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Building Cultural Awareness with Lisa Velázquez

Feature Article: Relocation – Five Ways to Help Your Children Adjust to a New Culture

By Lisa Velázquez, Cultural Transition Coach

The concerns your children will have depend a lot on their age. In general, young children will miss family, friends and familiar places. Older children, in addition, will be concerned how their daily routines will be affected, and teenagers will worry about fitting in and about their social life.

Although the needs of children in these different age groups vary greatly, the following tips will be helpful to all of them.

One - Give your children unconditional love and support

What children need the most to feel safe and secure is their family. Since they’re not surrounded by their extended family and friends anymore this means YOU. Be available to your children. Have regular family meetings where you talk about what is going well and what isn’t. Listen deeply to their concerns without judgment. Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. Share some of your own concerns and also how you deal with them. Involve your children in making plans for the week. Create familiarity in your new place through items from home. Continue with your family rituals. This will establish a routine in your children’s lives, which is very important for them to feel secure.

Two - Continue to speak your native language at home

Language experts agree that children will learn a second language easier if they are strong in their first language. This is one reason why you want to continue with their development of the native language. Do it with full awareness. Inform yourself about raising bilingual children. There are many books, articles, and internet-sites on this subject. Talk to other parents in the same situation.

Another reason to continue to speak your native language to your children is that it’ll help them stay connected to your extended family and to your home country’s culture. This will make an eventual move back home much easier for them.

Three - Make learning the language of the new country a priority

Although you want to speak your native language at home, become a role model for your children for learning the host language. Your example will show them that learning the host language is important. It’ll help them as well as you to open doors in the new country. Create opportunities for your children where they can practice the new language in private or in smaller groups not just in their classroom. The classroom can be quite intimidating for your child at the beginning. Find out about sports teams, clubs, and other activities your children might be interested in. The more you can use your children’s natural interests the more fun learning a new language will be.

Four - Share your experience of adjusting to the new culture with your kids

Inform yourself about the stages of culture shock, so you are aware about your own adjustment. As you become aware of your own process and find strategies to deal with different stages you can also help your children.  Tell them that adjusting to a new country takes time and that it’s okay to have many different feeling and emotions. Share what helps you if you miss your family and friends. Remember, that you’re their role model.

Five - Talk about cultural differences

Living in a new culture is a great learning opportunity for the whole family. By comparing your familiar ways of doing things with the ways of the new country you’ll learn about different cultural approaches and at the same time deepen your own understanding about your culture. Read about the “cultural iceberg” and other descriptions of culture to make yourself familiar with the “hidden” part of cultures. This will help you to stay open to new approaches and not become judgmental. Again, remember that you’re your children’s role model. How you’ll respond to these cultural differences will influence your children. Decide to become “cultural detectives” and make it a family project to notice cultural differences. Explore your new environment with genuine curiosity. Involve your children in planning and researching trips and other activities.

Parenting in a foreign country can be a lot more challenging than at home where everything is familiar and you have an established support system, but it also can provide wonderful opportunities. By exposing your children to other cultures you can raise global citizens who are aware of the wider world and will respect and value diversity.

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Lisa Velazquez is a certified personal coach specializing in Cultural Transition who helps individuals and families adjust to a new culture through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and presentations on cultural topics to interested groups. For more information visit www.lisavel.com and sign up for your free "Three Simple Techniques for a Successful Adjustment to a New Culture" PDF and for the free monthly newsletter "Building Cultural Awareness".

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