What are Transitions doing to us?

Moving always mean transition. Moving between countries and cultures means a BIG transition. We not only change house or location, we may also change language, food habits, dress codes, hobbies, friends, schooling system …. most parts of our lives will be exchanged. Also my way of being and how other people experience me might change.

These big changes can be very stressful for a family, for both children and adults, and the stress can lead to conflicts. But it can also be a time when we connect to each other and come close. We experience and feel together, and we realize that we need each other. If we can talk with each other about what we feel like, transition can be a great oppurtunity to strengthen the familyties.

Needs during transition

Under Parenting you can find a list of human needs. I have seen that these needs often become even more urgent in times of transition. It´s important especially during stressful times to take care of our own, and our children´s needs. Here are some ideas about how to see the needs and how to take care of them.

I need enough to eat. I need enough sleep.

Coming to a new country and a new culture, it might take some time before we find out what to cook and how to cook out from what groceries that are available. It might also take some time to set up a new household. The children sometimes have a hard time to adjust to new food. It can also take a time to get back to the normal sleep, after jetlag and adjustment to new sounds outside the window. Try to as soon as possible to find food that you like, and a structure in your life that includes good mealtimes and enough of sleep.

I want to be loved. I want to show my love.

When we leave for another country, we leave the people who love us. If we are married we have our spouse and maybe children with us, but as all are going through the transition process, it is not sure we get all the love that we are used to. This might be true especially for many children. Ther parents might be in such a stressful condition, that they are not really able to give all the love the children need, and even more need, as they are in stress as well.  It takes time until we have built up relations outside the family, that we can both love and  receive love from, and that can be a support to us. Be aware about that you spend time together, have fun together and try to see the needs of each other!

I want to be touched. I want to touch.

Physical touch is essential for us as human beings, we need it to stay healthy and to survive. How much and in which ways we are used to it depends on which cultural background we are from. In many cultures that we come to, people touch each other less, or at least show it less,  then we are used to. We might need to find new ways, or new times, to receive and give physical touch.

I want to be seen. I want to be alone.

As newcomers, we might not be seen, or we might be VERY seen. Especially children and teenagers can complain about that everyone is staring at them as soon as they go out of the house, if they are in a place where they look different. If we do not look different, we might end up in a situation where we feel that no one cares about that I am here, no one sees who I am and what I can contribute with. Protect your children if needed. Find places where you can relax an be yourself. Try to build up a network of people that see you in good ways!

I want to connect. I want to get free.

As human beeings we need to connect and attach to others. This is essential for children, but also for us as adults. As soon as we come to the new place, we start the connecting work. If we find people to connect with, we will feel that we are welcomed and that this can be a good place to live in. If we don´t find people to connect with, we will long for home, for the people that we were connected with back there. In the connection process it is still important that we can keep our feeling of freedom, because we don´t want to be owned by other people. For children who are going to boarding school, this might be a tricky problem to solve. To survive at the boarding school, they need to connect to both adults and friends there, and to get free from the parents. But to do this, they really need to feel that they are connected to their parents. Even for other children, we can see that the connection process takes a lot while coming to a new place. Some children feel the need to connect even more to the parents, to get strength to survive in all the new, while other children focus on connecting to all new people, in such grade that we wonder if they have totaly abandonned us as parents. Try to find people to connect with, and work on building strong connecting relationships to others. It takes time, but it is worth it!

I want to be needed. I want to relax.

As human beeings we feel good when we are needed. I guess that is the reason why it is so hard for us to limit our workload. But still that is important. We have to feel unneeded sometimes, we have to find ways to relax. Coming to a new country and a new culture, it might take sometime before we find our ways to relax in the new situation. It easily happens that the relaxing time ends up in front of the computer. Well, that can be one way to relax, but we need to find other ways as well. We need to find ways to give both our bodies, our brains and our souls the opportunity to relax. And, if we have children, opportunities for them to relax as well. Where are there any nice spots where we can go for an outing? Which people can we spend relaxing time toghether with? How can we give our bodies some exercise? How can we find good books that gives us something else to think about?

I want to know what is expected from me. I want to do it in my own way.

Coming to a new culture, a new work, a new school, we often feel lost in not knowing what is expected from us. We have no clue, and struggle to find out. Not knowing makes us feel very uncertain about everything including ourselves. Meanwhile we will find out, but still we might not want to do exactly what is expected from us, because as human beings we have a strong need to show our own personalities and to keep our integrity. Try to find out what is expected, and help your children to find out as well. Also respect both your own and your children´s need to find your own ways!

I want other people to set up their boundaries. I want other people to respect my boundaries.

Boundaries is an issue that have not been talked about a lot, but that is so important. God gave us the gift to set up boundaries, to keep our integrity. For some of us this is easier, for some of us it is harder. But it is essential if we want to stay healthy. We can not do everything. We need to learn to say NO. We need to make decissions about what is most important to focus on, we need to recognize what we feel and what we want, and we need to express this. This is to set up boundaries. In stressful situations we might feel that we need to narrow our space, our focus. Children often show this very clear. Coming to a new country, they might not want to leave the house, they just want to stay where they feel safe. That is their way to set up a boundary. As important it is to set up our boundareis, as important it is to respect others boundaries, to respect what other feel, think and want, even though we may not understand it.

I want to be in control. I want to trust that someone else is in control.

One of the worse feelings we might feel coming to a new culture, is the feeling of not being in control. Maybe we don not understand a word of what is said or written around us. We don´t know where to buy groceries or which bus to take to go to the market. We have no control, and that is a feeling that makes us scared and frustrated. Children might feel that they have even less control. As an adult you might at least have some idea about the country and situation you are coming to, but often the children are not prepared in the same way as we are. The children might also feel that the ones that use to be in control, mom and dad, are NOT in control, and that makes children really scared. If mom and dad are not in control, who are? Show your children that you are in control  – when you are, and accept the situations where you are not, but let the children know that you will anyway keep them safe.

I want to have power over my own life. I don´t want to have power over others lives.

Having no control, we have no power over our own lives. If we have no control, we can not make decisions. To feel powerless makes us confused and weak, and disappointed on others. Feeling that, we often try to regain the power, by taking power over others. This is not an efficiant way, neither for adults, neither for children. The only way is to regain power over our own life, by finding the areas where we still are in control, and where we still can make our own decisions. As parents we might need to help our children to find these areas.

I want to feel that I am capable. I want to have new challenges.

Back home we knew what our abilities were, and we knew that other knew as well. We were respected because of what we could do and perform. We were a part of a team, a work, a church, where we had a specific role out from our knowledge and capacity. Coming to a new situation, noone knows who I am, what I can, or what good I can contribute with.  Maybe I even dont know myself. I might feel like I am nothing, and it might take time until I have found out myself what I can contribute with, and until other have seen it. Coming to a new situation the challenges might be overwhelming. We need challenges, but no too much of them. It is important that I select which challenges I want to deal with at first. As a parent I might need to help my children to do this selection, to sort among the challenges. And to help both myself and my children to find the areas where we are capable also in the new situation.

I want to understand. I want to be understood.

Coming to a new culture and a new language, we do not understand very much. And we can not make ourselves understood. We try, we think we are pronouncing the words correctly, but still noone understands. We feel like babies. And we feel frustrated. To cope with life we need to understand, and to be understood. Children who don´t make themselves understood often make  a tantrum. We might feel the same. It is important that we find people that can understand us, and that can translate and explain so we also can understand. As parents we need to try to understand our children, and to be their translaters and guides, so they can understand the world they have came to.

I want to show my feelings of sadness and angryness. I want to show my feelings of happiness.

A lot of feelings may wash over us during the transitiontime. Feelings of grief and loss, as we are leaving friends, families, colleagues, church, school. Feelings of high expectations, dissappointment, worthlessness as trying to find our new role. Feelings of joy and thankfulness. Feelings of unsecureness and loneliness when we feel abandoned. All these feelings are important. Every feeling has something to tell us. We need to recognize our feelings, and we need to find ways to express them. We need to find people who are willing to share the feelings with us. As parents we need to communicate to our children that the feelings are okey, and that we want to share their feelings with them. To carry a feeling alone is a heavy burden. But when sharing it, it is easier to understand it and deal with it.

I want to forgive. I want to be forgiven.

We all do mistakes. Maybe we do more, as we are coming to a new culture, living under stressful conditions, and have high ideals and want so much! We need to be forgiven, again and again. And we need to have the willingess to forgive. Often we are working in teams, which gives us many oppurtunities to forgive! Children also want to forgive and to be forgiven, but it is very important that we never force them in this area. They might, as we as adults too, need their time to go through the forgivingprocess before they are ready.

I want protection. I do not want to be overprotected.

We need protection. As adults we mostly have the responsibility to protect ourselves, even if it is also important that our organisation and other responsibles will protect and rescue us if needed.  But children are depending of the protection of adults. Children need to be protected from all kind of abuses. Children in new cultures often experience situations that adults might not think about as abusive, for example coming out to a village where everyone is staring at you, and people come close and want to touch your hair and your cheeks. Children can experience this as very abusive, and need protection. Many children have also experienced even worse abusive situations, becuase the parents have not been alert and aware about what was going on. To be a parent in another culture is not that easy, and sometime the parents overprotect as well. In many culture girls can not move around as they would like, and it might be hard for teenagers to get the freedom they need from their parents, because of the risks of abuse or violence. It is important to be aware about the risks in the new culture, but also to find places and situations where we can feel safe and relax.

I need to know that my life has a meaning. I need a hope.

Coming to a new situation, we can feel that our life is really meaningful, or we can find it meaningless if we don´t find our place and our new role. It is important to try to find ways to make our lives meaningful where ever we are. It is also important to have something to look forward to, especially if we have a hard time adjusting. We need to talk in hope into our lives, and help our children to see that things will get better.


Children as well as adults have important needs that need to be fulfilled. Many of these needs are regarding control and power over our own lives, needs that are really challenged during times of transition. It is important that we are aware about that many of the basic human needs might not be fulfilled during times of transition. We need to find new ways and strategies to fulfill these needs, and also to understand that some needs will be unfulfilled for a period a time. It is important that the parents are prepared for the reactions that children might show in their try to communicate their unfulfilled needs. It is also important that the parents are aware about the need for them to recognize and take care of their own needs, so they can see to their childrens needs. All of us know how important it is to put the oxygenmask on ourselves first, but do we realize how important it is to see to our own needs as parents regarding control and power over our own lives? What I have written about us coming to a new place, might also be true for us when we are going to our passportcountry. Especially for the children, our passportcountry might be a total new world for them.

Ulrika Ernvik