How travel helps you understand your child (whether that's your inner or outer child!)
This is not your typical travel anecdote.
I cringe to say it but I guess you could say I'm a fairly "well traveled" person. I come from a long line of Irish folk with itchy feet. I've lived in Hong Kong now for over 8 years so most of my trips tend to be around Asia. Not this summer. This summer I was thrown into the alien yet somewhat familiar culture of America.
"That cannot be a real fire engine!" I couldn't believe my eyes so I rationed there must be some parade on. My local friend said, "err no. That's just our fire engines". Apologies if this offends but to a European/Hong Konger, the fire trucks in the U.S. look like over sized ornamental trinket toys taken right out of the post colour Pleasantville movie. I wish I'd taken a photo but I was struck with joy, wonder and fascination. They even have little flags on them! Non US citizens, it's worth a google.
When we travel it's all new and novel! We naturally sustain a state of curiosity and wonder. It sparks joy, excitement, new ways of thinking & have you ever noticed how much better you sleep?
You pause, really look, take a photo of local life. Perhaps mundane to the locals, but magical to you.
You see the world through another culture's eyes which inevitably causes you to reflect and question the assumptions from our culture that we hold within ourselves. We gain self awareness and perhaps shift a little in some of our perspectives or even values.
Think about these experiences as a Good reminder of what it's like for your child going back to school now or whenever they are trying new things. It's also a good analogy for the process that goes on in the playroom.
Often there is a time of readjustment and struggle where emotions come to the surface. Think about when you get frustrated with that confusing bus timetable or ashamed and stressed when you got lost that time. Have you ever felt that wave of insecurity when you realise you're the only foreigner there and all eyes are on you?
As a blonde foreigner who's been living long term in a 95% Chinese City, you may expect that I've got used to this feeling. Well it may surprise you that actually I felt this in America. In a supermarket of all places.
We decided to save some time so we were going to get a salad. Waiting in line I started to feel nervous and kind of froze up. I'm rolling my eyes at myself. I've traveled overland through china & Outer Mongolia for goodness sake! Pull yourself together. This is all in your native language. Look everyone else is doing it, this is easy. But I couldn't help feel the discomfort of eyes on me as my British accent stumbled over all the million options available. So many options. Spoken so quickly. Spoken so LOUDLY to me. Half of the dressings I'd never heard of. I can only imagine that the Americans around me thought I was some weirdo from somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
I definitely over thought that salad in the moment! But I'm glad I processed the whole debarcle after. Being in America I was really struck by how they love everything to be customisable. Perhaps it's a symptom of a culture that generally accepts that everyone is an individual with their own specific needs and choices. Perhaps there's more emphasis on making people feel unique and special.
I realised that this notion was all very uncomfortable for me. I often think I'm quite blase about what others think of me and of course I know no matter what in HK I will always be an outsider and stick out (and I don't mind). But then again, so much truth is in our small actions and in our sensations and feelings. In daily life (in my very local work environment) I'm often trying to assimilate and not cause too much trouble to anyone. If I ask for some alteration to the menu it's usually met with a "can not". I often feel like an awkward one. And here I was being asked “what protein do you want?"
After a few goes, I became a custom salad/wrap/smoothie diva. And the server was happy to give me what I specifically wanted. It got me thinking, perhaps I want more of this? Can I be braver and ask for what I want more specifically? Without bolting on the assumption people won't want to? The simple (albeit ridiculous) salad bar incident gave me self insight.
Embarrassing hiccups like these (and believe me I did many) are all part of the adventure. Usually after a few days (with a supportive travel buddy or friendly environment) you adjust and become more comfortable with "the uncomfortable”. You can just get on and discover new things about the world (and yourself). You build confidence, relax and make connections. Hopefully you even have a moment to reflect how resourceful you are.
Travel is an adult form of play. Play naturally heals and helps us grow. Play therapy assists children in adjusting and transitioning when the natural process of play is blocked. Regular play may not be enough if the child has more complex needs or has a number of unresolved traumas built up. Perhaps too many transitions are happening all at once. This is when getting professional help is needed. We can't protect our children from life's difficulties. All we can do is help them build resilience through self awareness. This is what play therapy is all about. And best of all it uses children's mother tongue, play. Actually that's all human beings' mother tongue but I digress!
For your inner child:
- Did you travel this summer?
- What did you see about another culture that made you stop and think?
- Is there something about another country that you wish you had more of in your daily life?
- What do you think this could be telling you about your current needs?
For your outer child:
- Did you go travelling with your child? Did you notice any sudden changes in their behaviour or affect at first?
- Has your child been exposed to any big changes in the environment recently?
- Have you seen themes or patterns related to this be played out somehow by your child?
- What ways will you give your child more space to play and process all the changes? E.g. A trip to the park? Some one on one time?
Let me know in the comments below. You may inspire another caregiver.