God has called you and your family to move to another culture to serve as cross-cultural witnesses. How can you best prepare your children for what lies ahead?
Whether the move is between countries or to a new location in the same country, preparing to leave has its challenges. Parents often ask, “How will my children adapt to this new experience? How can I help them thrive vs survive?”
As caregivers to missionary kids (MKs) and their families, we have found that following some guidelines will help give MKs a more solid foundation as they transition to their life in another culture.
1) Reinforce their identity in Christ
As children grow and learn, it is important to help them begin to understand their most important identity – that they are made and loved by God. They have various identities: sons/daughters, grandchildren, a friend, a student, or an athlete – and soon a missionary kid. These identities will change or vanish as their world changes and as their relationships change. But their most important identity is who they are in Christ.
2) Recognize their calling
No one wants to feel like a tag-a-long, and this is especially true for MKs. For the child to be assured that God has called them as well is powerful, because it gives them a sense of purpose and belonging. Parents who realize that this is a “family affair,” thus including their children in ministry, tend to raise more resilient, satisfied children.
3) Communicate openly
“I don’t want to go!” is a common reaction, especially with older children. Open communication in which children are given the chance to voice their feelings and ideas about the news that their family is moving, allows the opportunity for an important conversation. You may learn why they don’t want to go, what their fears are, and who and what they will miss. Once these concerns are voiced, then they can be addressed. Encourage children to feel free to ask questions as they arise. The child may have preconceived ideas that are incorrect.
4) Study up on transition
Knowing the stages of transition can help parents pinpoint where their family is in the journey, and walk through these stages with less fear or disorientation.
The five stages are:
Engagement (Settled) – Everything is familiar and comfortable; we know where we fit in and what is expected of us.
Leaving (Unsettled) – The reality of leaving is pressing in on the mind and emotions. Letting go of friends, family, classmates, places can make us feel sad, fearful, angry, and confused.
Transition (Chaos) – This can be a tough time for us as we navigate through learning a new culture, language, finding a place to call home. So much is new and unfamiliar.
Entering (Re-settling) – We are no longer in the chaotic stage but fluctuate between embracing this new culture and homesickness.
Re-engagement (Settled) – We are again aware of where we fit in and what is expected of us in our new culture.
Value a child’s questions and internal world. Allow time for good goodbyes. Respond in ways that will keep the family close and unified. Effective preparation can make the journey less bumpy.
Third Culture Kids by David Pollack and Ruth Van Reken
Setting Sail by Emily G. Harvey
Vicki Decker and Shawn Ramsay are coordinators of the Missionary Kid Program for The Mission Society. Vicki and Shawn both spent years living cross-culturally while rearing children.