Tips for Helping Your TCK Keep Their Home Culture Roots

Ruth Van Reken asserts, “The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCK’s.”

Given that other TCK’s will be strongly influential how then can you best influence your child with your values and cultural roots? The following nine tips will help:

  1. What are the cultural roots that are important to you and why? Decide together. Research and ask family. Ask your child what cultural differences they notice for other international families.
  2. Prepare yourself and your child – read, ask questions, reflect.  Ask about their hopes and their concerns. Begin by reading Van Reken and Pollock’s seminal book Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds. If your teen reads it too, they will discover they are not alone. Use it to discuss potential feelings about cultural confusion, unresolved grief, struggles with maturity and identity, and adjusting to home country on return.

If you wish to have a catalyst for discussion with a younger child (age three to twelve), the unique book Slurping Soup and Other Confusions: true stories to help third culture kids during transition (www.slurpingsoup.com) provides a voice for children via fun activities and true stories. It helps them explore: adapting to their new environment, belonging, home and family adjustment, cultural differences and friendship change.

  1. Listen to your child’s unique thoughts and feelings, positive or negative. A parent told me she tried to keep her children so happy all the time that she overlooked listening to their struggles. Another parent told me that she regretted always ‘fixing’ things for her child without listening. This also means understanding your child’s unique personality and learning style. Some children cope better than others with cultural change.
  2. Provide a safe loving haven in the midst of transitions. Spend positive time, so your relationship is strong and your child develops a healthy self-esteem.
  3. Problem-solve anticipated and current issues together for mutual understanding and creative solutions. Discuss peer influence and how they might deal with this. If your child is abroad what touchstones to their family culture would help them feel connected? If preparing for university read Tina Quick’s The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.
  4. Be curious not critical of other cultures. Focus on the richness of different cultures and your own.
  5. Keep connected with teachers. Share your culture and your child’s adjustments.
  6. Use natural opportunities like these parents:
  • “We speak German at home and read him stories in German. He also plays with some other German kids.” 
  • “I try to take them to Chinese historical places and tell them the historical story. I try to connect nowadays living status with historical reason. Afterwards I try to find the history book relating to the places we visited. Also I try to let them spend time with their grandparents to feel the big family, and relationship with each other. They can understand the Chinese culture and value within the big family. Feed them delicious Chinese food as much as possible; they will miss the food culture when they grow up.”
  1. Listen, problem solve, share values respectfully – avoid the use of power and threats.

Cautionary tale from a parent: “My own mother always pushed my cultural identity as being Chinese, often to an extreme. Sometimes her comments were frightening, “You’re not Australian, just look in the mirror at your yellow face. If China attacked Australia today you would be the first one they would take because you’re just like them”, and often quite funny “You want to grow taller? If you get any taller you’ll have to marry a white boy” (which I did, incidentally).

With my own children, it makes it much easier living in China and having so many children of different cultures around us, especially the Eurasian kids that my children can identify with. When they ask where they’re from, I turn the question around and ask them, “Tell me where you feel you’re from”. The answer varies from time to time and I let them know that there’s no right answer. Hopefully I’m empowering my children to discover their own identity by themselves rather than forcing my own onto them”. 

When you listen, problem solve together, and share values respectfully, children will be more likely to respect your wisdom and experience in selecting their own values. Your child’s international experience will bring self-awareness, resilience, intercultural adaptability and a global mindset that embraces your family culture that is meaningful for them.

Slurping SoupKathryn Tonges is co-author of ‘Slurping Soup and Other Confusions: true stories and activities to help third culture kids during transition’.

She has conducted parenting courses for 37 years and is a National Trainer for Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia Ltd and State Executive Officer for ETIA Queensland. Kathryn writes for her website  The Parent Within and has written blogs for Beijing Kids and Jing Magazines as well as Teach Starter.  She is a parenting & life coach and has recently become a grandparent.

Her passion is helping parents to build more peaceful, loving relationships through improving their communication skills.

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