Being a Third Culture Kid – Part 3: The Parents’ Role

Being a Third Culture Kid – Part 3: The Parents’ Role

This article is the last piece of a series of 3 on being a Third Culture Kid (TCK). We began by defining the concept of TCK and listing the major challenges of growing up in between cultures in Part 1. The 2nd part was about the benefits of being a TCK. Now we will take a look at Mum and Dad’s role in all this, more specifically on how you as a parent can help your TCK succeed.

If you have children, one of your major concerns when you move to a new country is related to how they will cope with all the changes. You want to ensure that the transition will be successful, in other words, that your kids will adjust in a healthy and positive way. Here are five steps that can help you achieve this:

  1. Encourage your child to express his feelings, especially the grief of leaving everything behind.

    You can do this in many different ways, for example by openly asking about his feelings, by sharing your own emotions, by role playing or by reading and discussing a story that describes a similar experience. A child that can express emotion clearly has developed self knowledge and is better equipped to deal with adversity.

  2. Keep in touch with family and friends from your home country.

    Your TCK needs to know that people are not disposable objects, that they matter and that you can still have a relationship at a distance. Nowadays it’s so much easier to do this, with all the options that technology offers. Smaller kids love photo sharing and video calls, whilst older ones can also send emails and write on a chat. The important thing is to keep the communication flowing.

  3. Make your house feel like “home”.

    For a TCK “home” is not exactly a physical location, but more a broad concept that includes parents, siblings, family traditions and most likely some cherished objects. So remember to bring the family photos for decoration, as well as that special toy or book. Make a point of getting back into your family routines as soon as possible after settling in. Create your own traditions in the new house, like special weekend breakfasts or a board game on friday nights, whatever works for you to connect.

  4. Don’t isolate your family.

    When you move to a new country it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to be reluctant to get “out there” and make new friends. This is normal, but don’t allow it to go on for too long. You and especially your children need to socialize and make friends in order to adjust and lead a balanced life. Go to the gym, join a playgroup, enrol your kids in their favourite sport, whatever you like as long as you get out of the house and interact with other people. Nobody can replace the people you left behind – that’s for sure – and as a parent you’re entitled to your grieving period as well, but one of the best ways to feel “at home” in a new culture is to avoid isolation.

  5. Be there.

    This means simply: be present for your child, both physically and emotionally. Nothing makes more of a difference than a parent that spends time with his kids. You are your TCK’s rock, maybe one of the few stable aspects in his life. If everything else fails, there is still you. Don’t try to compensate your absence with presents and extra curricular activities. Make a point of available for talking and hanging out. This way your child will know that he can count on you and will be less fearful of opening up and sharing feelings as well.

    For more info on this topic I highly recommend that you read this and this book.


    Did you miss my article Being a Third Culture Kid – Part 1: The Challenges? Read it here.

    Did you miss my article Being a Third Culture Kid – Part 2: The Benefits? Read it here.

Catarina Queiroz
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