Children in transition: an introduction to the process of re-entry
"Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings." Hodding Carter
Having an understanding of what you will experience as you transition back into your passport country can help you as a parent to firstly understand your own thoughts and emotions, and secondly to support your child as they go through their own transition experience.
Don’t buy into the thought ‘I’m just returning to my passport country' - re-entry is often the most challenging part of the expatriate experience.
Everyone experiences transition differently; different families will handle moving differently and each child will cope with the change of moving home in their own unique way. However, although there are diverse coping mechanisms, the actual transition process remains the same for us all and it is our choice how we prepare for the process.
The Transition Model developed by David Pollock is a helpful model for understanding what an individual travels through during transition. He believes we progress through five stages.
Firstly, we move from ‘Involvement’, secure and confident in our relationships and surroundings and participating in the society we live.
The second stage is ‘Leaving’,where we live in the predicament of neither being fully here nor there. I like the picture of a tree being slowly and carefully uprooted ready for replanting in another place; the roots are loosened and preparations are made to transplant. We begin to wind down and hand over our roles and responsibilities. There are goodbye parties and feelings of joy, sadness and even guilt of leaving. It can feel a very strange time.
We are then into the ‘Transition’ stage. This is when we have actually arrived back into our passport country, and is when we can experience reverse culture shock. It is, however, a time of disorder and discomfort, so don’t panic if you feel like a bit of an alien - it’s normal.
Thankfully after the chaos of transition comes calm as life starts to make sense again. This is the ‘Entering’ stage. Of course, it takes time to feel completely at home, but entering signals a time of learning - language, cultural norms, where things are, what to do and how to do it etc…
Finally, we arrive at ‘Re-involvement’ where there is once again a sense of belonging, a feeling of being settled. To develop the picture of the tree being uprooted, this is a time when we begin to blossom.
Children in Transition
Whenever we go through transition, whether we are relocating for the first time or about to re-enter our passport country, we go through this same process. Mental and psychological preparation, as well as all the practical preparations for moving, will help you to manage your transition experience. Your own confidence and positivity will rub off onto your child and help them to cope with all the changes they too are experiencing.
The age of your child will determine their emotional needs and the information they want and need. Younger children have strong attachments to you as their mum and dad and will look to see how you are doing; they will receive some of the reassurances they need when they see you are okay.
Transition for teenagers is more challenging as their attachments have extended to their peers. They often have significant friendships and the sense of grief is more pronounced. When moving with teenagers it is important to involve them in the decision-making process if at all possible. If a move is forced upon you, taking time to sit and explain the whys and wherefores is equally important and valuable at that age. Give opportunity to ask questions and be honest in your answers. Open communication is key!
Questions for thought and reflection
Below you will find some questions to consider as you prepare for your own and your child's re-entry. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk through these with a trained professional, who can help to explore issues you are facing - particularly if you are feeling anxious about the move back to your passport country and how you and your family will cope. If you are overseas and are struggling to find a counsellor who speaks your own language, you may find email counselling or counselling by Skype an alternative, as this can provided wherever you are in the world.
1. Where are you in the Transition Experience?
2. What are your thoughts and/or feelings as you begin to think about returning to your passport country?
3. Have you been through re-entry experience before? If so, what did you learn? What was successful?
4. If you had a bad/negative/unsuccessful re-entry experience, what do you think stopped it from being successful?
5. Has your child experienced re-entry before? Was it a positive or negative experience? Again, what helped your child to have a successful re-entry? What stopped them from having a successful re-entry?
6. What are your main concerns regarding your child?
7. If your child is aware of moving, have you had any initial conversations and what are their thoughts and feelings? What questions do they have?
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