Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Handle Kids Who’d Rather Eat Cacık than Captain Crunch

Shh.  Can I tell you a secret? My kids hate Captain Crunch.  In fact they don’t want to eat breakfast cereal. Period.  Not even Lucky Charms.  But they love stuffed grape leaves and eggplant. (Not for breakfast, of course.)

Last week I wrote about the privileges and problems of Third Culture Kids.  Here is more about our experience and approach to helping our kids adjust.

Our Experience:

After living in Turkey 7 years, our family decided to go back “home” to America in 2009 for a whole year to get my husband’s US citizenship. I dreaded the stress it would mean for our family, but I expected our kids to be excited.  I was shocked to realize that neither of them wanted to go.  What pre-teen wants to leave his friends to move half way around the world?

Back in America my daughter cried every night the first month, saying that she wanted to go home, but slowly the kids adjusted to a new life and made friends. Thanks to a supportive family, church, and home school group, we had a positive experience.

About the time we got acclimated to life in America, it was time to turn around and come back to Turkey. Going through re-entry culture shock twice in two years was tough, but it drew our family closer together.

What We’re Learning About Helping Our Kids Adapt:

1. Be proactive in communicating with your kids about their experience. 
Listen to them if they express sadness about leaving family and home behind. Validate their feelings.  Ask them what is difficult for them and what they like about their new country.

2. Help them maintain relationships with family back home.
It takes effort, but out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind.  Our kids call my mother about once a week. E-mail and Facebook help them connect with other family members.

3. Nurture a solid family environment.
Family dinners and devotional times help us to reconnect nightly. Sometimes we do weekly games nights, anything to make spending time together a priority.

4. Preserve family traditions for a sense of continuity
What are your traditions?  We celebrate Thanksgiving with the same international group of friends every year. We eat pancakes every Sunday.

5. Hang in there if your child is struggling
I used to agonize if one of my kids had a problem or difficulty adjusting.  With time, I’ve learned to hang in there and keep praying.  Easier times are usually around the corner.

6. Avoid the expatriate bubble
In our early days I made lots of effort to get together with local moms and their kids, and we sent our children to Turkish pre-school. Now my kids are home schooled, but my son goes to taekwondo three times a week, and my daughter has almost daily practice with her synchronized ice skating team.  

7. Promote appreciation for the national culture in your home.
When we find ourselves or our kids criticizing Turks, we try to stop and remind ourselves and them that different is not necessarily better. 

8. Emphasize the positive
Don’t worry that you’re messing up your kids. Undoubtedly God will use their TCK experience to shape them into the unique individuals He created them to be. One study comparing Japanese TCKs with children born and raised in Japan concluded that “the TCKs were more self-confident, had more flexible minds, were more active and curious, and had a higher bilingual ability.” Celebrate the unique opportunities your kids have!

Question: How are your kids doing? What has worked for your family in helping them adjust?

You might also enjoy: Messing Up My Kids?


Amy said...

I like your hang in there if your child is struggling. One of my kids had a harder time when we arrived and still voices opinions now and then and we need to discuss life here. It is hard sometimes but I trust God is working out his purpose in my children too.

Cory & Kris Thede said...

Thank you for the reminder "Celebrate the unique opportunities your kids have! Brings to mind when we took ours to work for 2 weeks in a field hospital after Haiti's big earthquake. A unique opportunity for our family..we learned a lot.

OliveTree said...

I understand where you're coming from, Amy. One of my kids struggles sometimes too. My daughter can be very dramatic and vocal, so I've learned to take things with a grain of salt and give her a day or two to calm down.

Cory, working at a field hospital in Haiti WAS a unique opportunity. Wow! May God give your kids many more opportunities.

us5 said...

wow, what an excellent list of ways to bless your mks. thank you! you have verbalized what we have tried to do. i'm thinking that many of these specifics also apply during furlough...