Have A Smooth Move

Have you seen this summer’s hit movie, Inside Out? The film takes a journey into the mind of 11 year old Riley, who is experiencing what many children in Hong Kong have experienced, family relocation.

Leaving all that’s familiar and starting life somewhere new stirs up a whole range of emotions, some positive and some negative. The movie cleverly uses five characters living inside Riley’s brain to depict the emotional struggle that she faces. Importantly for both parents and children, by naming these emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness – the film is the perfect starting point for exploring and discussing the whole experience of relocation.

The upside of course is the adventure of living in a new culture, the opportunity to accept that things change and a chance to experience life from a multicultural perspective. But there are downsides.

There are people who’ve been settled in Hong Kong for decades, who have their own network of friends that are usually well established. But there is a very transient Hong Kong too, where expat families come and go frequently. This is a huge challenge for long term friendships. The good news is everyone is in the same boat and most people tend to find close friends quickly because they are looking for the support network that they have left behind at home, but that is not always the case. 

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The Unique challenges of HK Expat life

Many people refer to living in Hong Kong as a ‘bubble’ and that’s certainly true for some families. There is without doubt extreme wealth and it can be hard to keep your children grounded and not fall into the trap of being pressured to ensure your child has the latest gadget or designer clothes. Peer pressure in this affluent environment can be extremely difficult to deal with, not just for the young, but parents too and especially teens who are finding their identity at this stage of life.

So how do we cope with change?  As with all situations, it depends on the individual. Some adults and children have initial anxiety and issues adjusting to the new environment when others seem to take the change in their stride.

Then there are those who initially find the change exciting until reality sets in. In my practice, I see clients who don’t begin to feel homesick until six months or so after their relocation. The honeymoon phase is over, the unpacking and settling the children into school has been done, and a sense of loneliness and homesickness kicks in.

For others, perhaps the new job does not turn out as expected, leading to feelings of guilt and despair.

How to make the transition easier?

When I’m working with clients who are struggling with life following relocation, I emphasise the following:

  • Try to keep the home routine similar to the old one.
  • Always make time to listen to your children and be mindful of their feelings and experiences.
  • Allow your children to express how they feel and validate their feelings by listening empathetically.
  • Keep communication open at all times so if things come up they will talk to you. This might not  always be at the most convenient moment, but it’s important to be ready to listen.
  • Practice your own traditions while taking part in some of the fabulous local festivals.
  • Join after school activities in clubs both in and outside school to meet new people. Consider volunteering to find new friends and promote your own sense of self worth. This is especially important if you’ve had to give up your job in order to relocate.
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Model the behaviour you want to see in your children. You may not feel like it but if you show enthusiasm for the new experiences and challenges living Hong Kong brings to us all, your children will too.

When to seek help?

In younger children look out for regression including changes in sleeping eating and potty training or sudden behavioural changes such as unexplained anger or emotional outbursts.

For older children, keep an eye on any withdrawal from activities and social life, changes in eating habits or school refusal.  

Relocation can be hard on the whole family, but it is also an opportunity to embrace a new culture, language and develop life-long friendships.

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Dr Zaidi is a British Clinical Psychologist.  She is a graduate of Kings College London and Cardiff University and has lived and worked in Hong Kong and Singapore for the past 14 years. She works with both families and individuals in her clinic as well as in schools and adopts an integrated approach tailoring a range of proven psychotherapeutic approaches according to the individual needs of each client. These include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance Commitment Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Mindfulness, Relate Couples Therapy and Family Therapy.

Dr Zaidi is skilled, respectful, empathetic, caring, supportive and above all professional. As a member of BSP and BACP Dr. Zaidi abides by the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy. For further information on Dr Zaidi and her services visit www.mindnlife.com

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