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Kids and Language

As a mother of 2 small children I am continually astounded by their language development- the words they pick up and the way they manage to play with multiple languages already. As we're currently living in Vienna they are having to master German on top of English… so here are some of my ponderings on the linguistic theme.

20 things your kids will thank you for when you move.

Moving is stressful. For everyone. Whether it’s moving flat from one part of town to another, moving to a different city or even to another part of the world, the process is a huge challenge. We tend to think about it in adult terms though- the actions we have to take in order to get all our belongings to the new home, deciding what to keep and what to discard, the problems it causes us. But we are usually the ones who have initiated the change for the family, and so the kids have to tag along, sometimes unhappily.

We can make it easier for them though. Here are a few important pointers on things you can do to make the move less stressful for your children.

  1. Discuss WHY you are moving; why you considered this the best choice for your family at this time. As I said, we parents are moving by choice. Be clear that THE DECISION TO MOVE is yours alone to make as parents and providers and a time will come when they will be able to decide for themselves where they choose to live. Kids need to understand their parents make decisions based on what they truly believe is best for the family.
  2. Involve them actively in researching the city or country you will move to. Find photos, histories, online communities. Involve their friends in this (their friends can be your biggest allies or your greatest obstacle to your child’s understanding and accepting your decision) and make it as exciting and special as possible.
  3. Give them the chance to ask all the questions they may have. Answer these in all honesty. Don’t fib, fudge or fake it. Ever. If you don’t know the answer, involve them in finding out the answer. Let them see it is important to you to find out. Do not promise anything you don’t absolutely know you’ll be able to provide. Don’t lose their trust. Trusting you will provide them a sense of security. If they trust your decisions they will feel less apprehensive. Your honesty is their security.
  4. Prepare them for possible language barriers by getting language tutors or lessons if necessary. You can take classes too, which will give them a sense that you’re all in the same boat.
  5. Involve them in deciding what they will take or leave behind. Allow them some decision-making. It will help them feel that they have some say in what is happening to them.
  6. Ask them what they’ll miss most. Research if those things are available in your new country. Take them with you if possible. Being surrounded by familiar things will comfort them in their new home (this includes favorite foods, toys, books, clothing, games, blankets, and anything else that provides them a sense of security).
  7. If there are things you must leave behind, talk about saying goodbye to them on several occasions, plan how or when to say goodbye, progressively distance them mentally from the object (or pet or person) over a period of time.
  8. Get in touch with possible schools and teachers, and involve them in communicating with them prior to your move. If possible, try to establish a pen pal relationship with one or more kids at their new school prior to moving. This is one of the most important aspects for your kids and, given the technology of our times, one of the easiest to accomplish if you are able to choose a school prior to moving.
  9. Help them make a concrete plan for how they will communicate with their friends and family back home. Assure them you’ll help them make that possible. Skype, WhatsApp… we have many ways to stay in touch now which allow us to see everyone in real time.
  10. Discuss how you will participate in helping them make new friends and/or adjust to their new school. (You may be surprised to find some kids would rather mom or dad NOT enter with them or hold their hand or kiss them goodbye on their first day).
  11. Try to help create a sense of excitement about their new home. Find out about fun and entertaining or unique things and places your new country will have.  Use verbs, adjectives and adverbs that are positive, make a plan for visiting or finding them once you’ve settled in (keep your promises when you do).
  12. Help them feel safe by discussing possible situations you’ll encounter in your host country in real terms, especially with older kids and teens. Let them know your family has a concrete plan for staying away from potentially volatile situations, discuss the reasons behind them (such as protests, etc.), let them help research so they’ll understand them. Discuss, plan and practice what you would do in specific emergency situations without alarming them. Explain very matter-of-factly that families should hold emergency drills no matter where they live. Let them know what your decision would be if your host country becomes too hostile to live in (have you even thought of this?)  
  13. Tell your kids exactly how long you will be in your host country (if you know) and when you’ll be returning home. It gives them something to look forward to, and most importantly lets them know GOODBYE’S ARE NOT FOREVER. If you’re leaving one host country for another and know you won’t return help your kids plan how they will communicate with their friends they are leaving behind. One of the things I feel is that goodbye’s feel like funerals – many of us literally GO INTO DEEP MOURNING with each and every move.
  14. Research extra-curricular activities your kids might participate in in your host country prior to moving.  Look for things they will want to do or be involved in when they get to their new home, and think of the things they will want to continue, to see if it’s possible to keep that activity going in the new place. Discuss their options with them. This can give them something to look forward to.
  15. Let them spend time with the people they will be leaving behind to prepare them mentally for departure. Participate in talking about your move with their friends. Their friends may be feeling sad and apprehensive too. If you can answer some of their questions as well, they may willingly be helpful in preparing your kids (or at least not work against you) prior to departure.
  16. Most importantly, involve them often in discussions about how they are adapting to the IDEA of moving. Spend time with them and encourage them to ask questions. The more you can answer prior to your move, the less insecure they will feel when they arrive.
  17. Create a sense of excitement and adventure and ward off potential future problems.
  18. Read up and learn about TCKs (third culture kids). It’s very important as a parent you learn to understand the fears, sadness, anger, loss, confusion and other emotions your expatriate children may be feeling because they’ll need your help (and possibly professional help) to work through them.
  19. Your child needs to know you MUST live within your means and it helps to let your child in on what your means are (in a general manner). Don’t stress your kids out about money, don’t show them you’re stressed about money, but do be firm and informative about what your financial situation is, how you plan to live, the lifestyle they can expect to have overseas, and how you’ve prepared or planned your wealth management (inasmuch as your kid might understand, depending on their age). They may be moving into a lower or higher lifestyle than they’re accustomed to. If you think your children don’t think about these things you are wrong.
  20. Listen to them! Listen to them! Listen to them!There are so many things you can do, as many options as there are children. The best thing you can do (and most important) is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS

Remember, you are moving by choice. Your kids are not. It is only fair you take them into account in all aspects and let them participate in as many as possible.  You must prepare them and allow them to participate SUFFICIENTLY and enough TIME IN ADVANCE for them to process. Don’t assume anything. If they don’t ask you, ask them. Initiate communication.

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School uniforms… yay or nay?

uniformMy daughter starts school this September- in Austria we’re a little later than other
countries round the world, so she’ll be 6 by the time she walks through the doors for the first time. Friends in the UK, Australia and the USA have already made the big step, fondly photographed and posted on social media by the parents. So I watch and (patiently) wait for my turn.

Am I the only mother who loves the look of the Grade 1 child in his or her new school uniform? The too big skirt and still bright-coloured jumper? The excited smile on the child’s face, as they have now graduated from Kindergarten to the ‘big girl’s school’? I remember finally being old enough to go to primary school in the UK, four long years after my sister had started. Weeks, or maybe months before the term started I had tried on my new uniform, loving the look and feel of it far more than I did once I was actually forced to wear it in class. And from then on I didn’t really think about the uniform, except on those days when we had ‘home clothes day’ and could come in looking different from usual.

There are many nay-sayers, who cannot agree with the concept of uniform- hate the colour, the style, the necessity of wearing something not their choice. So not everyone loves a uniform! But in school there are definite advantages that one can bring, and here are a few:

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Online safety

1280x720-vpfDespite our good intentions to limit television time to a minimum, most of us parents do allow our children to watch the odd show. I know that if my children are being particularly rowdy, then 30 minutes of Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol will calm them down and allow me a few minutes peace.

However, we need to be vigilant of what they are allowed to watch, especially when using sites like YouTube to access different shows. My 5-year old daughter is now able to find the YouTube app and get to her favourite shows relatively easily, which means that I slack off and cease to monitor exactly what she is clicking. But I have to be more aware and pro-active about what my children are watching, especially because I know that there are loads of dodgy sites out there just waiting for their innocent little fingers to click the link.

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Dealing with a late bloomer

late-bloomer-quotes-4Slow to speak, slow to walk, reluctant to write…

And that’s just my son! OK, I’m exaggerating here- I mean he’s only 3, so the lack of ability at writing is acceptable! (I am joking, BTW!) Each child has it’s own clock, set to it’s own time, and nothing (much) that we can do will change this. However, that doesn’t stop our internal discussions with ourselves, wondering when the next milestone will be reached.

I’m as guilty of this as the next Mum- with two children it’s impossible not to ask the million questions like: “Wasn’t Gen singing ’round and round the garden’ by now? What’s wrong with Sam? Is he EVER going to get there?!”

It’s the waiting game that’s so hard. Although we all know that we shouldn’t be pushing our children beyond their limitations, the sigh of relief when they do finally manage to do what their peers have been winging for months is huge. And it doesn’t help when there are often comparisons from other parents on Facebook etc- posting pictures of their little wonder typing on the pad,  singing etc… reinforcing our fears that our darlings are delayed in some way.

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When language summer school actually works

skateboarding-to-summer-school-in-color-clip-art-gallery

A lifetime ago I worked as a teacher on a summer school- and what an amazing, fun time it was. We had kids coming from all over the world to learn English on 3- week courses, staying in schools or colleges over the south of England, with the main requirement to have a good time and speak English “B2B”: breakfast to bedtime. Of course this didn’t always work 100%, but there were some wonderful success stories too, making me realise that the trip abroad was beneficial to the kids.

My favourite story from my years in summer school is of 2 girls who met aged probably 14 – 15 one summer, at our summer school in Kent, UK. One was from Greece, and the other from Sweden. They were the only ones of their nationality, so they had no compatriots to chat with in their own language. They hit it off with each other instantly, and had to speak English with each other in order to be mutually understood. Their basic English grew quicker than most of the other students on the course, as they used it all the time. And the girls remained friends, reunited with each other every summer at the summer school, and to this day are still good friends. They went so far as to learn each other’s language- not so good for their English, but a testament to how much they meant to each other.

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It’s about more than just languages

multi-ethnic

Bringing up children is a challenge. No it’s not: it’s a heart- wrenching, tear- filled, laughter- inducing journey of a challenge. Sometimes I feel that I’m not up to it (like it’s a choice!), and then I’m nudged back into life by a comment made by a friend, or something I hear on the news. Today it was: “Why is it so bloody difficult to find little non-pink baby dolls. It’s ridiculous in this day and age. 😡 It actually freaks me out a bit.”

Whether part of a monolingual or multilingual family, we have certain ideals that we want to fulfil, and beliefs that we want our children to grow up with. These may well differ depending on where we are from in the world but the majority of us now believe in an equal society, one in which girls and boys, black and white, straight and gay are treated with the same respect and compassion. As parents, we have the responsibility to our children to bring them up with open and accepting minds. And it’s not always as easy as we hope. Raising children who see beyond the colour of a person’s skin takes a conscious effort on the parents’ part. We must deliberately teach respect and cooperation. We must destroy the “us versus them” mentality that has slowly permeated our culture.

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Thinking games that are easy in any language

Contemplative young girl  looks up.Sometimes our children need a bit of encouragement to use language in a creative way, especially when it’s the minority language. Practicing a language can quickly feel like work, unless you manage to create situations that are fun and subtle. Thinking games for kids are some of the easiest activities you can find, and can fill in ‘dead time’, like when you’re waiting in line, or driving in the car with kids who cannot keep still or stop asking “Are we nearly there yet?” We have played “I spy with my little eye…”? in the car on our journeys until I could strangle the next person thinking of the word “car”… so here are some ideas which can be played in any language, and which while away a good few dull minutes:

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Grandparents are great!

GrannyI flew back home to Vienna recently, after a week in the UK, sans famille. It was a lovely flying experience: I had a good wander round the airport shops without being nagged to buy this and that, I sat back in my seat and dozed a bit, I ate my meal at the same time as everyone else, without spills or whines (just wine!). Travelling without kids- what a luxury!

But when I looked across the aisle I saw a mum who had it even better than me. She was travelling with her son, yes, but also with her mother. Granny sat in the middle seat, mum in the aisle, and the 6-ish year old in the window seat. The whole way through the flight Granny looked after the son- she played with him, read to him, took him to the loo and helped him with his food. Mum did exactly the same as me: flew as if she was alone. Jealous much?!

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Is the Internet good or bad for our children?

child-using-computerThese days it seems that almost from birth, children are immersed in a digitally rich environment, from tablets to desktops and texting to social networks. Despite efforts to keep technology away from children, there is no way that any parent can stop it all from becoming part of a child’s life, or at least maybe at first, but not once they reach 5 or older. But if we step back a little bit, we can see that there are advantages to allowing some access to technology. Digital technologies have potential benefits in the areas of cognitive, social and physical development. They have huge appeal for children, and this can be harnessed to help children socialise, develop and learn. Kids who are old enough to swipe a screen can have access to the world.

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