Growing up global means children can struggle to feel as if they ‘fit in’ during a flying visit back home. Help them feel more confident, and have your best summer holiday yet, with this expert advice.
Jetting home for a well-earned break may provide you with a comforting trip down memory lane but the familiar faces, traditional food and favourite places you enjoy can seem scary and new to your expat children, whatever age and stage they’re at.
“Third Culture Kids (TCKs) typically spend their formative years abroad in another country so there is a tendency to feel somewhat disconnected with life in their homeland,” says Bharti Jatti Varma, Wellness Consultant, Hypnotherapist & Corporate Trainer Of Illuminations (www.illuminationsworld.com). “It would be unfair to generalise, but most of these children do have a hard time trying to fit in. The experience can leave them quite confused and uncomfortable during their visits.”
If your children struggle to feel settled, don’t fret, as there’s plenty you can do to help them adjust to their new surroundings without compromising their sense of self.
Embrace the differences.
“It is quite common for TCKs to feel awkward when back in their homeland witnessing life that they cannot completely relate to,” says Bharti. “Basic triggers include ways of greeting people, food habits, or even the language being spoken. When the differences become stark, however, it can lead kids to feel as if they don’t ‘fit in’. Understanding their concerns without belittling or disregarding them is the first step in helping them embrace the situation. Ultimately, a shift in perspective is needed to guide them into flipping the feeling of not belonging into a feeling of accepting their uniqueness. In turn, this can do wonders for their sense of belonging and self-worth.”
If your children do stand out a little compared to their cousins back home, learn to see it as a good thing. “The aim is to encourage children to be as internationally minded and globally aware as possible,” says Darren Gale, Principal, Kings' School Nad Al Sheba. “Today people are doing jobs that weren’t even invented 15 years ago. As such, there is a huge drive for children to be diverse and independent individuals. Schools play a big role in that, otherwise, we are going to cram all of this knowledge into children that may not be useful when they go off to college. We need to foster community and we need them to be able to reflect and to be mindful – just as the need to pass an exam in mathematics. My best advice for parents in helping to achieve this is to plan the language you use and what you say and to pose questions when you talk to your children.”
Work through worries.
If negative emotions do begin to surface, it’s best to address them head on. “When a child expresses a feeling of disconnect, it is important to validate it and allow him or her to express it without trying to fix or minimise it,” says Carmen Benton, Educational Consultant and Founder of Mindful Ed (www.mindfuledconsulting.com). “Acknowledging it will help your child to process it.”
“Questions such as ‘Where are you from?’ should not make children feel disoriented or unsettled,” says Bharti. “One of the greatest tools we can give our children is helping them develop a positive perspective on life and learning the art of gratitude. Teach them to live in the moment and absorb all the experiences they are exposed to and, at the same time, to be grateful for the opportunities available to them due to their expat nature.”
“Parents need to support children to honour and be aware of their family values, as well as the cultural expectations and norms of their host country,” says Carmen. “Linking to this, the way parents respond to a child’s growing sense of individual self is key. Allow your children to be themselves and don’t push them to try to fit in with others. Praise and acknowledge their uniqueness, including their hobbies and interests. This will give them the self-confidence to follow their dreams.”
Look forward, not back.
“Some TCKs list the challenges of growing up in another country as having a sense of rootlessness or a lack of belonging, which can result in a delayed adolescent rebellion, a confusion of loyalty, or grieving the loss of their childhood,” says Carmen. “For many, the overriding challenge is overcoming that sense of unresolved grief, as with every loss there is grief involved.”
She suggests looking to all the positives that come with being a global child.
“The advantages of being a TCK can include the ability to be agile and to have confidence in change to being independent, self-reliant and showing a high level of empathy and sensitivity toward others. This is on top of having a sharpened world view,” she says.
Between trips, make sure you keep up the good work. “Help children connect with their home country on an ongoing basis by providing them with plenty of opportunities to understand the culture, language and lifestyle,” says Bharti. “Technology is doing a great deal to shrink distances so tools such video calling can help foster a sense of familiarity.”
Kings’ parents share their experiences
It’s an opportunity to learn
“The social aspects of raising TCKs can be a challenge,” admits Ghida Halaby. “It’s difficult to maintain solid relationships with family and friends when they spend only a few weeks a year with them. The nice thing about being a TCK, however, is the travelling aspect. When we visit Lebanon and Palestine, for instance, there's a wealth of learning experiences to explore when we can put on our tourist hats and discover the amazing history and rich culture.”
They are citizens of the world
“Despite having a French passport, my children only know the French way of life in the summer holidays,” says Benedicte Mauger. “Our children are like chameleons, however, and adapt within a few days. They observe their new environment so they are able to communicate with their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents while maintaining their own personality and differences. Challenges can appear depending on the length of the stay, especially if we are guests in relatives’ houses where different rules and routines may require a large dose of patience and courtesy. Ultimately, the summer months allow us all to reconnect to our roots. By building solid foundations, our children are able to fully embrace their international life and become proper citizens of the world.”