Supporting the Adapting Child: TCKs and Adapting Series (Part 3)


If you have read Parts 1 & 2 of this series, you are aware that most TCKs are more comfortable in the adapting and settling process than in the settled life.

Settling is even more difficult for the TCK who has little support during their time overseas from those he/she left behind. 

So, how can you as a friend, family member, or church support the adapting child while they are overseas and thus, ease the transition when it becomes time for them to "settle"?


Be patient. This is tip #1 for a reason. From the last post, we know that TCKs have a difficult time developing deep relationships, particularly when they return to their passport country. Be patient with them and push past the point when the friendship doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Chances are, it will, if you give it time.

I had been living back in the United States for 5 years before I made a good, tell-anything-to, kind of girlfriend. Her name is Laura and for the first year of our friendship we had frequent coffee dates and awkward trips to the mall. As we were walking around the mall one day, I kept thinking "I want so badly to have a good, deep friendship with Laura, so why am I so terrible at this!?". I was certain that she would stop pursuing me as a friend and our hangouts would taper off. This is what had happened to a slew of other potential girlfriends. But, Laura was patient. She continued to reach out to me and slowly but surely, I learned to let my walls break down. She is now one of my very closest friends. And guess what? Through this experience, I became better at developing deep friendships and I now have several great girlfriends. This is a first for me.

The point here? Be patient. We TCKs do not let people in easily. Sometimes by choice, but sometimes because of the subconscious walls our adapting nature has taught us to put up. Give us time to see that you aren't going anywhere, and you will start to chip through that outer shell we've spent years developing.

Keep in Touch. Do you have a close friend who moved overseas? Don't let that friendship end. While that friendship may be important to you, it will likely be even more valuable to the TCK. It is rare for a TCK to have a friend who has known them and remained a close friend their whole life. That friend is a treasure.  My sister-in-law had a close friend move overseas while they were in junior high. Despite the distance, they kept in touch over the years with frequent Skype dates and other means of communication. They are now roommates in college. I haven't talked to the TCK, but I would imagine that having my sister-in-law as a friend and roommate in college has greatly softened the challenge of the transition back to the US. It has likely helped her to settle, even if subconsciously.

Family Members...

Be Patient. Just as TCKs may have trouble developing deep friendships, they may also take a while to warm up to family members whom they haven't seen in a while. This is especially true for children who moved overseas at a young age. Don't take it personally! Give them time.

Ask Questions. Family members often have a very difficult time acknowledging that the child has developed a life overseas. Because of this, they tend to talk about it as if it was just a long vacation. This will only increase the depth of the walls the TCK has put up. Ask genuine questions about their life. Ask them about their friends. Ask them about their school. Ask them to tell you stories. This is probably the best way to help the TCK warm up to you!

Keep in Touch. I wrote a post on long-distance grandparenting with creative ways to keep in touch with TCKs. These methods are great for other family members as well! If you want your TCK to be more comfortable with you and ease the settling process when they eventually move back to their passport country, stay in touch with them while they are living overseas.


Acknowledge the Child Apart from their Parents. When the family comes to visit your church, talk to the TCK directly. Ask them how they are doing! On more than one occasion, when we visited supporting churches, the pastor would ask my parents how I was doing (while I was standing next to them!). I remember being so hurt that no one would ask me how I was doing or how I liked living in Africa. For a long time, I thought that they must not care about me. After all, I wasn't their missionary, my parents were. I know now that that was not the case, but this memory from my childhood made it very difficult for me to want to settleinto a church as young adult.

Don't Make them a Spectacle. We visited a church while on furlough one year when I was a freshman in high school. I was invited to go to the high school youth group for the Sunday service, and my shy-self worked up the courage to go. The youth service began and, without warning, the youth pastor asked me to come up to the front. I stood in front of a sea of high schoolers, absolutely mortified, as the youth pastor explained that I lived in Africa, so they should make an effort to make me feel welcome. I thought I was going to barf and made a mental note to stay in the adult service the next Sunday.

Most TCKs just want to blend in. As difficult as it may be, do your best to let them.

Keep in Touch. Again, keeping in touch with TCKs while they are living overseas is one of the best ways to give them a sense of belonging when they return to their passport country. When we lived in Tanzania, one of our supporting churches sent a care package and sent individual packages for my brother and I. I felt so loved by that church. To this day, I remember what was in my package: a bible (which is still my go-to bible today), a beautiful journal, a CD of a Christian artist who had become popular while we were gone, and a letter. This gesture meant worlds to me. When we returned to the states, that was the church that I wanted to go to because they had cared about me. 

It will be much easier for TCKs to settle when they move back to their passport country if those whom they have left behind have supported them while they have been overseas. When a TCK knows they have friends, family members, and a church family who cares about them, the idea of being settled, in those areas, may be a bit less daunting.

Churches, family members, friends, I would love to hear from you! In what ways do you support the TCKs in your life?

TCKs and parents of TCKs, are these things important to you? Are there any other ways you would like to receive support from those in your passport country?

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