Family Separation through the Pandemic: 5 Tips for Supporting Children of Expatriates

children at the kitchen table with computers - dealing with distane from family during the pandemic

Guest post from Parenting Practitioner Sarina Elder

As challenging as this year has been for families and children across the globe, for many expat families the challenges can be greater, especially if you’re accustomed to regular trips home.

It’s during these visits that your cup is refilled, as you reconnect with family, loved ones and your culture. This reconnection and refilling not only helps you to manage the next stint away from home, it’s an important part of maintaining your sense of identity and place in the world.

And as important as the reconnection and refilling is for adults, it’s even more so for children.

In a related article I have set out 5 tips for helping children manage the Anxiety that is caused by world events. While these are relevant and would be helpful for most children, I’ve put together an additional 5 tips to help support children through the unique challenges faced by expat families.

Five Tips for Supporting Children Through the Disruption of the Pandemic.

1. How are YOU feeling?

As parents, the way we respond to any given situation can go a long way towards helping our kids cope, because they look to us first for clues on how they should respond.

It’s normal and to be expected that you would be experiencing feelings such as Grief, Loss, Fear, Confusion, Anxiety, or Overwhelm. But trying to deny or ignore those feelings is not only unhealthy for you, it doesn’t help your kids.

After all, if you don’t know how you’re feeling, and you can’t manage your feelings in a healthy way, how can you teach your children to know and manage their feelings?

So give yourself permission to feel, because there’s only so long we can sit on these heavy emotions without something giving way. David Kessler sheds light on the type of grief many of us are experiencing during this time and how we can manage it.

2. Listen & Validate

As parents we want nothing more than for our kids to be happy. However, in our efforts to try and cheer our kids up when they’re going through heavy emotions, we often make things worse for them. When we respond to their emotions with platitudes and empty promises about how everything is going to be OK, when they don’t feel ok, our kids just feel alone and misunderstood.

At these times, the best we can do is listen and validate. As much as we wish we could, we can’t always make things better. And it’s OK to admit that. It’s OK to say This is really scary, I understand why you’re worried and I wish I could make this better for you.

Listening is also about watching. Watch for body language, changes in behaviour, regression, all of these could be signs that your child is worried. By looking beyond behaviour and words, we send a strong message to our kids that they are not alone

I can’t stress enough the value in these first two steps. In fact, if you take nothing away from this article other than Listening to and Validating yourself, your partner and your children, you will be making huge strides into helping your family get through this. If you would like to know more about this topic, check out the Circle of Security Program.

3. Self Care

In an article I wrote when we first went into lockdown, I discussed ways that we can manage our emotions during these times. Self-care plays an important role and a large part of that is simply being a parent to yourself. This is about making sure you get enough sleep, eating well, knowing when to say NO, taking time for yourself and honouring your body’s natural rhythm.

By practicing self-care you are setting a powerful example to your children, especially if you talk about what you’re doing. For example, “I feel too angry watching this show, I’m going to turn the TV off” or “I’d really like to stay up late and watch a movie, but I’m feeling tired so I’ll go to bed.”

As parents we can also help our children practice self care by getting to know their preferences and helping them recognise their own natural rhythm.

  1. Knowing Your Child’s Preferences

When your child is relaxed and in a good mood, what do they enjoy doing? How do they like to relax and refill their cup? These relaxed times are perfect for introducing them to some calming activities such as reading, jumping on the trampoline, diving into a pile of pillows, wrapping themselves up in a blanket, lying on their bed, playing with putty, a hug, colouring in, deep breathing… the list is endless.

  1. Helping Your Child Recognise Their Natural Rhythm

This is about being in tune with your child, seeing the early warning signs of tiredness, stress, frustration, disappointment, anger and stepping in early to help them manage those big feelings.

Start by describing how they may be feeling. You’re looking tired or It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated. Labelling your child’s emotion not only validates that emotion, but your child learns to trust it and trust that they will be ok, because over time they will recognise that emotion and they will have a name for it. And because you’ve already created a toolkit of relaxing activities (above) you can help your child to choose from a list of something that will help calm themselves, before they’ve become too emotional to reason with.

4. Flexible Routine

We can help our kids practice self care by providing Routine, but it can’t be your normal Routine. Just as your Routine changes during vacation and times of illness, this Routine is also different. It needs to be gentle and flexible enough to give way to the ebb and flow of your child’s Rhythm, while still giving them a framework through which to order their day.

If your children are school age, they could be involved in the creating of your new Routine. Together, you could set some meal times, rest times, bed times, play times, screen times. This helps them feel like they can have some control over their lives, so important during these times where everything seems out of control and overwhelming.

Set times for 1:1 sessions with each child. Go easy on yourself here – 1 x 15 minute session per child per week is a good start. This is a time where your child takes the lead, they choose the activity, you follow. You may think that 15 minutes is nothing. To your child, especially if they’ve not had it before, it means the world. And of course if you can do more than 15 minutes, go for it!

Set times for family activities, even if you can only manage once a week. Perhaps you could have a roster as to which family member (include parents in this) has the privilege of choosing the activity for each week.

And while you’re at it, look for the opportunities in this new, temporary, routine. For example, there could be more time for your children to play a bigger part in planning and preparing meals. Or the opportunity may be as simple as lazier mornings and less stress around preparing the evening meal in limited time.

5. Get Creative in Connecting

While nothing beats the connection that comes from being able to physically share a meal,  play a game, or even just to sit with a loved one, this doesn’t mean we should give up altogether. Thanks to the internet, we can still plan and engage in special times with loved ones and family.

Platforms such as Zoom have become popular during this time for good reason, as people all over the globe are connecting with loved ones. For our children, this could include regular catch ups with cousins and friends, over a shared meal, activity or game.

A word of caution, your children may be accessing the internet more than usual. Here are some important guidelines and resources to help keep your kids safe online, including an essential Family Tech Agreement.

Many interests can be shared with loved ones across the globe. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Start a magazine. Have your children plan with cousins and friends what their magazine will be about and how they will contribute.
  2. A collaborative patchwork or painting. One person starts the project, then mails it to the next person, who adds to it and mails it to the next and so on, until it gets back to the person who started it.
  3. Old fashioned snail mail. There’s something special about the anticipation of receiving and then holding in your hand something that was carefully created just for you. When I started writing to my penpal, we were both in Primary School, and it would take at least 6 weeks to get a return letter if we responded immediately. Every letter was like a work of art. Sometimes literally as we would decorate them or even create our own paper and envelopes.
  4. Enlist older relatives and friends to share their skills with the children in your group. For example, Nana could teach them how to make their favourite dish which they can then share together online. Food plays an important role in culture and relationships. Or maybe an uncle or aunt can teach them to play an instrument or to sing or paint.
  5. For the musicians in the family, jamming and creating tunes over ZOOM or Facetime or any other platform is great fun.

More Resources for Expatriate Families

Hopefully the above will give you something to get started on.

If you’d like more information on how to engage in child-led play, or how to support your child through times of Crisis and Change, check out Emerging Minds.

This guide from the Raising Children Network is packed with resources and information from how to talk with kids about Covid19 to helping them think of play ideas.

After all is said and done, remember, you are your child’s safe place. That statement is not to overwhelm you, it’s to encourage you to pat yourself on the back for a job well done because you’re already doing it.

After all you’re here, learning more about how best to support your children 😊

About the Author

SARINA ELDER – Moments With A MAD Italian.

Sarina is a writer with a passion for Making A Difference (MAD)

In addition to writing articles around Parenting, Personal Development, Relationship, Grief and Loss, and Spirituality, Sarina works with families as a Parenting Practitioner. Apart from being certified in a number of parenting programs, Sarina has also developed several workshops of her own, with a focus on fostering resilience and creativity in children.

Sarina believes the best way to embrace ourselves is through laughter, and is open to sharing her own embarrassing stories, with the hope of encouraging others who also find themselves a little lost and confused in this world – courtesy of a Dreamer state of mind 😊

You can connect with Sarina on her website and on social media here:

Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram | Twitter

If you’d like to dive deeper into our Expat archives, head over here where we talk salary packages to the cost of living. We also have this great guest post on dealing with holiday stress.

With thanks to Sarina for contributing to the Globetrotters Blog and addressing the concerns, many expat families have at this strenuous time.

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