Your interactive family guide to Spain as recommended by local mums | Last updated 4 weeks ago

Interviews with Local Mums

Anna-Karin Steinholtz - Vallromanes

Encouraged by the difficulties she experienced as a parent abroad in a mixed culture family, Anna-Karin created her own company De Fuerza Propia (By Your Own Strength). Certified in the Parental Educational Program “Active Parenting Today™” (Swedish version) she offers parental education that teaches parents and educators how to help children grow from the inside, strengthening and developing self-esteem, self-confidence, courage, responsibility and collaboration capacities. As a Certified Marte Meo Therapist she also offers an interactional psycho pedagogical treatment for parents with children with special needs (ADHD, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, social, emotional and/or linguistic difficulties). 

  • Parental Educator & Marte Meo Therapist

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    Anna-Karin - would you like to introduce yourself?
    I’m a Swedish mum living in a small village called Vallromanes (Vallès Oriental), only 10 minutes from Alella and Maresme in Catalonia.

    I left Sweden for Spain in 2001, just after graduating as a Counsellor in Swedish child and adolescent psychiatry. When my Spanish husband and I became parents in 2004, the culture differences were many, both within the family and outside; kindergarten, healthcare etc. I felt alone and couldn’t seem to find the familiar references regarding child education and child perspective that I had grown up with in and also had learn to put into practice during my training as a Counsellor in Sweden. I soon realized that it would be easier (and that I would be happier), taking to Spain what I felt was missing, then to complain about what I felt was missing!

    That was the beginning of my company De Fuerza Propia. I certified in the Swedish version of the Parental Education Program Active Parenting Today™ and I also became a certified Marte Meo Therapist. These were the concepts that I would have loved to be able to find when I experienced culture differences as a Swedish mother abroad! Since 2010 I’ve been offering both concepts to Swedish and Catalan/Spanish parents and I have really enjoyed every moment of it! My work languages are Swedish, Spanish, Catalan and English so I can offer both the Marte Meo method and the parental program Active Parenting to MumAbroad members and their families, in their native language here in Spain!  

    What is Marte Meo?
    Marte Meo is a psycho pedagogic treatment method founded in 1987 by the Dutch special pedagogue Maria Aarts. In her clinical work with children with special needs she observed that professional knowledge was often presented in an abstract and problem-orientated way to the children’s parents. The parents would be informed about all the dysfunctions regarding their child, but would not be informed about how they could act or do at home, to help their child the best way. The Marte Meo method transfers professional knowledge into clear and detailed developmental support that parents can understand and are able to put it into practice. As a Marte Meo Therapist I show parents how and when parents can give adequate support for their child’s development in daily interaction moments. ”Marte Meo” (Latin) means “On One’s Own Strength” and the term highlights the central focus of the method which is to encourage parents to use their own capacity and resources! In other words, how parents can optimally utilize on their part, for their child.

    Who benefits from it?
    The Marte Meo method provides support to parents with children with special needs (e.g. Autism, Asperger Syndrome, cry-babies and children with ADHD*). It helps parents benefit when experiencing a specific problem with their child (e.g. isolation, aggressive behavior, difficulties in relating with other children etc.). For adoptive parents the Marte Meo method is an efficient support in the adaptation- and attachment process with their child. Marte Meo also helps parents who experience that the relation with their child is blocked in some way (e.g. “I can’t seem to reach him/her”, “we always seem to end up fighting”, etc.). *ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

    How does it work and how do children and parents benefit from it?
    The treatment is based on five to ten minutes long video sequences from daily interaction moments in the family’s home environment. As a Marte Meo Therapist I reproduce specific sequences to the parents in a review session, focusing on the interaction moments that stimulate the child’s development. Through the picture, I show the parents what kind of developmental support their child needs and gives specific information on how and when they can provide this support in their communication and daily interaction with the child. The review session can take place in the family’s home or at my reception, but always without the child’s presence. A treatment usually consists in four to eight films with its corresponding review sessions. The treatment restarts developmental processes that have been blocked and reactivates the joy and curiosity in the relation! When a child’s situation includes a diagnoses or a dysfunction, many parents find this a very uplifting part in the treatment!

    What are the benefits of using a video camera in this treatment?
    The video camera is used in therapeutic treatment all over the world today! It makes it possible to detect the smallest and seemingly unimportant details of human interactions- which sometimes are crucial to understand a problem! The starting point in all Marte Meo treatment is to find and correctly understand the individual in his/her situation. That’s why the video camera is such a helpful tool! While filming, I get the opportunity to see the child’s needs for developmental support with my own eyes and I also experience in person the daily and sometimes problematic situations that the parents have with their child.

    What made you want to use this particular method of therapy?
    My first contact with the Marte Meo method took place at the Child- and Adolescent Psychiatry Award at the Central Hospital in Karlstad (Sweden) during my clinical preparation as a counsellor (year 2000). The method was introduced in Sweden in 1991 and is ever since considered one of the most successful methods within social- and clinical treatment work in Sweden and in many other countries. At the time for my practice, pediatricians and nurses from other awards at the hospital also learned about the method and I had the opportunity to see how Marte Meo knowledge opens up for collaboration with children (and their parents) and how complicated medical tests, minor and grand surgeries and invasive cancer treatments could be performed with dignity and respect for the child at all time.

    Years later, when my oldest son was hospitalized in a private clinic in Barcelona in need of a (programed) operation, our experience was the total opposite. He was not even 3 years old at the time and without us really understanding what was happening, our son was taken into surgery room frightened and wide awake. I have never felt so bad in my whole entire life and I felt I was the most stupid, polite and naive mum in the world for letting this happen to him. Our son had nightmares about this for a long time after and I had a hard time forgiving myself for taking for granted that everything would be as I had observed at my practice in a Swedish hospital. And it wasn’t. I don’t believe in generalizing things, because there are always more exceptions to the rule than you realize at first sight. But this was indeed my personal experience, at that hospital, that particular day and with that particular staff. Afterwards, we told the pediatrician about what happened, but he wasn’t very helpful. We looked at the possibility to go further but the odds to be able to make a difference didn’t seem very good so we decided to drop the whole thing and to go on with our life.

    The anger I felt was my emotional starting point to taking the Marte Meo method to Spain. It gave me energy and strength enough to go for it! During my training I offered the method to Catalan/Spanish parents and was very happy to see that they loved the opportunity to be taken in account and were very eager to learn how to be able to support their child themselves! Anger disappeared and instead I felt a great satisfaction! I was able to help parents and children activate and use there on strength and I was putting into practice what I had missed out on myself; a well-developed child-perspective!

    What are the most common behavioral and emotional problems you treat in children?
    As common behavioral problems I would mention attention difficulties, hyperactivity and aggressive behavior. Aggression of course takes us to an emotional problem; difficulties with dealing with anger! As other common emotional problem I would mention low self-esteem and anxiety. But I also find it important to say that children react and respond to the situations and the circumstances that surround them – just like we adults do. The reaction depends on the child’s own social-, emotional- and linguistic developmental level. In other words; a child’s behavior is not always the problem! It can be the solution to a problem that the child has, but isn’t yet able to express with words. The Marte Meo method and also the parental program Active Parenting Today™, show the message behind the behavior and help parents and children develop new skills that support the child’s development at the same time as it strengthen the parent-child relation. 

    How do the problems of adolescents differ?
    I would say that many teenagers have problems with self-esteem, anxiety and don’t know how to deal with anger. But to compare with younger children, the problems differ with adolescents in the way that problems tend to grow in scale and can end in much more severe consequences. Another difference is that the adolescent’s world contains a lot more challenges than the young child’s world. Teenage drug use, crime, pregnancy, suicide, anorexia, depression are all examples of problems that remain at frighteningly high levels in our society. Our digital world with its endless social networks is another threat. It has given us wings in many ways, but experts also warns us about its negative effects. Many parents are worried about the challenges that their children will have to face when becoming adolescents. 

    Are any of these problems more prevalent in Expat children due to them adjusting to life in another country / multiple languages, moving away from friends and family etc.?
    I would say that some of them could be more prevalent if the Expat Child doesn’t get enough support to cope and adjust. 

    But I also believe that children can cope with difficulties better than we sometimes think. When we feel guilty or are too worried about how and if they will be able to cope with changes, we are not really helping them. Without knowing it, we send them the message “this is going to be really hard and I don’t know if you have the capability to adjust to this”. Consciousness about our own starting point when wanting to help someone else is very important. It’s OK to feel guilt or to worry too much. We feel what we feel. But it’s a good thing not to let our own feelings take over when we are coaching and guiding our children. I also think that the health promote perspective is very positive! That means that difficulties can also be seen as opportunities for our development when we learn new skills. We can observe our child and ask ourselves; what kind of capabilities and resources has he/she already developed? What does he/she need to develop to be able to cope and adjust with this new situation we are living? How can I help him/her to do that? Every child is unique and will respond to difficulties in its own unique way.

    Talking about Expat children I would like to mention Ruth Hill Useem (1960s) who was the first to give this special group of children a special term; “Third Culture Kid” (T.C.K). It has nothing to do with the third world, although the term sometimes makes us think so. David Pollack continued to develop the term by defining a T.C.K. as “an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than the parents’ culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience”. Having this in mind and going back to your question;

    Moving away from family and friends (especially if you move around a lot) represents opportunities to build confidence and ability to cope with change. However, it can also mean an inability to make a long-term commitment to anyone or anything. T.C.K: s often have very good closure skills because of frequent practice but just as often unresolved grief. This is something that parents to T.C.K: s can have in mind! Finding time to listen and helping your child to deal with feelings of loss and grief is very important. We sometimes avoid this because it means we activate our own feelings of loss, grief and longing. Spending time together and emphasizing the family unit is also very important when adjusting to and coping with a new culture and a new country!  

    (Source: Helen Fail; “A Third Culture…a what?”). Click here to read and/or download Helen Fairs whole article “A Third Culture… a what? : http://www.defuerzapropia.com/en/ch_03.php

    Besides being a Marte Meo Therapist, you also run the Parental Educational Program “Active Parenting Today™”. Can you give us more information?
    When I became a mum I felt very clear on how I wanted to go about it. But everything around me seemed to go about child raising in a different way. It was more about obedience and control, than about growing and teaching out self-control. I had grown up with a democratic type of parenting where I was trusted to do new things but also responsible for more things. I observed that many parents and educators around me in Spain practiced another type of parenting, a more autocratic style, with punishments and rewards as principal tools. Searching for parental support that would give special attention to parenting abroad and mixed culture parenting I found Swedish Active Parenting and decided to take it to Spain. Active Parenting was originally created by Dr. Michael H. Popkin (Ph.D.), pioneer of the world’s first video-based parental education program and founder of Active Parenting Publishers Inc. (1980). The programs have helped millions of parents and educators to strengthen and develop self-esteem, self-confidence, courage, responsibility- and collaboration capabilities in children.

    I love the key-concepts of the program; how do we create faith and confidence in the relation with our child? How can we learn to understand our child’s behavior and meet up to his/her needs? How do we handle problems and conflicts with mutual respect, so that both parents and children can grow from it? When I was certified as Active Parenting Educator I felt I had found a way to strengthen my own parenting style and I started to share this opportunity with other expat parents from Sweden in year 2010. I now offer Active Parenting curses also in English and Catalan/Spanish. Click here to read the comments from parents that participated: http://www.defuerzapropia.com/es/ch_07.php

    I truly believe that of all the projects we have in our lives, the family project is the most important one. We don’t fully enjoy our success in work, sports or any other area if we have problems at home, with our children and with our family life. But when we have a successful relation with our children and family-life works well, we can have problems at work and in other areas and still feel really happy when we come home at the end of the day.

    As a Parental Educator, what have you found are the main concerns among parents for school age children?
    The Swedish expat parents and Catalan/Spanish parents that I have had the opportunity to meet and work with, all had the same main concern; they wanted to know how to help their children grow up in the best way possible, developing necessary skills and capabilities (such as self-esteem, confidence, responsibility) to be able to be independent and happy adolescents and grownups. They all worried about the same adolescent problems (drug-use, crime, the digital age etc.) and wanted to know how to prepare their children to constructively meet up with all lives challenges. Almost all of them also have wanted to learn how to better handle conflicts and problems at home. As a new MumAbroad member, I really encourage all MumAbroad members to take this course! Active Parenting is efficient, rewarding and its fun! As expats, the course is also a unique opportunity for parental support and development - in your native language! Click here to read more about the course design and how to sign up: http://www.defuerzapropia.com/en/index.php

    What is the best way for people to contact you?
    The best ways to get in contact with me is by my mobile number (+34 678 004 043) or by sending me an e-mail (info@defuerzapropia.com)

    (May 2015)