I think I always assumed since my first two children were ages 2 and 9 months when we moved overseas and the other three were born abroad that there would never be a problem with my kids “fitting in” or loving life here. Most of my children are happy as clams and run around barefoot, lice infested and speaking the local dialect. But I have one that is less than enthused about this adventurous life. Maybe it is the years of photo taking, cheek pinching and gawking as my family walks down the street, or maybe just his natural melancholy nature, but either way, he occasionally really struggles with loving or even liking the local people.
My family has no plans to return to the States anytime soon, so my kids learning to enjoy life here in our host country is crucial. Helping my child through these negative emotions is very important not just for him, but for our whole family’s longevity as expats. Here are 7 ways to help your child love the local people that I am currently implementing in my life and the life of my TCK.
1) Check your attitude. Unfortunately, most of the negative words and expressions my children spew originate from me. If I am struggling in a certain area and though I may think I am keeping it to myself, I’m not. My attitude spills over onto my family and affects my husband and my kids…both negatively and positively. If I am seeing a particular negative attribute in my children, I first need to look at myself. My living joyfully and with a good attitude in my host culture is the first building block to correcting any wrong attitudes I see in my children.
2) Remove any pressure you may be putting on your TCK. I am an off the chart extrovert and have a high need for friends. My son, he is an introvert and can play Legos by himself for hours. I don’t get it. I have been guilty in the past of putting pressure on him to make friends and interact the way that I feel is best. Usually, my assessment is based on my own needs and what I remember from my TCK childhood. I have had to learn to back off and let my kids breathe and pursue friendships as they deem important. Each child is an individual and has their own little personalities. Try not to compare your child’s interactions and habits with others. Allow your child to develop and learn and grow at their own pace.
3) Help your TCK to focus on ONE friendship. Though my son may not need a slew of friends, I do believe that having healthy friendships is important to his social health and development. Maybe your child is overwhelmed with language and experiencing culture shock and frozen with insecurities. Help them to invite a friend over, stay close by to help with communication and be willing to take part in the relationship by be-friending the child’s family. Sometimes our children just need a push in the right direction…a small boost of confidence. It is hard to not love a good friend. One friend may be the gateway to their acceptance of others that live around you.
4) Find an activity they enjoy that they can do with local children. Does your child enjoy soccer, dance or swimming? Seek out opportunities for your children to do activities that they are confident in. If they are good at kicking a soccer ball and can do that next to local kids, that can help to build a bridge.
5) Stay alert and be aware of any deeper issues. In the past, I have noticed that my son was not staying outside for very long and we were having a small issue with bullying. We were able to guide him through that experience and protect him from a certain child that was taking advantage of him. Depression is also under diagnosed in children. If you suspect that your child’s struggles are more with than the normal cultural differences or child development issues, seek out help through your organization/company or a trusted pediatrician. Childhood can be challenging especially when the child lives life between two cultures.
6) Require your child to respect people. I want my children to be able to express how they feel about everything and anything. I can understand that my kids have down days…off days, but we do not allow for ugly words or hateful sayings to ever be addressed toward anyone or anything. They must at all times respect adults and greet those who speak to them in a polite manner. Guide your kids in effective communication by not allowing them to speak in absolutes. Instead of saying, “I hate the Chinese because they always pinch my cheeks” teach them to say, “I don’t like it when (insert name) pinched my cheek yesterday.” Helping our children to understand that not liking a particular action of a person is okay, but disliking a whole people group because of one persons action is unacceptable. Looking at situations realistically can help them sort out their feelings and modify their negative behaviors.
7) Relax. Kids have bumps in the road and phases that they will grow out of. Today they may hate their little friend down the street, but next week they may be best friends. Obsessing about every little behavior will only make you crazy and will not get you the positive results you are seeking.
Helping our kids to understand and appreciate the people and culture around us is the first step to our TCK’s enjoying and loving locals. It is hard to love or like things, places and people you don’t understand. My job is to help guide my little TCKs through childhood to become healthy, happy and spiritually resilient adults. The process of raising children in a different culture can be challenging, but can result in a well adjusted adult with a beautiful and balanced world view.
Do you have any experiences or ideas to help TCK’s love locals? What has worked or not worked for you and your family?
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