start leading them in the right direction. They will instinctively follow, and as we see ourselves mirrored in their actions, we will be even more motivated to continue on our own paths.

Like in a mirroring dance, we can help one another on our journeys towards self-awareness.

We are leading just two steps ahead…

by Yana Ricart

Challenges for Ex-patriate Couple Relationships

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People are disturbed not so much by events as by the view which they take of them` Epictus, first century AD.

So you’re here! You`ve successfully made all the necessary transitions to living abroad, however perhaps your mutual decision to relocate is proving to be more difficult than expected. The reality of living where practically everything is different in terms of your prior lived experience has dawned and perhaps you`re finding the relationship with your spouse/partner itself to be troublesome. You are not alone. Whilst every couple relationship is unique, most ex-pat couples have the additional challenge of adapting to ex-pat life.

An example of where a problem in the ex-pat couple relationship can occur is when the relocation is perceived by one partner/spouse as affirming and personally and professionally rewarding and by the other as personally and professionally challenging and unrewarding. This can create stress in the couple relationship. It is an example of how differing perspectives of the same situation can be problematic in ex-pat couple relationships, even though both partners welcomed the relocation initially.

When previously helpful support structures are no longer readily available to one or both partners, a sense of isolation can increase the stress within the couple relationship, which in turn can lead to an escalation in conflict. It is important to note however that it is not the amount of conflict in a couple relationship that determines the quality of the relationship, rather it is how the couple manages the conflict.

Assertive conflict management skills are necessary for both partners, to ‘weather the storm’ when problems occur. Good communication is essential. However, we often find it difficult to communicate verbally, reliant as we are to a large extent on non-verbal communication. Empathic listening is a key ingredient in good verbal communication as it ensures that both partners feel understood and heard. Fortunately it is something that can be learned.

Empathic listening is facilitated by an understanding of individual boundaries whereby each person assumes responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. For example instead of communicating to your spouse/partner “you make me feel” or “it makes me feel” (which is an example of not accepting responsibility for one`s own feelings), rather saying “I feel …. when you or” or “I feel ….when it ” (an example of accepting responsibility for one`s own feelings) is a more assertive style of communication. When each person accepts responsibility for their own feelings, situations whereby one spouse/partner feels blamed is averted and thus is less likely to respond defensively.

It is also important for both spouses/partners to treat the relationship itself as an `organic` entity, something to be mutually cherished and nourished. Making time for each other, in busy ex-pat lives, perhaps doing something enjoyable together is a helpful way to maintain a healthy and happy relationship. Even the simplest gestures like going for a walk together can make a positive difference.

Professional support is available for ex-pat couples and can be very helpful to provide a space for good communication.

Dr. Anita Corfe

A Small Step Towards a Brighter Path

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Have you ever gone hiking on a difficult or unknown trail?
Have you ever had any kind of injury while hiking or doing sports?
Remember a moment in which you were in a situation similar to that.

If it is an unknown trail, we might want to overly check all climate and terrain conditions before actually embarking on the path. If the path suddenly turns more difficult than we expected, we might even think: “why did I start to walk on this path at all?”

When we have had a small injury, it becomes even harder… Every step could be painful until we arrive to a shelter or to where we could get any kind of help.

Similarly, there are emotional situations in our lives in which no movement at all is desired. Even the thought of taking a small step towards a different path seems daunting.

At home or at work, we might be going through new circumstances or a particularly difficult patch. We may have tried to approach people around us or people we love in a variety of ways and we feel that nothing is working. We feel emotionally injured or exhausted. We don’t know what to do and we don’t want to move.
So, what do we do at these points? Paradoxically, we stop… and then start!

We stop for a moment or for a few breaths to pay attention to our body sensations and feelings. And we ask ourselves: “Which is the smallest step that I could take right now?”, “And in which direction?” There is always something small enough that we find in our search, that we could attempt to try.

Then we start. We gather courage and tell ourselves: “Just one small step”, and after that one we can decide how to continue. Sometimes the thought is enough to start, some other times we might need the encouragement of physically moving or doing something to start.

There is a Peruvian proverb that says that “Little by little, one walks far”. After taking one step and then another, we might find ourselves in a different path than we imagined, one that leads to discovering unexpected solutions to our situations.

Like us, our children also experience these moments of feeling emotionally paralyzed. They don’t understand, they don’t know what to do and they don’t know how to express what they are really feeling. We can then be role models to them. We can teach them by example that we can stop and then start taking new steps.
We can lead them to take that first small step towards discovering the new brighter path that awaits each one of them!

By Yana Ricart

Uncertainty – A Situation in Which Something is Unknown (Cambridge Dictionary)

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The term uncertainty defines the experience of many of my clients and many more who are living an expat experience, including myself. If we look at the synonyms of the term uncertain they include unpredictability, unreliability, riskiness, chanciness, precariousness and unsureness. Further to this, feelings of uncertainties include descriptives such as doubt, qualms, misgiving, apprehension, quandary, dilemma, niggle….. It is not surprising then that living with uncertainty can be very unsettling.

Throughout life everyone will experience different periods of uncertainty, for example waiting for test results, job interviews, buying or selling houses. Often these periods of uncertainty are relatively short lived, some might find them exciting, others may find them highly stressful. However, living in a prolonged state of uncertainty can be mentally draining and place strain on families and relationships. Currently among my peers and clients there is a high degree of uncertainty with the highly volatile job market particularly in industries such as mining, resources and finance. Many families are unsure how long they will remain in Singapore. This makes it very difficult to plan ahead further than a few months. Living as an expat family can mean rapid and dramatic change of circumstances. Loss of employment in Singapore often results in cancelled permits whereby families are required to leave the country. Sometimes this means returning to country of origin and sometimes it means taking up an entirely new expat posting. Each scenario involves significant adjustment and many unknowns.

When living in a transient and uncertain state it is helpful to consider what you can do as an individual and a family to develop a greater sense of control.

Working Together As Team
First of all it is important to communicate effectively on decisions. Whilst one person’s job may be driving decisions, ultimately it will effect all members of the family. Therefore it is important as a couple to brainstorm all options and consider the pros and cons of any new move. Doing your research can allay some anxiety, this includes, researching schools, opportunities for work, living conditions, access to health care. Considering whether or not your families lifestyle is suited to the new environment. Also, put some plans in place in the event of a sudden move e.g. emergency saving fund, decluttering, staying on top of admin tasks and taxes. Being organised is a great way to reduce anxiety.

In addition it is important for both partners to be supportive and feel supported. Having empathy for the impact of expat life on each other is imperative. Whilst one partners career may be flourishing another’s may be suffering, this situation may pose challenges for both partners and must be treated with empathy and respect. Appreciation of the new experiences and acknowledgement of sacrifices are equally important and sustaining a cohesive relationship. Value each other’s contributions to the overall functioning of the family.

Build Transferable Skill and Activities
Wherever you are currently situated it can be helpful to invest time and energy into developing skills and activities that are transferable. If you are unable to work, engage in volunteer activities which develop new skills that can be used in different environments in the event of a move. Encourage this for your children as well, i.e. get them to pursue one activity consistently, even if they are trying out lots of other activities. This can provide a sense of stability and consistency in any environment and help develop a solid sense of self. The ability to continue with an enjoyed activity following a move can be a great way of becoming connected with like minded friends. This applies for both adults and children.

Strengthen the Family Unit
Focus on developing strong bonds as a family unit, creating comfort in the knowledge that you have each other wherever you go. This may mean that some of your holidays are just with your immediate family. Or that you have some family traditions that can be replicated anywhere. Weekly routines can also have a calming and bonding effect on families e.g. Sunday night board games, Saturday afternoon bike rides, Friday night movies. Choose something that fits with your family and try to make a point of doing it. If one partner travels a lot it may mean having something you do if they are in town, e.g. Sunday brunch, family pool time, dumpling night……

Focus on the Present Moment
Daily mindfulness check-ins are helpful. Creating some space each morning to check-in with how you are feeling can be great way of gauging how well you are coping. Ask yourself if there is anything that can be done to improve your feelings, e.g. talk to a friend, go for a run. Observe you body as well, noticing if you are tense or tired. Respond consciously to what you observe.

Lastly, enjoy the here and now. Try to avoid spending too much time focusing on the ifs, buts and maybes, if there is nothing you can do in the present moment to effect change. Connect with what you love today. Be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for managing the change and uncertainty.

Writing this made me think of the wisdom of the serenity prayer which can be comforting to bear in mind in uncertain times. Remember, if the uncertainty and change feels overwhelming, reach out for help.

Dr Rachel Upperton