TCKs and Houseplants During Transition
I really love my houseplants - they have been one thing in my married life that has remained consistent through all of our moves. Back in Oregon, I purchased a few with a newfound determination to not kill them and to learn how to care for them well - something that I had previously decided was just simply not a strength of mine. Instead of folding to that belief, I researched and meticulously cared for the well-being of these plants and they thrived in our little blue house for three years. So, when we were going to be moving across the country to South Carolina, these plants were certainly not going to be left behind. I put them in a large shallow produce box that the local grocer kindly gave me and they rode the 3,000 miles across the country in the back of the car.
During our first few months in South Carolina, my houseplants were clearly in distress. They lost leaves and whole vines, some were half brown - I was sure they were all dying. I was clearly not as good at caring for these plants as I thought I was. I tried to revive them but resigned myself to the fact that I had probably ruined them all. The new environment, new climate, new everything had been too much for them. But then, about three months after our move, they all started to grow again! I constantly noticed new leaves, fuller vines, less brown and more green. Two years later, they were all thriving and beautiful. Some that had been small table plants had even grown large enough to be repotted and moved to the floor.
Four months ago, we moved again - from South Carolina to north Georgia. Of course, my houseplants came along. Again, they all looked pretty miserable for a while. But, this time I anticipated it. I pulled off the dead leaves that showed up but didn’t worry that the plant was ruined forever. They all looked pretty scrawny, but I wasn’t super concerned. I knew that this transition to a new place takes time and eventually they’d be lush again.
If you’re raising TCKs, perhaps you’ve had moments after a transition where you’re seriously concerned about your children’s wellbeing - wondering if this move was too much for them, worrying that you’ve harmed them. I have many conversations with parents who have recently moved abroad for the first time and they are often understandably concerned. Their children aren’t thriving - they’re not making progress academically, they’ve gone backwards developmentally, they don't want to engage in making new friends.
Recently, I was on a call with parents of young children sharing similar sentiments. Also on the call were parents of older children who had relocated to several different countries over the years. I asked the older couple if they had any thoughts to share with the younger couple. They said, “It’s easy to frantically stress and worry about your children during the first months of transition, but just give them time and you’ll see them start to thrive again.”
TCKs who make locational transitions during their developmental years don’t develop and progress as linearly as monocultural children tend to. When monocultural children aren’t progressing according to the linear expectation, someone - their teacher, pediatrician, grandparent - notices and measures are taken to get them to where they “should” be. TCKs however, don’t follow this linear model if they are moving as they develop. They sometimes have academic setbacks or developmentally regress with speech, potty training, etc. They also sometimes progress well beyond their peers - especially in areas of emotional and social maturity.
A mother I was coaching said, “She struggles academically because she went to a local school for a year and didn’t speak the language, but she can hold a conversation with an adult better than any seven-year-old I know!”
This is exactly right and it’s not uncommon. TCKs tend to pinball developmentally and it’s often similar to my houseplants - the first months of transition bring setbacks. After those first few months though, we expect to see that they are starting to experience new growth and that you, the parent, are starting to notice signs that encourage you.
But, just like houseplants, you can’t just stop caring intentionally for your TCKs during transition and expect the thriving to eventually happen.
During the tough transition season, here are some ways you can be intentional about your TCK’s care.
Fun and Connection. Make time and space to connect with them by having fun together - playing games, going on adventures, getting on the floor and playing. During this season in our family we’ve been playing a lot of board games or card games during dinner and it has become one of the best ways for us to connect and have fun.
Open Conversation. Take time to ask your TCKs how they’re doing and validate their answers. You want them to feel heard and supported. If they say, “I’m not good. I hate school!” Say something like, “It makes sense that you wouldn’t like school right now. It’s still so new and it takes a while for us to feel really good and happy in a new place.”
Praise the Growth. When you notice that they are talking to a new friend, get a slightly higher grade on a test, use a word in the new language, don’t have potty accidents for a day, praise that! They need to know that you see those accomplishments and looking for things to praise helps you to notice them too!
Give Grace. Know that your children are going to have some setbacks. Those setbacks can sometimes be challenging for you as a parent! If they are potty trained but start having accidents, are overly emotional or having behavioral challenges, are failing the subjects they’re usually great at, give grace. This is all very normal and it is also very normal for them to even back out after the first few months.
Like my houseplants, expect that your children will struggle and not look like their normal, healthy selves for the first while. Be intentional in your care during that time, and be kind to yourself as a parent. You have not ruined them, they are simply getting used to their new environment and that takes a while. Celebrate the progress however slow and trust that the thriving will come.
If you are not noticing any growth and forward progress after the first 3-6 months, that’s when it’s time to reach out. We (TCK Training) offer a FREE Parent Connect session once per quarter and you’re welcome to bring your questions and concerns there. We are also always available to schedule a private 1-hour consultation.
Last week, I was watering my plants and noticed that several of them had new leaves that would soon be opening. I realized as I looked at these houseplants, that I’m feeling similarly these days. This transition has been hard, as all are, and myself, my husband, and our kids have all been pretty weary and not feeling very full of life. But, I’ve recently seen glimpses of growth, of hope that a season of thriving is coming.
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