Using Art and Play to Help Your TCKs Express Themselves


  The TCK life can be an absolutely wonderful and positive experience and most TCKs would not trade their TCK upbringing; however, it is also not an easy life. I write often about the issues that many TCKs deal with such as grief, identity confusion, anxiety, and rootlessness. In my time working with young TCKs, I've noticed that many often struggle with these complex challenges but don't yet have the words and maturity to understand and express their struggles. Because of this, I allow for a considerable amount of imaginative play and creative art in my program. I have found that this is often the best way to get a glimpse of what is going on below the surface, and often yields an entrance for deeper conversations. I believe this can be a useful strategy for parents of TCKs as well, as they navigate parenting during transitions and while living overseas.

Here is the basic method for doing this at home:

1. Construct Creative Art and Play Times. It is important that you, the parent, create these structured times so that you can be watchful, attentive, and follow up with your child. The play and art that you have your children do should have an underlying purpose and not simply be "free play" (though you may begin to notice themes in their free play time as well). Here are some examples of activities you can instruct you children to do:

  • Draw a picture of a time when you felt super happy and draw another picture of a time when you felt super sad.

  • Sculpt something that makes you feel excited and something that makes you feel scared or nervous when you think about moving (going on furlough, starting a new school, etc.)

  • Create a play with your siblings about when we moved to ____ and perform it for us!

  • Draw some of your favorite things about living here and some things that you miss about your passport country.

  • Choreograph a Dance about how you're feeling right now (how you felt when we moved, how you feel when you think about moving, how you feel about being a TCK, etc.)

  • Paint a picture of what your insides feel like right now.

  • Draw one of your favorite memories of our family.

There are many others that you can think up that are specific to your family and what your TCKs are currently dealing with. The point is to make it fun, but to also have a goal in mind - something to be watching for. A fun idea is to write these and/or other ideas on popsicle sticks, place them in a jar, and allow your children to select one to do from the jar.

2. Pay Attention. You don't have to be a counselor or psychologist to find deeper meaning in what your children display in their art and play. In fact, most children subconsciously want their parents to pick up on their deeper feelings, they just don't know how to properly express them verbally. As your children sculpt, draw, act, dance, or paint, you may notice things that surprise you. For example, when you ask your TCK to paint a picture of what their insides feel like right now, they may choose dark colors and paint jagged and twisted patterns. You might notice that their insides don't "look" very happy. Older TCKs might draw butterflies; a sign that your TCK might feel nervous or anxious about something. If your TCKs direct and perform a play about the move overseas, you may be very surprised to see that their perspective on what took place is very different from yours. When you ask your TCK to draw one of their favorite memories of your family, pay attention to the country where the memory takes place, the people involved, how long ago it took place, etc. Again, this is not "free play" and isn't something for your TCKs to do quietly on their own. Instead, you should be very attentive, asking questions, looking for things that surprise you, and looking for deeper meaning.

I once had a 5-year-old in my program who was moving to the Middle East. I had asked all of the kids to sculpt something that they were excited about and something that made them feel nervous or scared when they thought about moving. When they went around the circle to show the sculpture of what they were nervous or scared about, this little boy showed his sculpture of himself in a bed. When I asked what he had sculpted, he smashed his sculpture with his fist and said, "I'm scared I'm going to get bombed in my sleep." Obviously, this was a serious concern and I was able to address it with his parents who were very surprised as they had never heard him say anything about that. Art and play can bring many things to the surface that might otherwise never be said.

3. Talk About It. Ask questions about your children's art and play. Why did you choose those colors? That looks kind of scary! What is this picture of? What made that your favorite memory? Tell me about your sculpture!

This is where you may have the opportunity to engage in deeper conversations that you may not have had with your TCKs to this point. Art and play opens up the conversations like nothing else I have found. Take the time to talk with your TCKs about their art and ask elaborating questions. You will likely see and hear things that surprise you. Remember to never disregard or shrug off your child's feelings as this may keep them from sharing them again. Instead say, "I didn't realize you felt that way. Those are some big feelings! Let's talk about this some more."

4. Get Help if Needed. Because art and play can bring deep, harbored feelings to light, it is critical that they are taken seriously especially if they indicate thoughts of harm to self or others. If your child seems to focus their art or play on death, destruction, or physical harm of any kind, it may be necessary to seek professional counseling services. If there is nothing available in your area, you may resort to an online option. Unfortunately, I have seen parents shrug off serious concerns, saying, "She doesn't really mean anything by it" or "He's just trying to get attention." Anytime children express thoughts of harm to themselves or others, it needs to be taken very seriously.


Art and play is a wonderful way to help your TCKs express themselves for their own sake as well as yours as a parent. By giving them an outlet, you are helping them to process their complex feelings in a healthy way, and by paying attention to their art and play, you are getting a little window into your child's thoughts and feelings. What you see and learn from your children during these activities may surprise you and will hopefully open the door for honest conversations between you and your TCKs.

The "Get Out My Angry Cards"- A Parenting Tool


  Anger is almost always an overflow of different underlying emotions, and this is particularly true for children as they do not yet know how to compartmentalize emotions and deal with them accordingly. Instead, the child experiencing grief, helplessness, insecurity, hurt, or a host of other negative emotions, will subconsciously allow that emotion to bubble up and pour over as anger. As parents, it can be challenging to remember that, often, anger is not a behavior problem that needs to be disciplined, but instead, the surfacing of underlying emotions that need to be gently addressed.  TCKs experience a significant amount of grief. In fact, they experience more losses in their first 18 years than most mono-cultural adults do in their lifetime (Misunderstood, Tanya Crossman, 2016). Unfortunately, this grief and the multitude of tag-along emotions that accompany it, often come out in explosions of anger.

Enter, the "Get Out My Angry Cards". This is one of my very favorite tools, and is a concept that I teach kids ages 3 all the way to 18. I'll admit, I have mentally drawn from my own deck of "Get Out My Angry Cards" a time or two myself! These cards give kids choices for appropriate ways to deal with their anger and other negative emotions. As I stress to the TCKs in my class, "It is OK to be angry! It is not ok to hurt people or yourself in your anger, and you must find a way to "get out your angry", but being angry in and of itself is not wrong." You'd be surprised how many kids look up at me with big, shocked eyes. But, it is true, emotions are never wrong, how you act upon them is a different story. The "Get Out My Angry Cards" gives children healthy ways to combat their negative emotions without ignoring them. 

Here's how you can make a deck of your own:

Together with your children, brainstorm appropriate ideas for cooling down when they are angry. These could include:

  • Counting to 100

  • Journaling

  • Doing jumping jacks

  • Listening to music

  • Praying about it

  • Drawing your anger

  • Taking 5 deep breaths

  • Talking about it with someone you trust

  • Make up a dance

Write and/or draw them on 3x5 cards, decorate the cards, hole punch them, and clip them together with a binder ring. They now have a deck of choices for working through their negative emotions. Every child processes differently, so providing them with a variety of healthy options can be very effective. When you see your child becoming angry, you can instruct him or her to choose a “Get Out My Angry Card" and then proceed to have a conversation about the underlying cause of their anger after they have completed the card. Children cannot have a rational conversation in the heat of their anger, so it is critical to wait until their anger has subsided before trying to discuss the sub-surface feelings. The cards give them practical ways to cool down, and creating them can be a fun project to do together as a family!

If you adopt this tool into your family, I'd love to hear about how it works for you and your kids!

5 Strategic Ways to Learn a New Culture as a Family


  Many businesses and organizations provide training for the adults that they send to live overseas. Some even offer children's and teens’ programs to prepare the kids for the transition. However, there is often a bit of a gap between the training the adults receive and the training the children receive. After all, the family is moving into a new culture together and should therefore have tools that they can strategically use together as they learn a new language and culture. The children and the parents should not be operating with a different culture learning skill-set. Not only does that reduce the effectiveness of cultural integration, but, more importantly, it lessens the opportunity for the family to experience the growth and connectedness that learning a new culture together can bring.

Here are 5 ways that you can integrate into a new culture as a family:

1. Observe strategically. Observation is one of the primary ways you can learn about a new culture. However, unless you do so strategically, you will miss a considerable amount of information. Because we get comfortable operating in our home society, we often participate without thinking. It is easy to allow yourself to operate in this default mode when you enter a new culture instead of stepping back and taking the time to observe.

Talk with your kids about observing with all of their 5 senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Choose one per day to focus on. Perhaps have each family member take turns deciding which sense to focus on for a particular day. All throughout the day, talk about the things you observe with that one sense. For example, all the things you smell throughout that day. You will be surprised by how much more you notice when you focus on only one sense at a time! Hold a family meeting each night to talk about your cultural observations. 

2. Keep an observation journal. As you explore with your 5 senses, keep a family journal of everything you observe. Take it everywhere with you and document every "sight", "touch", etc. each day. If your kids are old enough to write on their own, have them take turns documenting or give them each their own journal. During your family meeting at the end of the day, read through the documented observations.

3. Ask questions. The best way to learn about a new culture is by talking to the people who live there. Many families who move overseas enter into the "expat bubble" and don't interact with the nationals, instead finding other expatriate families to spend their time with. You will never fully integrate into the culture by only spending time with other expatriates who live there and that would be a huge loss for you and your children. Expatriates can only teach the culture of expatriates living in that country, but they will not be able to teach you about the true local culture. It can be intimidating for your children (and maybe you too!) to talk with people from a different culture, so come up with a plan to make it less daunting.

Have each family member come up with one open-ended question that they plan to ask multiple people that day. For example, "What do you like best about your country?" or "Where do you buy your meat?" It can be as practical or as deep as you'd like, but the goal is to see how different people answer your question. Are there common themes? Throughout the day, be looking for people to whom you and your kids can ask your questions. During your nightly family meeting, talk about this experience and the things that you learned.

4. Make national family friends. Again, it can be easy to get caught up in the "expat bubble," particularly if you relocated to the country for business. While it is not wrong and can be quite enriching to have expat friends, developing friendships with nationals is critical to learning the culture. It is equally as important that your new group of national friends include "family friends." By that, I mean friends who have kids roughly the same age as yours and who are in a stage of life similar to yours. These are the friends to whom your family will be able to eventually ask the deeper questions about the values, expectations, and thought patterns of the culture. By spending time with these friends, asking questions, and observing how they interact with each other, their children, wait staff at a restaurant, etc. you will have the opportunity to shadow them and practice learning to act as a family from that culture.

5. Go to the local hangouts. Find out what the nationals do together with their families and do it! Do they go to the cinema? Are there local museums? Parks? Do they shop at the market as a family? Go to the beach? Bike around town? Instead of being tempted to check out all of the tourist destinations, make it a point to spend your family free time the way that the nationals do. Not only will this teach you about the culture, but it is also a great way to make friends!

It is entirely possibly to live overseas and never integrate into the culture. Doing so would not only make you less effective in your work or ministry with the nationals, but it would be giving up an incredible opportunity that you and your children have to embrace a new way of life and learn to see the world from a different perspective. If you are planning to move overseas with your family, consider taking one of WorldView's culture-learning trainings for intensive, hands-on preparation for the whole family. Our teen and children's trainings parallel our adult trainings so that the family can practice their new culture-learning skills together. Every member of the family has the ability to contribute to the culture-learning experience, they just need the skill-set to do so!

The "Change Your Words Chart": A Tool for Helping Your TCKs Develop Positive Thought Patterns


“Plasticity is greatest in the first few years of life because it is during this time that the brain is ‘wiring’ itself, working out which connections (or synapses) within the brain should be strengthened and which should be pruned.”  

-Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

During the first few days of our Inside the Toolbox children's training, I introduce what I like to call the “Change Your Words Chart”. This little chart is not only helpful in the classroom, but can also be a fantastic parenting tool.

As children learn a new language and culture, they are prone to becoming overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged. Because it is in childhood that their thought patterns are being developed, it is so important to be intentional about helping them develop positive thought patterns.

If a child routinely repeats negative self-think or self–talk at an early age such as, “I can’t do it”, “I’m not smart enough”, “It’s too hard”, physical ruts are actually etched into their brain. The longer they repeat these things, the deeper the ruts go, and the harder it is for them to change their thought patterns as adults. If you want to get fancy, this concept is called neuroplasticity, and it is absolutely fascinating!

The good news for parents is that you play a key role in the thought patterns your children develop and you can help them develop good ruts in their brain! I personally think that being intentional about this is one of themost importantthings you can do as a parent because it affects your child’s thought patterns for their entire life.

So, here is a very simple, but effective way to help your children develop positive thought patterns. There is no better time to practice this than when you are transitioning to living in a new culture because there will be plenty of opportunities for negative ruts to be dug.

There is an example of the  "Change Your Words Chart" below. I like to make the chart together with each new set of kids that come through our program. We brainstorm statements, write them out on a large piece of poster paper, decorate it together, and then display it on the wall. Your children may have different or additional negative statements that they commonly say, so add those to your chart. Have them think through phrases they can use to replace the negative statement. I find it works well to give them two positive options for each negative statement so that they feel a sense of control in choosing what they can say.

When your child makes a negative statement, remind them to “change their words” and have them choose one of the options from their chart. Research shows that speaking out loud increases the effect of neuroplasticity, so make sure they speak their positive words out loud! The longer you do this, the more it will become an automatic response. They will start to mentally remind themselves to say the positive words before the negative words even leave their mouth!

If you want to read more about how to help your child develop positive thought patterns, I highly recommend the book, The Whole-Brain Child.

5 Easy Ways You Can Start Learning a New Language with Your Kids


  Whether or not you are moving overseas, giving your children the opportunity to be bilingual is an incomparable gift. As our world gets increasingly smaller, the ability to speak more than one language will give them an increased advantage in ministry and in the workplace as adults- not only because of ability to speak a second language, but also because of the broadened worldview it encourages. 

If that isn't enough, according to the Canadian Council on Language Learning, learning another language as a child eliminates negative effects of aging on the brain and enhances the child's ability to focus and avoid distraction.  Learning a second language has also been linked to increased skills in complex planning, creativity, and strategic problem solving.

Learning a second language isn't just for the kids, parents!  Working on learning a second language as an adult can delay or ward off issues caused by the aging of the brain, such as Dementia and Alzheimers (Dual Language Development and Disorders: A handbook on bilingualism & second language learning). In other words, it's good for you, too! And will most likely enhance your ability to conduct local ministry wherever you are living.

Here are 5 simple ways you can start language learning as a family:

1. Label everything. One of my favorite ways to learn nouns is to label everything in your house. You can use sticky notes, index cards, fun paper, anything. It turns out that the most common nouns used are also typically the things you have around your house (door, floor, table, sink, bed, etc.). This is a great way to build your vocabulary. This was one of the very first things we did when we moved to Tanzania and when I think of the word "door" I still picture the "mlango" notecard that was taped to the back of our front door for years. This method is also great for visual learners who remember best by seeing the written word.

2. Listen, listen, listen. Children learn language first by hearing it. Babies listen for the first year or so before they begin to speak. It may not seem effective because you can't understand what is being said, but your child's brain (and yours, too!) is actually beginning to unscramble and compartmentalize the sounds, and that will eventually lead to the understanding of words. The human brain is nothing short of amazing! Listen to the radio, to songs, to the local TV shows, to people speaking. Have the language in your house as much as possible.

3. Play Games. This is a fun and easy way to work on language as a family. Here are some games you probably already know, that can be great for practicing a new language!

  • Uno- This card game is great for working on colors and numbers and can be found at nearly any store in the United States.

  • Card Games- Make cards with a picture and corresponding word in the target language. You can either make these on the computer OR you can cut paper squares and have your kids draw the pictures and write the words. You can use these cards to play:

    • Matching Game -put all of the cards face-down. Each players flips two, trying to get a match (picture card and corresponding word card). If a match is found, the player gets another turn. Game continues until all matches have been found and the player with the most matches wins.

    • Go Fish -play with the standard "go fish" rules, trying to create matches with the correct words and pictures. Learn how to say, "Can I have?" and "Go fish" or "yes/no" in the target language.

    • Speed- Put all of the picture cards face-up on the floor. Read the word cards while the players race to find the corresponding picture. This is great for kids who are not reading yet!

  • Pictionary- Use the cards you made for the above games to play Pictionary! Have one player draw a card (use the word cards if your kids are reading and the picture cards if they are not). The player draws the word/picture while the other players try to guess what they are drawing in the target language. To get the point, they have to guess the picture correctly in the target language. Keep score by giving each player a point when they guess correctly. If you have enough players, you can play this as a team game.


4. Sing Songs. Songs are a great way to learn new vocabulary! I attended an international school during the first year we lived in Tanzania, and during each assembly we sang the Tanzanian national anthem. I learned a large variety of words by just learning that one song, and I loved feeling like I "fit in" because I could sing the national anthem! Search Youtube for children's songs in the target language or find someone who speaks the language to teach you common songs. You can also get creative and make up your own songs for the phrases you are learning!

5. This site is fabulous for kid's language learning. I had a 5 year old in one of my first trainings who was moving to Thailand. He didn't seem interested in language learning, but during free time I let him play on Dinolingo. About a week into the training, he was teaching the other kids words and phrases in Thai! I've used the site for every training since then and love it. You can purchase their packages of online games, activities, videos, and flashcards, but they also have FREE games for most languages. The free selection is varied enough that you can learn a considerable amount of vocabulary without purchasing anything. If you like what they offer, then I'm sure purchasing their larger package would be beneficial as well!

6. Provide learning opportunities, but don't pressure. Unlike adults,  children, if given consistent exposure to the new language, will soak in the language without formal study. For this reason, pressuring them to learn is unnecessary and often counterproductive. Many children are intimidated by the idea of learning another language and may respond to this fear by being decidedly against the idea. If parents pressure their children in these situations, they are most likely going to resist learning, which not only hinders language acquisition, but also creates a more difficult transition to life in the new place. Instead, use some of the above ideas to allow the new language to become an integrated part of your family-life and let your children learn at their own speed and in their own way. Before long, they will surprise you with their new language abilities!

Language-learning as a family can be enjoyable and simple. By finding a variety of ways for your family to hear, see, and speak the language, your kids (and you!) will be on your way to learning a new language.