Coping with Kids and Culture Shock

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My move to Thailand was, by most standards, a relatively smooth transition. Our things arrived more or less as planned, and our visas were secured quickly and easily. We spent our first month as a family gazing in awe and admiration at just about everything. We stopped at all of the obligatory tourist attractions, snapping photos at the Jim Thompson House and Grand Palace for friends and relatives back home. We ooh-ed and aah-ed over every bit of street food, and spent days talking about just how truly amazing Thailand was.

Then something changed.

Culture Shock and Kids

We had arrived at the tail end of the country’s cool, dry season, meaning that roughly one month in, the temperatures started to rise and our enthusiasm began to fall. Suddenly things that before seemed charming — tuk-tuks! A new language! Food everywhere all the time! — became sources of irritation.

One day, my six-year-old daughter came home from her new school and started to bawl.

“I hate this country!” she yelled. “I miss my old friends and no one understands me here and everyone looks at me like I’m weird! I want pizza, not noodles! Why did you even bring me here?” Even as I tried to console her, I identified with some of what she was saying. I missed my old friends too, and it was hard to comfort a sobbing child when I myself was experiencing pangs of homesickness.

Most expat parents in Thailand (or, indeed, just about any country) have experienced some version of this scene. As you can probably guess, things got better. My children made new friends at the school; we started learning some Thai and learning to appreciate the culture; and slowly but surely, Bangkok became home.

The road getting to that point wasn’t always easy though. The fact of the matter is that culture shock is very real, and kids are just as susceptible to its effects as adults.

So what do you do when your child is having a hard time adjusting? There’s no easy answer, but here’s what I would suggest.

Take it one step at a time. Moving to a new country can be overwhelming. Try to approach one obstacle at a time. For example, plan to arrive a little before your children need to start classes in order to give them some time to adjust.

Hang onto (but don’t get hung up on) reminders of home. Many expats make the mistake of clinging onto everything that has to do with their home country. The only problem is that if you spend all of your time eating Western food, watching Western movies and talking to friends back home on Skype, you and your kids will only end up missing “home” more. On the other end of the spectrum, some families try to transition to the local culture too quickly, which can backfire. Try to find a happy medium, giving your family time to remember your home country without dwelling.

Keep busy. This is one case where too much free time is not a good thing. Giving your children a routine will help establish a sense of normalcy. Even before the kids start classes, stay active–sports work wonders–and keep your schedule pretty full.

Talk it out. It’s essential to communicate during this period. Talk to your kids. Talk to their teachers. Talk to other expat parents. Talk to your partner. Let your children know that it’s alright to have complicated emotions and to express them in a healthy way.

Photo Credit: simonkoležnik via Compfight cc

Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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