Tag Archives: Children

To drink or not to drink…

To be honest, I wanted to write about this topic for years, but always hesitated because I can’t find a  way to talk about “to drink or not to drink”… But when a friend linked to this article on facebook, I decided it is time to write about it.

Cultures where drinking is a no go, and others where it is part of a rite of passage into adulthood

I grew up in a country where people don’t need to drink alcohol to enjoying themselves and where being drunk is frowned upon (cfr. Italy). From a very early stage on I realized that this was one of the major differences between the local culture and our “home culture”. My parents are German and grew up in the post-war era. Every time we visited family and friends in Germany, I observed that it was considered normal to drink alcohol at gatherings. I don’t mean the usual glass of wine or two during a long meal, no, it’s the massive drinking the one where most of the people would end up drunk, where being drunk was one of the goals of the gathering… People would pressure each other to drink more, to find out who is the most trinkfest (hard-drinking).

In cultures where you have to drink in order to “belong” , it is perceived as a faux pas if you refuse a drink and is only accepted if the person is ill, pregnant or a child under 14. In Germany it was (or still is) part of the rite of passage into adulthood for confirmands. From that moment on, one is allowed by society (but not by law, see here below!), encouraged and expected to drink alcohol at social gatherings.


What is allowed in private settings is not legal…

Apparently German teenagers consume less alcohol nowadays, like stated in this article on Deutsche Welle Teenager trinken weniger Alkohol: “only every tenth teenager between 12 and 17 yo drank alcohol once per week in 2016, whereas in 2004 it were twice as many teenagers and in the 1970ies it was every forth teenager” (Jeder zehnte Jugendliche zwischen 12 und 17 Jahren trank 2016 einmal pro Woche Alkohol – im Vergleich zum Jahr 2004 ein deutlicher Rückgang. Damals konsumierten noch doppelt so viele Jugendliche einmal in der Woche Alkohol. Schaut man auf die 1970er-Jahre, war es nicht nur jeder fünfte, sondern sogar noch jeder vierte Teenager.) The quantity of alcohol consumption is not mentioned as the main objective was to point out it is already a regular habit for children of this age group. Also: teenagers tend to have their first drink at age 15 – “quite “late” compared  what happened in the past…”

A study from the OECD in 2015 stated that “85 % of the 15yo Germans has experienced alcohol compared to 25% in 2002″ and that the general alcohol consumption among youngsters is increasing – not decreasing! (cfr. 85 Prozent der 15-jährigen Deutschen haben schon Erfahrungen mit Alkohol gemacht – 25 Prozent mehr als noch 2002. Laut OECD nimmt auch in vielen anderen Ländern der Alkoholkonsum von Jugendlichen zu.)

Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.42Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.53Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.03Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.14Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.25

cfr. OECD data about alcohol consumption (in litres per capita) and other sources about alcohol consumption in 2017 


Binge drinking, Rauschtrinken or colloquially Komasaufen, is part of a drinking-culture that is hard to understand for someone who grew up in a country where drinking is not common.

What I find interesting (disturbing!) is that these studies consider alcohol consumption starting even before age 16 or the legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages:

Legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages


Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 17.56.31

When and why does it start?

I wonder why entire societies find it acceptable that children drink alcohol.

I think that more than reacting to the phenomenon itself, one should ask where and when this starts.

The country I grew up in is known for allowing young children to have a sip of wine when they’re really young. I have witnessed this a few times myself and have been offered “soltanto un goccino” as a child, “only a sip”, it’s like medicine… When asked why they would do that, they responded that it was more a joke – but still: what if a young child enjoys the regular “goccino”?

What about those young mothers or parents, who openly share their longing for their evening drink, because they “deserve it” because parenting is so stressful?

What about those parents who head to the pub every week and are unresponsive the next morning? What is the message they send to their children? That it is normal to get drunk once a week?

Is it ok for parents to drink in front of their children to “relax” or to “enjoy their free time”? Aren’t they modeling that “if you are stressed, upset, tired, drink a glass of wine/or other drink and you’ll be fine”, that it’s perfectly normal and ok to drink to relax and enjoy?

Cfr. About the effect of drinking alcohol in front of your children 

What would be a healthy way to approach this?

Many schools teach how to approach this in a healthy way. They explain the side effects and how our awareness is clouded by drinking too much, that it is difficult to recognize ones boundaries. “Being responsible is taught from an early age in school and at home. Pupils in our locality (in the last year of primary school) completed an awareness program on peer pressure, social behavior, drink and drugs awareness because research in an older group of students (i.e just started secondary school) showed the risk of alcohol use was rising”, said my friend in the facebook post, “raising this awareness in children doesn’t stop the use but is believed it can reduce the incidence abuse.”

I believe it is the responsibility of families, friends, to foster a healthy approach.

Is it possible to do without…?

I seriously had this discussion with some friends who didn’t believe that one can really enjoy each others company without alcohol.

Not only can I confirm this myself, as I only enjoy a glass of wine occasionally and always with a meal, but I have many friends who don’t drink any alcohol and they genuinely enjoy gatherings, get togethers (and surely don’t have an easier life than others!).
Teetotalers are abstinents from alcohol either because of their faith, religion or conviction.

Don’t get me wrong…

I don’t condemn adults drinking alcohol occasionally. What I worry about is excessive alcohol consumption among young people and the social pressure they are exposed to in some societies and settings.

I am also concerned about the social pressure internationals are exposed to concerning this aspect. It can become a real social barrier.

  • What is your experience with this?
  • Do you find it acceptable that your teenagers – starting from what age? – drink alcohol on a regular basis (weekly)?
  • What are your family rules when it comes to alcohol consumption?


Interesting reads on this topic:

Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking

Religion and Alcohol






Age appropriate chores for children

I’ve recently had an interesting conversation with some parents and despite our different cultural background and our different parenting styles, most of us agreed on the fact that children need to do some chores. Some parents realized that they would ask less involvement from their sons than their daughters and this was the topic of another discussion I then wrote a post about (Why dads need to wash dishes and mums need to fix the plug… ). We all tried to make a list of the chores we would consider appropriate for several age groups. Interestingly, the flandersfamily sat up a very similar list already:


Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-28 um 22.02.21

I may add some chores my children do regularly like making their beds, tidying up, loading the dishwasher, setting the table etc.. Some of the chores in this chart are not necessarily daily tasks. I would ask my children to do them occasionally and some of them would figure under “special” tasks – which, in our family are “rewarded” either with some extra pocket money or an extra activity in the weekend.


Which chores do you ask your children to do on a regular basis?

Do you ask your sons and daughters to do the same chores?

Are chores for children an issue in your multicultural (extended) family?


Why reading aloud is important

We usually tend to read less to our children when they start reading by themselves. It’s such a big milestone to be able to read everything from the ingredients on the food-packages, the countless adverts, to the biggest book on the shelf!

The world of words is now open and we, parents or caregivers, can relax. – Or not?

An article on Mindshift and some discussions I recently had with my children and some friends made me realize that we should keep on reading to our children even if they already comfortably read to themselves.

“Reading aloud to older children — even up to age 14, who can comfortably read to themselves — has benefits both academic and emotional, says Jim Trelease, who could easily be called King of the Read-Aloud. Trelease, a Boston-based journalist, turned his passion for reading aloud to his children into The Read-Aloud Handbook in 1979; it has since been an unequivocal bestseller with sales in the mult-millions, and Trelease is releasing the seventh, and final, edition in June.”

Fact is that when someone reads to us we focus on the pronunciation, the intonation, the content . If we read to ourselves, we often don’t even know how a new word is pronounced and would probably not recognize it when someone uses it in a conversation.

What about bilinguals?

Many bilinguals – children and adults – are very good in finding out naturally how a word is pronounced in the other language(s). But being able to read a text in a phonetically perfect way doesn’t mean that we captured its meaning. In fact, if asked to find a synonyme or to paraphrase what we’ve read, we often struggle. Sometimes we even get the wrong sense of our readings simply because we misunderstand a word. – When using the word “eventually” in English, for example, I still need to keep in mind that it means “finally/at length” such as “schließlich” in German or “finalmente” in Italian, whereas “eventuell” in German or “eventualmente” in Italian express an uncertainety.

Of course, monolinguals can struggle too with comprehend the semantic width of a word, but they have more chances to use these words in their everyday conversations at home and they have more opportunities to correct and consolidate the use of the vocabulary acquired while reading.

"To be successful at reading comprehensio...

“To be successful at reading comprehension, students need to …” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

Why it is important that teachers keep reading to the children

Our nine-year-olds usually had “two solid years of drill and skill, a lot of testing, a lot of work, and they’re competent, but they’re thinking in terms of reading as a sweet experience”, and we, as parents and teachers, are pleased they do. But children may tend to choose books that are not challenging enough to keep up the learning curve. Especially when left alone to choose their readings. Therefore “when a teacher reads a good book above student reading level, he shows students that the good stuff — the really great books — are coming down the road, if they stick with it” and, by choosing books that are slightly above the level of our children’s competence, they can build and improve build the vocabulary and the general proficiency of that language.

 “Research collected on middle school read-alouds showed that 58 percent of teachers read aloud to their students – and nearly 100 percent of reading and special education teachers. And, while middle-school students reported liking read-alouds, little data has been collected on the “extent and nature” of reading aloud to twelve- to fourteen-year-olds.”

Personally, I think that all children and adults benefit from someone reading aloud to them, not only EAL or SEN students. – The article in Mindshift points out that they still lack of data about twelve- to fourteen-year-olds. I think this is mainly due to the lack of time parents and teachers have to read to them, and that students of these age groups (and older) wouldn’t probably appreciate an adult reading to them? Therefore my suggestion would be to make them listen to slightly older peers. This kind of research would probably give similar results as the study with middle-school students.


Other positive side effects from reading aloud

Reading aloud doesn’t only help students to consolidate their knowledge of the language but helps them also to wade into complicated or difficult subjects. When things happen to the characters in the story, and not to themselves, they can approach delicate topics.

“Why do you think so many children’s stories have orphans as characters? Because every child either worries or fantasizes about being orphaned.”

Reading about delicate topics aloud helps to address them in an easier and healthier way. Sharing different point of views, reflecting together on what has been read can help to cope better with similar situations in real life.

Reading aloud is also something adults use to do in book clubs. I observed that book clubs are very popular these days. People who like to read, feel the need to talk about the books and to exchange views about what they’ve read, to compare, to find synonyms, paraphrase, compare. And this is exactly what children do during group reading at school too.


Samuel Richardson, by Miss Highmore, published...
Samuel Richardson, by Miss Highmore, published 1804. See source website for additional information. This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. According to the NPG’s website the work was published prior to 1859, and so the author is reasonably presumed dead by 1939. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Modelling the pleasure of reading is the key

In his study, Trelease acknowledges that “modelling the pleasure of reading is important, but there are more reasons read-alouds work so well — like “broadening the menu.””

“Broadening the menu” becomes even more important if a child has difficulties with reading. According to Wandering Eductators’ Dr. Jessica Voigts, who homeschools her daughter Lillie, reading aloud can make reading more pleasurable for someone with dyslexia. “Reading together – with her watching the words as I read, and then her reading to me – is a way to be together, to experience the world, to enjoy a common pleasure. I read to her, about two-thirds of the time, and then she takes over for one-third of the time. We pass the book back and forth, although we’re usually right next to each other,” she said.

And though her daughter struggles, Voigt admitted she reads to Lillie for more than just academic benefits. “This is a time — tweens, teens — when life is full of craziness. This is one way to have a place of rest, of being, something to count on each day. Shared words have power, an energy that you can’t get from TV, radio, or online,” she said.

“The power of shared words is a big reason to keep on reading aloud after children are able to read for themselves”

English: Four children reading the book How th...
English: Four children reading the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Did you stop reading aloud to your children when they started to read?

Would you consider reading to them again? What is your experience with this?



How to help frequently moving TCKs and expat children

Many books, articles and posts give advice about what people can expect when starting a frequent moving life as adult expats.  From an adult point of view, the benefits of a frequently moving lifestyle are the “priceless life experience, unique cultural insights and precious skills“. The excitement of a life full of changes and constant travels seems to prevail and I’m sure it’s what grown ups find the most attractive. All these positive aspects can have a cathartic effect on everyone on the move. But people needs to be aware of the long term side effects such a life can have on themselves and their children, in order to make the best out of this kind of life.

The phases of an expat life

An infographic about expats I lately discussed on this blog, points out that after a “honeymoon” phase of up to 6 weeks, expats (and TCKs and global nomads) go through a “culture shock” phase. This can be longer or shorter, depending on many factors: Is the new destination culturally similar to one we’ve experienced before? Is the language different or similar to one we already know? Will we learn the local language? Will we be able to adapt during our stay? Is the health care system meeting our needs? Do we and our family feel safe ? etc.. After this culture shock phase, that everyone experiences to some extent, we enter the “gradual adjustment” phase, which, again, depends on several factors and can take two or more years. – This applies to the “average” expat (unfortunately, the data on the infographic was not layed out; I’m still waiting for more details…).

It seems that these phases are linear and once you’ve passed one, you won’t experience it anymore; at least not in the place of your new location. I think it’s wrong. We can experience several “honeymoon” phases during one relocation, one for each aspect of our new life related to: the social environment, the location itself (countryside, city etc.), the community, the school (and its community) our children are attending, our job, the relationship with our partner etc. And the phases can overlap. We can be in a “honeymoon” phase regarding the new community but experiencing culture shock for our work life (job hunting is more difficult) and already be in the adjustment phase in what concerns our new location (we like it better than the one before and we already made some friends or accointances).

And one even more important aspect that is not illustrated or mentioned in this kind of infographic: every member of the family will go through these phases in his very personal way in his own pace. While we feel already adjusting, our children or partner might still be struggling with culture shock and other phases that can overlap. The fact that every member of the family gets to experience these phases in his very personal way makes it so difficult to understand each others mood, enthusiasm or grief.

A recent post, “Moving abroad? 7 things your child needs to hear you say“, gives several hints about how parents can help their children while moving abroad. I’m not going to list them all up, but the main message was to listen to our children, really “listen” to what they say and what they are not able to put into words. Empathy and patience is what our children need from parents during that period. Most parents are so busy organising a move and everything that’s related with it, that they don’t have the time and energy to sit down and listen to their children or observe them during the last months “in the old place” and the first ones in the new location.

Maintaining dialogue is key, especially with teenagers who could have a tendency to withdraw in their bedrooms.”

The grief of an expat child

One very important aspect pointed out in the post is that “moving abroad triggers a form of grief”. This expat grief does not only affect adults but also children. It is a myth that “children don’t grieve like adults”. Children might live more in the present than their parents and seem to cope very well after a loss, but assuming that grief in childhood is short-lived, is a major mistake. They don’t “exhibit the stigma of sadness or despair, but they grieve”, often in silent because they’ve learned to be resilient.

John Bowlby  who did pioneering work in attachment theory says that from 4 years onwards “children mourn in similar ways to adults”. This applies to every child that experiences a loss, the death of a family member or a friend, and it also applies to expat children and TCKs, who go through many kinds of losses during their nomadic life.

The impacts that unresolved grief can have on TCKs are very well known. According to Ruth Van Reken, unresolved grief is the most urgent mental health issue TCKs and expat children are facing on a long term. Ruth Van Reken writes, advocates and teaches about the psychological impact of an internationally mobile childhood.

“The issue is that transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next phase will be. Loss always engenders grief and the greater you have loved a situation or place or people, the greater the grief.”

“The layers of loss run deep:  Friends, community, pets.  Family, toys, language.  Weather, food, culture.  Loss of identity.  Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world.  Home.”

Children on constant move lose the worlds they love, over and over again. They go through the stages of grief each time they move. And if they don’t take the time to grieve, they push it down, submerge it: but it surely will bubble up later in life, unexplained.

Children do grieve in another way than adults. They often don’t know how to express what they are feeling, they even don’t know what exactly is what they are feeling and just feel sad or “not well”. – The grief of children is often invisible. They are told they will adapt so they become resilient.  They are told they’ll get over missing that friend and they’ll get another pet, they’ll have a nicer room in the new house etc..

Unresolved grief “can result in behavioural problems ranging from anxiety, guilt, excessive anger to self-destructive patterns, substance abuse and school difficulties. Children may actually give up connecting with others. When they become adults and still haven’t solved their grief, they may face severe depression and/or relationships problems.” (ibidem)


When TCKs or expat children entry or re-entry their passport country to attend boarding schools or college, there are several aspects that can be difficult for them. Knowing them in advance, can help them (and their parents) to prevent several major problems.

In her post “Thoughts on entry from a third culture child“, Marilyn, a TCK (ATCK) herself, lists up 10 very important points childern or young adults needs to consider when (re-)entering the passport country – independently if they ever lived there before or not. From “realistic time expectations” regarding the period of adjustment in the new/old place, to the acceptance that as a TCK (or expat child) they’re a “combination of worlds”. It is crucial to recognize and understand  “culture shock”:

“(…) while reverse culture shock is described as “wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes”, culture shock is having completely different lenses.”

We need to “give voice to a longing”. The portuguese word saudade expresses that feeling we all have to voice out when we have times of longing or wistfulness for what no longer exists – in this case, the life we had before (please check out my posts about this topic here and here).

“Understanding the shaping of our worldview” and realizing that our worldview differs from the one our siblings and parents have, “helps us to not expect or demand that others understand”. I particularly like what she says about “finding cultural brokers”. A cultural broker is that person that probably doesn’t share our background but understands what we’re going through.

“This personal interest helps us understand what friendship, listening, and cultural brokering look like. So learn from them. Look to them. But don’t put undue burdens on them.”

The need for time and place

I observe that many of my friends on constant moves, after 10, 15, 20 years of their nomad life, struggle. They get really tired and long for some continuity in their lives.

Even if “home” and “belonging” are very difficult to define and find for TCKs, it is crucial for everyone to find a place and its significance. TCKs have a disruption of place. Everyone has his own interpretation of the notion or concept of “home” and “belonging”.

The late Paul Tournier, a very gifted Swiss psychologist, says that “to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to a place”.  We are “incarnate beings” and when those places are taken away, we suffer from a “disruption” of place. And if the “disruption goes beyond our ability to adapt it becomes a pathology”, a “deprivation of place“.

Many global movers consider all the places they’ve lived “a source of pride, of identity. They are – but losing those places has a deep impact on our lives. And if not worked through, the “deprivation of place” gives way to profound grief and struggles with identity”.

People who are on constant moves during their adulthood might not consider the moving as something negative. A part from the stress caused by all the organisational aspects and the readjusting, it is a very attractive lifestyle. They probably had a less mobile childhood or they don’t need to call a place their “home”. Maybe they don’t feel the longing for a place. Or they don’t realize that their constant urge to move and to “go on” is, intrinsically, a way to express their itch to settle down. I did write about my urge to change something in my life every three years and many TCKs did confirm that they experienced the same.

Children who grow up in this situation will most probably not have a place they can call “home”, but they will long for it. Some will long for it for their whole life. – In a discussion among TCKs I noticed that ATCKs try to avoid a nomadic life once they have children mostly because they want them to have a place to call home and because they need this for themselves too. Some are (desperately?) looking for a place that meets their needs: it has to be a place which englobes all the aspects of the experiences they made during their life. – It’s not an easy task. For some it’s a task for a lifetime.

Time is necessary to adjust. In the infographic mentioned above, expats need about 7 years (!) to “master” their new life abroad. But this is unrealistic for many of them. Many companies ask to relocate every 2-3 years and sometimes more often. If we consider that it takes 6 months to make everything work in the new location, during a 2 years stay, people have only one year to “adjust” (subtracting also the 6 months at the end of the stay, when people is busy preparing the next moving). This incredible short time does not allow families to adjust. Children who grow up with such frequent moves will feel alienated and lonely, and most probably struggle sooner or later with the consequences of unresolved grief. – They would definitively need more time in one place to get somehow “rooted”, to build friendships, relationships in general and to become more balanced. Of course, 2-3 years in the life of an adult feels much shorter than in the life of a child. It surely depends also on the age of the child when these moves happen. But when children start going to school and feel the need to belong to a group of peers, this time is too short. – Companies should be aware of this and reconsider their policies about relocation.


The massive response from (A)TCKs and expats on a post about “TCK problems” where a mother describes anonymously the impact nomadic life had on her 14 year old daughter, made the author of the blog, Carole Hallett Mobbs, write a “Reaching out to help troubled TCKS“. – Many international schools are aware of the impact a nomadic life can have on children and young adults, but many of them still lack of a systematic and professional help for them and their families.


©expatsincebirth; Varese