Related News

Home » Feature » Education

Ensuring the smoothest departure

BIDDING farewell to expat friends as a family heads for a new destination or leaving the family home for university can be a tough time for all involved. Fei Lai looks at ways to avoid emotional upheaval during such disruption.

Behind every good-bye, there is a hello.

When the day has finally dawned and an expatriate family will be departing from Shanghai, this action is extremely difficult on all members of the family - especially children.

Many expatriate parents are concerned about their children's emotional well-being and resilience. They worry about the negative impact of "cross-cultural" living and the sea of change that occurs regularly when employment contracts herald a change of destination.

For many expat families, the question "Where do you come from?" has more than one reasonable answer. These families have children who have lived meaningfully in two or more cultural environments for significant parts of their formative years.

Their meaning of "home" is often defined by the currency of their location, not the country of their passport or indeed their parent's heritage.

"We are leaving" is a simple statement but for expatriates and their communities, the words can mean a lot more than a destination change. For many, it signals a future change in the status of relationships that have been forged between and among the members of the expatriate community.

When someone announces his or her intent to move away, there begins a roller-coaster ride of excitement and regret that ripples through families and the wider community. These emotional "ups and downs" are true for those who leave as well as those who are left behind.

The emotional energy expended upon this "mobile" existence is enormous. The knowledge of change and the need to re-establish relationships all over again can produce a range of feelings.

Each member of the expat family will experience the period of "expat migration" in their own unique way. For those who are moving on there is sadness about leaving but there is a predictable future cycle that begins with the "honeymoon" period ahead when everything in the new destination is novel and exciting.

For those who have been left behind, there is regret that they may not see friends again for a very long time but there is also the anticipation of new people arriving and new relationships to be formed.

This normalcy of transient relationships creates a continual cycle of "loss" as relationships come and go. For a few expats this cycle can become emotionally numbing. In an endeavor to reduce the likelihood of future loss, it can become easier to have acquaintances rather than develop meaningful relationships.

According to Dulwich school counselor Denise Cox, the best way to build emotional strength is to embrace the concept of change and prepare for its repercussions.

"The first step is to listen to any concerns that children may raise. Do not dismiss their worries as trifling. Listen and provide emotional support. Parents may not know what to say or how to answer a child's concern. You cannot fix their grief about changing or losing friendships. However, you can honor their feeling of sadness, regret or loss," Cox says.

"Through actively listening with eyes and body face-to-face, parents can help children feel that they have successfully communicated their feelings and that you have understood. This builds strong ties within the family unit that can be relied upon to help one another adjust to the change," he adds.

Sense of closure

The second step that the counselor suggested is to help children complete any unfinished business with friends.

"Parents can help bring a sense of closure to relationships by making sure that children have completed tasks or delivered on promises made to their friends," Cox says. "The promised lending of a toy, invite to a sleepover or extended birthday invitation needs to be completed as part of the overall farewell process."

The third step is to collaborate with one's own child about what they would like to do to say "good-bye" to their friend. It needs to be something that is age appropriate and meaningful to the children involved.

It could be the writing of a card, the giving of a present, the invitation to dinner or the picking of a flower.

As much as possible, parents need to respect children's choices of "goodbye" activity. Cox advises that good parenting is also about negotiating and making decisions together that meets the needs of all concerned, those going and those staying.

Finally, parents should provide constancy of routine and ritual already established in the family. This may range from particular activities shared together on the weekend, regular sport, a Sunday sleep-in, weekend lunch or reading together at night. Continue with these family behaviors that have been created over time as they provide a sense of stability in a season of change.

As students leave for college and university, it means a substantial change not only for the child but also the parents.

Mark Wiser, SCIS Hongqiao Upper School counselor, says parents and students are encouraged to keep a few things in mind to help prepare themselves for this adjustment.

"It's harder on parents than it is on kids. Parents often feel an 'empty nest' syndrome if the child was so much the center of family life that their departure leaves a huge hole in the parents' lives," Wiser says. "Take good care of yourself along the way. So you have friends, hobbies, careers and other interests to take up the slack."

Structuring a communication schedule such as Skype on Sunday mornings with your children is another suggestion from Wiser. This alleviates phone tag and the feeling of being "too far away."

Wiser says that sending care packages from home also does good to the situation.

"They may be able to get what they need where they are but nothing takes the place of that special something from home," he says.

"Before they go, make sure your child can do laundry or cook a few basic meals. Their roommate will appreciate it. Finally, to help both the parents and the child adjust to this large change, they should build a R.A.F.T."

Here, R stands for reconciliation, which means finishing interpersonal business and resolving issues and conflicts. A stands for affirmation - saying positive things to important people. F stands for farewell - saying appropriate goodbyes to important people. T stands for think destination: anticipate - "where am I going" - have realistic expectations


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend