Category: <span>TCK</span>

Adjusting to A New School – How it is a team effort for the Parent and Child?

“My heart hurts when I think about leaving my friends. I have so many people that I have grown to love.  Everyone says that I will be able to make new friends, but it’s not the same.  I am tired of hearing that over and over again! I don’t want to start a new school and meet new people. I don’t have any control over my life and I am so tired!”

The pain of starting a new school is challenging at its core because you have to make a new group of friends and you have to learn how to live in a new place.  Children thrive upon a fixed routine and that gets thrown apart when you live somewhere new.  Instead of the things that you know you have to do, you have to learn a new system and have to create a different set of routines that work for you and your family.

What You Can (and Can’t) Do

If your child is incessantly whining, trying to talk you out of moving or just stomping around the house slamming doors, it’s easy for you to get frustrated with their reactions. The most important thing you can do, however, is engage their concerns and feelings. Like most problems teenagers confront, simply listening to them – without trying to argue or make a point – can do a world of good.

Relocation is a long process and throughout there are steps you can take (and a few you shouldn’t) to help minimize the stress on your teen. Some of the more helpful tips are listed below:

  • Expressing Their Feelings- Children need to be able to grieve and experience their emotions. When they can express their feelings, they are able to move on and feel open to new experiences. I have heard many parents feel impatient because they want their child to “get on with it and just be ready to deal with a new experience”.  Depending on your adolescent and their circumstances, it can take time for them to adjust because they have created a community that they trust and they have to grieve because it is their loss.  Parents have to remember that the adolescent did not make the choice to move so they need time to make the transition.
  • Making New Connections-Children should join groups and do activities that they are interested in at their new school; Parents can ask their child who they connect with at their new school and then you can pursue playdates so that your child can feel more settled. When adolescents make connections in their new location, they can start to see the benefits of a new location and what this can mean in their life. It is also helpful to make friends with a family who has been here for a year or two so they can understand what you/your child are going through while also feeling more settled because they have found things that make them content.  “Until I met the “Jones”, I did not know that there were women’s groups that I could join. It made me feel more at ease and figure out what I needed to learn. Now, when I feel like I am alone, I realize there are people I can call on and it gets better.”
  • Maintaining the Important Connections – Encouraging and making an effort so that they can still keep their friendships alive will help your children feel more settled in their new location. Children have to keep in mind that there is a balance because if you are only connecting with your friends in your previous country, it makes it impossible to build new friendships. With the internet, it makes it easier than ever to keep up your previous relationships.  If you find that you are talking to friends from your previous location on a daily basis, it can prevent you from getting settled and building close relationships in your new school.
  • Keeping a Positive Outlook-As the first day draws near, begin talking to your child about his/her expectations, hopes, and fears for the upcoming school year. Reassure him/her that other children are having the same feelings and that he/she will be sure to have a great year. Present school as a place where she’ll learn new things and make friends. It helps to show them videos of their new school so they can begin to get excited about what is going to come.
  • Having Some Control over the Situation-If it is possible to let your child choose between a few schools, this helps them feel like they have some input over the decision. Figure out what control you can give to your child so they feel more invested in the move. It could be: How would you want to decorate your new room? What activities would you like to do? How would you like to end your time here-a party, sleep-over, time with your best friend?

Not all children experience stress when moving-many are very excited and face no issues about the change.  It is different and you cannot predict how someone feels.  Even if a child feels excited, it can change when he/she is in a new situation.  Being open and letting your adolescent move through the different stages is important.

It takes an entire village to raise your Child

For parents, it is important to remember that you should not put a negative slant on the life that they had before because a person is a sum of their collective experiences.  In counseling sessions, I have heard families say to their child that, “One country is better than another country so you should feel happier and you won’t miss your previous experience”.  Parents say it because they want their child to be optimistic about the move and feel good about the change. However, a child needs to take his/her time to feel sad and then he/she will move to a more positive outlook when he/she is ready. When a parent says something negative, it takes away from a child and once the child takes in that feeling as his/her own, it can cut themselves off from a very important experience.

“Anarkali” lived in many different countries from the time she was little.  She moved from India to England.  She was 10 years old and had lived in India for the first 9 years of her life.  When they had to move to England, she was devastated because she had so many good friends and she had special caretakers who showered her with love.  Her family told her, “You’re going to be living in a better place.  There are not too many playgrounds here and you will be happier.   You will forget about India after you have lived in England.” She felt depressed because her family felt so different from her.  She came to realize that she could not express how she genuinely felt because they always told her how bad India was.  At a certain point, she cut herself off from the love she experienced and started to talk negatively about her time in India.  It takes a village to raise your child and by allowing her to feel good about her experiences is important.  Parents have to keep their feelings in check when they are trying to understand what a child is experiencing.

In conclusion…

Starting a new school can be challenging and hard, but in time, you will find new friends and things you enjoy.  I am not going to tell you that it does not hurt to leave your friends behind because I know that it is so painful. You have to figure out who you are in a new community and be with what is not known.  That is the part that is scariest and the hardest part of change.  When you start over, we often go through loss because we remember all the friends and the experiences we treasured.  No matter what you do, you cannot replicate the past-you can only create something new and there may be things that are better and there will be things that are worse. Even though you get stronger by going through the difficult experiences, it is not easy and it takes strength to go from a place of feeling sad, to feeling okay, to feeling content, to feeling happy and to finally thrive in a new school/location.  It is a team effort for adjusting to a new school and it involves a joint effort between the adolescents and their parents.  Remember that you will have your ups and downs when you deal with change but that things will get better over time.



Where are you from?

Helping your third culture kid answer the question of where they come from with a smile can be quite a challenge. Many children struggle with their status of being a third culture kid but there are ways in which parents can support them. 

Lots of different faces looking at camera --- Image by © Christopher Corr/Ikon Images/Corbis

Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city where the culture of children is often in contrast to their race, ethnicity, or country of origin. Children may appear to be from a certain country of origin by their features, but they have often lived away from that home country for a majority of their childhood. These children are called “Third Culture Kids” (TCK).

Their experiences tell us a different story about what is home to them. A child may have been born in Germany, but be able to speak Chinese, German, English, and Thai. This child may have gone to school in four different countries. When he goes back to Germany, he may feel odd and be unable to relate to his peers.  For example, he may refer to specific multicultural experiences that his friends cannot relate to. When he comes back to his host country, he is much more comfortable because his experience is shared by others like him.

What Makes a TCK?

A third culture kid is defined as a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent’s culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all the cultures while not having full ownership in any. TCKs’ lives are characterized with high mobility and traveling between different worlds (according Pollack, Growing up Among Worlds, 1999). While being a TCK has challenges, there are many things parents can do to help children and adolescents find success in their emerging cultural identity.

TCKs have not developed their basic value system, sense of identity, and establishment of core relationships with family and friends in their home culture so they often look to their host country to figure out how to behave in different contexts.  TCK kids have to comprehend the rules in each country in order to better adapt to each new background. As a result, it takes longer for them to develop their personal identity because they have to deal with more changes and then have to synthesize the information from the past with their current life.

How to Help Your Child Adjust to Being a TCK

While it is exciting for individuals to live abroad and see new things, it’s also a huge loss for them as they have had to say so many “good-byes”. Some of the things kids have said regarding the TCK experience are: “I don’t know what home is. It’s confusing. I hope someone does not ask where I am from because I don’t know what to say.”

“Out of the blue, I feel a sense of sadness and I can’t explain why.”

“I am not sure where I am going to be next year. I am not sure how much to invest because I will be leaving”.

What can you as parents do to help your child deal with transition and change as you make another move to a new country? A few suggestions based on years of experience with counselling follow:

Provide Empathy

Empathy means trying to understand what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is not just saying the words but really conveying your understanding by asking questions, listening, and being there through the child’s pain.

For example, if your child misses his old friends and does not want to move to a new country. He might even be angry, acting out, and mad about moving.

The non-empathetic response would be: “You will make new friends like you always do. Do not worry about it. You will be at a better school with nicer facilities. We have to move because of my job. I thought you understood that.”

A more empathetic approach is: “I know that it is hard to miss your friends and I get it. I am sorry we have to leave and we will do our best to come back and keep in touch with your friends. What kind of activities do you want to do with your friends before you leave? I know that they are very important.”

It is important to acknowledge their feelings as real so they feel like they can talk to you when they are sad, and that your children feel validated for their experience.

Help Synthesize Their Experiences from the Past

You can talk about their different experiences in each country. Since a child has experienced change, what helps is that you are talking about his/her experiences and that you are emotionally supporting them through the changes. What hurts a TCK child the most is that they can feel alone and misunderstood by so many people.

They have had a life that is unrecognizable to many who live in their home country or their host country. If parents can show a child that they are genuinely interested in the child’s feelings, it will convey love, trust, and affection. Many times the parents do not want to know because they are experiencing their own grief and guilt for what has happened in the past. The truth is that the more you are open to talking about their experiences, the better it is for you, your child, and your relationship with one another.

Be Clear about Your Future Plans

We tend to be protective of our kids because we do not want to hurt them so we postpone the news of moving so they are not hurt or anxious. If you do not tell your child, they cannot trust you and are more anxious about what is going to happen. It is important to be honest and share what is happening so they can feel a sense of control.

When a child has some notice about the fact that they are leaving, they can process their feelings of loss and can have time to mourn what has been left behind. Sometimes your child is “fine” and does not feel any sadness at the moment. That is okay too as long as you continue to check-in and notice other signs of how they are processing their feelings. It is important for your child to have a chance to say “good-bye” in whatever way they can.

As parents, you can ask the following questions:

  • How would you like to say good-bye?
  • How do you want to mark this transition?
  • Do you want to draw a picture?
  • Do you want to take pictures and make an album?
  • Do you want to do individual activities with specific friends?
  • Do you want to do a party?
  • What ritual do we do the night before we leave?

Model Appropriate Behavior

How can I model to my child about how to deal with change? You have to model by immersing yourself in your new culture. You can make friends and appreciate new things in your environment. It is not easy for the accompanying spouse who has had to give up one’s career to say good-bye to their friends and family, and start fresh. Children might pick up on these feelings from their parent and act out. It is important for parents to show their kids how to talk about personal experiences and have a better outlook on possibilities. It is natural to experience anger, frustration, and loss when you move.

How can we move from the anger to a place of enjoyment and fulfillment? That happens when you acknowledge the loss, identify your needs, and discover ways to fulfill your needs. For your kids, it will help if you plan play dates and help them find people in the community that they feel a connection to. It does not in any way substitute the friends they had, but it helps them channel their feelings of loneliness and longing by developing new connections.

The Upsides of Being a TCK

Finally, you should stress that being a TCK is a gift because he or she has a chance to learn valuable lessons that cannot be taught. For example, travelers tend to get frustrated when they visit countries and find that they are not able to shop during the middle of the day.  According to David C. Pollack, “TCKs understand that this custom not only helps people survive better if the climate is hot, but it’s a time when parents greet the children as they return from school and spend time together as a family. Many TCKs learn to value relationships above conveniences as they have lived in such places and it is a gift they carry with them wherever they may go”( Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds, 1999). They are highly adaptable and learn things quickly due to high mobility and many cross cultural transitions. TCKs think outside the box and are able to understand people from diverse backgrounds.

In order for a child to thrive and take advantage of their international experiences, they need to be taken into consideration and be cared for as they deal with the confusion, anxiety, and grief. Third culture kids have the same needs as any child to be loved, valued, and to experience being a part of a loving community. As parents, you have the ability to help your child navigate through this difficult, challenging, and amazing experience by being open to the full range of emotions that can come up for your child as you start your next journey.

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