Expat Kid Probs

Red-faced and upset my daughter ran through the front door. It wasn’t a surprise to see Paisley coming home upset— this scenario had become all-too common.

“I want to move back to America!” Paisley yelled. “I don’t want to live here anymore!” 

My gut instinct was to march her up to her bedroom and show her the view out her window. Not every kid gets to look out of their window at Lake Geneva! Our new location in Switzerland offered us so much, but it was obvious that Paisley wasn’t able to see any of that. Problems at school were her reality and blinding her to the rest of the world and the scapegoat she’d found for those problems was our move. 

But, I had already tried the “look out your window” talk so many times before. It wasn’t working. I knew that moving back to America wouldn’t fix her problems—but to make her see that, that was the tricky part!

Today I had a new plan. 

Before I could even open my mouth, Paisley threw her hands up in frustration said “I know, I know! I’m solucky to live in Switzerland. I can see France from my window, blah, blah, blah.”

I giggled despite the glare she shot me. Paisley was spot on to what I had told her so many times before. Clearly, that avenue wasn’t working.

This time, I asked her to sit down at the kitchen table with me. Once she settled in, I looked her in the eye and asked her to tell me why she wanted to move back to America. I already knew her answer. She had had another awful day at school. When we moved to Switzerland my husband and I made the decision to put our children into a French speaking local school – even though at the time none of us spoke any French. This was tricky for all of us but especially for Paisley who was also facing the cruelty innate in kids in any country. I needed her to say it, though, to let the words spill out.

Paisley slouched into the chair. Her fingers picked nervously at the table edge. She said she didn’t have any real friends and that the boys were being mean to her. She told me how one of them walked past her desk and threw his garbage on it. He hissed in her ear that she was garbage and should go back to where she came from. 

I kept listening and encouraged Paisley to continue. These events were in line with a slew of things that had been happening at school since we moved here. Paisley wasn’t having an easy time of it, and I didn’t discount that. Her problems were real. But I was more interested in how Paisley was dealing with them than with the problems themselves. I watched Paisley’s body language as she told me all the things she hated about living here. I noticed her hands were tense, she was breathing quickly, and her legs were jittery. After she let out the long list of complaints she’d held inside, Paisley just sat there.

Now, it was time to try my new plan to help her work through all of this.

I asked her to close her eyes and tell me what she was feeling. She said she was angry. I asked her what that anger felt like in her body. After a pause, she told me her heart was beating so fast she could feel the beats and she wanted to cry and scream all at the same time. She told me her hands felt tight like they had claws and that she felt tingly all over.

Once she’d answered, I told her to just sit there for as long as she wanted and to feel all the sensations and reactions in her body. After a few minutes, she opened her eyes and looked at me. She seemed more relaxed. 

“How are you feeling now?” I asked.

“I don’t know how but I feel calm now.” She scrunched up her nose and smiled, then with a giggle she said. “What kind of trickery are you using, Mom?”

“A special kind a trickery,” I said, smiling back. I decided I needed a way to explain what just happened and why she felt calmer.

I took a paper out of the drawer and wrote a math problem at the top of it—243 x 32. 

“Work out this problem while I time you,” I said.

“Schools over, Mom! Haven’t I done enough?” 

“Trust me, Paisley, just do the problem.”

As Paisley worked the problem, I timed her. When she was finished, I wrote the time next to her work and folded the paper down. Below the fold, I wrote the same equation again—243 x 32. Again, I asked her to work the problem while I timed her.

“Mom, it’s the same problem, and I already did it!” 

I asked her again to trust me, and with a great heaved sigh, she did. After she completed it I wrote the time next to it. We did this 6 times until we got to the bottom of the page. 

When the page was full, I opened up the paper and showed it to Paisley. 

“What do you see?” I asked.

Her eyes got really wide, and she said “Look how much faster I got!”

“Paisley, did the problem change at all?” 

“No,” she replied.

I told her that sometimes our problems don’t just go away. They just keep coming back. We can try to avoid them— like moving back to America to avoid social problems at school in Switzerland. We can resist acknowledging our issues by not working through the problems and really feeling the emotions – or even positive talking ourselves out of it. We can even react to our problems incorrectly by getting angry, retaliating, and projecting negativity.

OR we can “work through the problem.” This is to FEEL, to really experience what it actually feelslike in our body. What does it feel like in our hands, our feet, our chest, and our stomach? What if we learned to just sit in this discomfort for a moment? What if we learned to experience ALL the feelings and not avoid them, resist them, or react to them – but just to FEEL them? 

I explained to her that as people it is totally natural to not like the way negative emotions feel, so oftentimes we do everything we can to change or avoid them. But, when we take the time to feel all the feelings and emotions of life, we will recognize that they are not in fact dangerous – they are just uncomfortable – and that’s okay. 

When we begin to really feel emotions it will become clear that all feelings and all emotions are just vibrations in our body. Once you know that they aren’t dangerous, just uncomfortable – you start to be willing to feel anything. And when you are willing to feel anything then there isn’t anything you won’t be able to do. I call it being “comfortably uncomfortable”. The more comfortable we get with discomfort the more courageous we become. Taking the time to “sit” in our emotions the way I had Paisley do, allows us to think intentionally about the results we want in our lives and helps us come up with the actions to get what we really want.

I asked Paisley to think about what she really wanted. I fully believed she could get there if she stopped letting her fear and anger cripple her. It might be uncomfortable for a while in Switzerland, but giving up and running away wasn’t the right solution. 

Paisley went to school the next day. Things weren’t perfect. They never are. But when she came home, she didn’t insist that we needed to move back to America. I knew then and there that things would slowly start to get better for her. They would because she decided they would.

This isn’t just a lesson for children. What if youwere willing to sit with the emotions of rejection, failure, fatigue, or a destructive urge? What if you just felt your feelings as internal vibrations and didn’t avoid them or resist them or react to them—but just felt them? I want to offer that if you can learn to do that you will then be able to make more conscious and more deliberate decisions about what you want to do and how you want to move forward. Being aware of and experiencing your own emotions makes you better able to truly show up in your own life and create the kind of future you want.

What if the price of all your dreams was your willingness to sit and feel your feelings. If that was the currency of your wildest dream – would you be willing to pay it? After all, a feeling is just a vibration in your body. It seems like a small price to pay.

Love from the Swiss Land,

Britt – The Expat Gal

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