According to the term’s founder, Ruth Hill Useem, a TCK integrates “aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the second culture), creating a unique "third culture". While many TCKs are known for their multiculturalism and adaptable personality, being immersed in a third culture can bring with it confusing and complex situations. It is therefore, pivotal that parents of TCKs are able to identify their children’s challenges and that they are able to address and support their unique needs.
TCK-typical challenges and strengths
The upsides of being a TCK are plenty. A TCK is cultured, well-travelled, open-minded and generally flexible to change. Such unique experiences gives the TCK an advantage in terms of life experience and being able to collaborate with people of all backgrounds. Research on TCKs even demonstrates that they are four times more likely to complete a university-level qualification and tend to be more innovative, entrepreneurial and successful in their careers.
What can parents do to help a TCK adapt to a new country?
- Implement and maintain family routines. These routines should be engaged in regularly and in every country you move to (until your TCK outgrows them). Some examples include a family-bedtime routine, which may include story time and cuddles or a special family day every Sunday, where the entire family plays games together or goes to a movie.
- Create familiarity in the home. No matter where you move to, try to keep certain key pieces of the home, e.g., furniture, toys, picture frames and even better try to arrange them in a similar way in the new home.
- Hold weekly family meetings. These meetings should encourage the TCK to air any concerns, discontentment and provide an opportunity for you to help him/her cope or problem-solve. Of course, family meetings are also intended to bond over positive experiences in the new country.
- Maintain cultural traditions. Celebrate your culture of origin. If you are Christian and celebrate Christmas then get the Christmas cookies baked and the Christmas tree decorated each year. Remind them of the history associated to such traditions to further solidify their identity.
- Allow your child to grieve and heal from the loss. Provide space for your TCK to come to terms with their individual losses. Normalize their sadness about saying goodbye, their frustration about having to change their lives around again and their anxieties about the imminent change. If your child seems to be battling with this adjustment for longer than 6 months, then it may be in his/her best interest to seek professional assistance from a psychologist or therapist.