Tag Archives: creating familiar environments for kids when overseas

Adjusting to change

untitledYou will be surprised at how adventurous your child/ren can be.  I thought I was being adventurous until my eldest son happily ate snails in France, or would try a different flavour gelati whenever we treated ourselves to one…(I always go for boring strawberry…), or when asked what  he would like to do next (we had to leave the EU), he said camping (not home!).

But it’s not always smooth sailing.  Our first week in Santiago, and my son would tell us “taxi’s” are bad …our 3 years of repeating our safety first motto regarding travel in our  car, had worked…but it worked against us in Santiago, as he didn’t have his special car seat nor would we always find seatbelts… It wasn’t a bad thing… we looked out for seatbelts when we could, and only used a taxi for special need trips.. e.g. with luggage or hard to get to places… Even so, after a little while my son was sticking out his finger too when needed…  Kids are good that way, they don’t carry the same “baggage” adults do….  It might take a couple of hours, a day, two weeks but kids can and do adjust their reality… It might take a day or two to figure out which language to speak – is it Hola or hello here?   My son might start talking to another kid in English in the playground before he realises they speak French…. or vice versa….

paris donkey walk may13 347So what sort of routine/ norms are you creating for your children?

If having chocolate eclairs for breakfast is the norm (and believe me it wouldn’t be so hard  in France), then so  be it, if having a siesta and 10pm bedtime is the norm in your child’s life than so it will be and  if walking for 8 kms a day is your family’s  reality, then so it is.  Will it go pear shaped if your kids don’t have a bath every night before bed?.. no not really…  In fact, when they do get to have a  bath they will love it, and will even ask for it!

Thankfully, some routines or habits can be  changed if you want to, and it is much easier to do this if you are no longer living in that environment….  For instance, we were very glad to move onto our boat and change our habit of morning tv in our London apartment.  So nothing needs to be set in concrete.  Some things will change as you change environments and as your children change too.  Celebrate the differences your children are experiencing – its not everyday they get to be in a different country and when you need to, help them find the connection and familiarity in their experiences.

watching dora in French...kids aren't so different!
watching dora in French…kids aren’t so different!

Finding the familiar in the unfamiliar

It is not as difficult as you think to find or create the familiar in an unfamiliar environment…  For example: conversation with my eldest son when we first arrived in an apartment overseas:

“what do you know, the landlady’s name is peppa (the name of my son’s favourite show peppa pig) and our apartment number is 7 (my son’s favourite number!).  In Santiago, we rented the same apartment a number of times  (for the familiarity), rather than change each time we returned to Santiago to buy/sell our car and fly in and out of the capital.  So each time we returned to Santiago it was exciting and nice to be back in a familiar space.  Not just  for the apartment, but for the location and building itself also.   We could wander out and my son knew when we were back in our street and which one was our apartment block.

In London, we stayed in the same apartment for 3 months (thanks to a family member’s generosity) and again it helped when  my eldest son was able to identify familiar surroundings and locate where he was.  It probably takes about 1-2 weeks for my kids to familiarise themselves in a new environment.

Flying to London was  exciting not just for the plane journey but because he would see his “zia”.    I could talk to him about the time I had spent in London when I was younger.    We got excited about seeing double decker buses, seeing a real palace, dinosaur museums,  the home of  Peppa pig and some of his favourite shows.

Now that we are in a boat, my son loves his boat bed and “room” (its an 8m boat, but its a room as he knows it…).  I have covered the  walls with  postcards he received for his birthday, drawings he has made, and his beloved treasure box is above his bed.

When your overseas and out in the parks/town remind your children that the kids they are seeing in the playground aren’t so different to them, help them strike a conversation or start a conversation yourself with their mothers, notice the fire hydrants in this country are yellow instead of red (Chile), but they still have them!!  Most importantly, even if you learn a few words in another language use them so  it becomes familiar to your children.

Count in French/Italian/Spanish etc. when you play hide and seek.   Even my not yet two year old understands ‘besito’ (kiss) and ‘vamos’ (lets go) in Spanish and can say “bon jour, au revoir and bon nuit” (French) so that its understandable.   Local people will love it…!!   Your kids will make you look incompetent!!!  In each country there are a few words that we then take as our own – and we use these with each other even if its just a morning or a night greeting.

Just like for adults,  home can seem a lifetime away, and what happened 3 months ago can seem a lifetime ago for kids too.  3 months of grey London spring and  my son on our first sunny day in London complained “its too sunny….!!”  (this is after spending 6 months in hot South America).  When we experienced a few cold days in autumn time in France, my son again complained its too cold when on our boat… I had to gently remind him that only 6 months ago, he was in a tent in southern Patagonia!!   So routine and normality are whatever you make it, and you will be surprised by the things your kids do or don’t remember. One year on into our travels, and one of  my eldest son’s fonder memories from Chile is of a homeless man giving him a dragon key ring…he still treasures it.

My son  has told me he wants to be an explorer….would he still choose this, if we weren’t travelling?  Maybe…. he also wants to be astronaut, own a toy store etc….many kids whether travelling or not, dream of adventures to be had….  My children will have a lifetime of experiences, which will shape who they are, as well as other factors such as personality, family, external relationships, etc.  This time away, will not be the be all and end all of who they are, or who they will become.  But it will hopefully, give them wonderful memories of not just travel, visiting other countries, but most importantly of us and our time together.  If that’s all that remains for them of our time away, I will be happy, if not a little broke….