Expat children in Thailand

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It can be hard to be a child or teenager in Thailand. While at first thought one might think that there couldn’t be a better environment for children to grow up freely and naturally, many expats will confirm that their children are showing various signs of what could be called ‘adjustment problems’ if we try to avoid more negative terms. But why is that so?

The most difficult challenge for children of expats moving to Thailand is to leave their previous friends and their familiar environment and to be ‘transferred’ to a completely different place in the world that often enough feels hostile and alien to them at first. They don’t understand the language, feel uncomfortable by the unknown looks of the people surrounding them, and even the unfamiliar climate and food can drag them down emotionally. It’s often the little things – things adults don’t even think about – that can be difficult for them to cope with.

Younger children are usually a bit faster to adjust. It is much easier for them to pick up on a new language and usually they will also receive a lot of positive attention from Thais which makes it easier to feel welcome and to grow comfortable in the new environment.

Children older than 7-8 years and teenagers, however, often fight the transition as long as they can. It is difficult for them to accept what their parents ‘were doing to them’, but then, emotional resistance makes it even more difficult to adjust. Also, the older the children or teenagers are, the higher the impact of cultural differences.

If we try to imagine that it is one of the biggest challenges for children to develop confidence, not only in themselves, but also in dealing with others, we might understand better why it is comparable to a trauma if they are taken out of their familiar environment and have to decipher a completely new set of ‘social rules’ and socialize with people they cannot understand, be it in terms of the language they are speaking or the way they behave and the cultural rules that apply.

Children and teenagers having to deal with such irritations and challenges often react with protest and aggression, retreat, a drop in school performance or develop psychosomatic disorders. Parents are often enough identified as the ‘enemy’ that caused their problems in the first place. It is usually a wise decision not to try to resolve the crisis alone under all circumstances, but to involve a counselor or a friend from back home for help and support. It might take a little while, but usually it is possible even for the most difficult teenagers to gradually open themselves up and to develop a more constructive take on the situation they are in again.

In one of the next issues of this corner I will take on the challenges of expat kids who were born in Thailand.

Live the happy life you planned! Richard L. Fellner is head of the Pattaya Counseling Center in Soi Khopai and offers consultations in English and German languages (after making appointments at 0854 370 470).