Research Paper By Florence Reisch
(Life coach: Expat woman & TCK coach, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
My happy life as a mother started when we moved to Jakarta back in 2003, it was our second posting as expatriates. I was far away from my family, my friends and naturally exposed to be by myself.
I remember before giving birth to my son, I never held a baby and I had no idea what to expect. Despite the fact that I was in front of a total novelty, from day one, I had the feeling my son was born with a manual that I did not need to read. By observing him, listening to his different tones, his noises, I could understand what he was communicating to me, his needs and I was naturally able to be present for him. I also knew that for more help I could ask his pediatrician. Today 15 years later, I feel that the coaching application with my son was a natural part of my education process from day ONE.
However, without knowing it, I was starting to raise a “third culture kid” with the challenges that come with it.
1) What is a third culture kid:
Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem named the term “Third Culture Kids” after spending a year on two separate occasions in India with her three children, in the early fifties. Initially, they used the term “third culture” to refer to the process of learning how to relate to another culture; in time they started to refer to children who accompany their parents into a different culture as “Third Culture Kids.” Useem used the term “Third Culture Kids” because TCKs integrate aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the second culture), creating a unique “third culture”. (1)
In other words, Third culture kids ( TCK ) are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport (where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years. They are often exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences.
Today I have two third culture kids or actually, the term now became more precise and to cast the net wider and to be as inclusive as an academic term can be, I can also use the term “Cross-Cultural Kid” (CKK). Effectively, my kids have multicultural parents (I am Swiss, my husband is Austrian), they lived in multiple countries and have 3 nationalities. They have both their parents’ nationalities, but never lived in our respective countries.
They are now trilingual. They speak three languages but none of them perfectly as a monolingual kid would speak.
But let’s make it easier and use TCK for this research paper.
2) What is the parental role in an expatriation context?
According to Wikipedia, parenting or child-rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the intricacies of raising a child and not exclusively to the biological relationship.
My experience: as expat parents, my husband and I quickly realized that the education we were going to give to our children will need some adaptations compared to the education we both received in our home country.
However, what was important to us was to transmit our values. We believe that no environment influences values. Values are our foundation and they are important because they shape our relationships, our behaviours, our choices and who we are. Values are what is important to us. Values give us confidence during changes and expat life is all about dealing with changes.
The Swiss expat site describes the parent role as the following:
In Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, the parent-to-child relationship is described as the most important factor in how international children face the challenges of living abroad. TCKs need to be valued, thought of as special, protected and comforted. This is true for all children, but in the context of living far from home, the need for this kind of care becomes acute.
Parents can listen carefully (ICF core competency) to their children’s concerns and behaviour and try to understand the reasons for it. They can also ensure that there is family time available to be emotionally (and physically) present.
Many schools have programmes that help with the transition into the new school and assist leaving families. After the move, parents can support their child by helping them find ways to connect with others and maintain bonds with family members left behind at home. (2)
According to Ruth Van Reken, unresolved grief is the most urgent mental health issue facing TCKs. This statement supports me to believe that giving support to TCKs is a critical part of the solution to this issue. Often, we look at how to fix problems after they have occurred, but I am convinced that if we arm our TCKs with skills before they need them, they can be used more effectively when the issue arises.
That’s the reason why I also believe that a coaching approach, which is constructive support to children can be a solution to parents to go through and succeed in those changes and their challenges.
3) Let’s understand the challenges and the benefits TCK are facing:
Although each kid has its own identity, TCK kids in general face similar challenges.
Challenges TCK kids are facing:
- Grief and losses (transition, goodbyes, the grief of death, exposure to poverty and corruption)
- Identity crisis
- A painful awareness of reality
- Answering the question: “where is home?”
- Ignorance of home culture
- Difficulties with adjusting to adult life
- Develop friendship quickly
- Third-dimensional view of the world: a multicultural perspective
- Interpersonal sensitivity: higher sensitivity to other cultures and ways of life
- They are self-confident
- Cross-cultural awareness and competence
- Cross-cultural intelligence (they may also exhibit high levels of maturity than their home-based counterparts)
- Higher levels of general adjustment compared to monocultural children. (flexible, adaptable and frequently have a high degree of independence).
- Diversity of language exposure
Saying that we have to remember that each individual is unique. The experiences even shared in the same family will be lived differently by each kid.
Some kids will have a fantastic experience and struggle to identify real losses, while others will process their grief for a lifetime.
I thought it is interesting to share 3 examples of TCK kids sharing their unique experiences on youtube:
Crystal Singh, Being culturally homeless
Tommaso Tricamo, 11 years old
Pixie “She’s from…. Everywhere?”
4) Facts that parents are facing with TCK:
By definition, the environment in which the parents are raising their TCK is different from the one they were raised, kids will have experiences that might not be understood by parents because they are unknown to them.
The unknown environment can destabilise parents and take them out of their comfort zone. Being out of their comfort zone can lead to an anxiety feeling and have undesirable reactions as consequences.
- Same parenting style does not work for all kids.
- Being parents is both satisfying and frustrating.
- Good parenting is the result of balanced care, encouragement and good advice.
- You are not a bad parent because you do not always have a solution.
- Many resources are available to support parents to understand and learn how to manage their kid's life cycles stages.
Because of those facts, I believe that developing a coaching approach with kids can support the parent to connect with their kids and understand their needs. Effectively, if we look at the ICF core competencies, we can see how the ethics and standards approach to create trust and intimacy space to the relationship between a child and their parents in a moment of emotional or unknown situations.
It is also noteworthy that during a move, parents are also challenged by their own relocation/transition and the changes they are facing themselves:
- The reaction of the kids to the announcement of the move
- The time allowed to move from one country to another
- Facing the unknown of a new country, health condition, culture, language, food
- We know we will interrupt the routine we implemented in our family life
- Feeling of guilt and responsibility, which is highering the level of stress for parents
- Facing the logistic, sometimes complicated: school enrolment, housing, moving companies, visas
- One parent might already travel for his new assignment. His focus might be very focused on his new responsibilities and the pressure of the new assignment.
Those challenges can take away the normal focus the parents might have on their children as well. Transition is important and coaching can also be good support.
At this moment, external coaching to support the whole family can be the recommended solution.
Companies know the challenges adults and kids are facing that can lead to an expatriate failure, which is usually defined as a posting that either ends prematurely or is considered ineffective by senior management. Most research into the matter has come to the conclusion that failure rates are high and can vary between 20% and 50% depending on the country. As this is also a huge cost for the companies, they are more and more aware of the reasons why international assignments fail and they are taking actions to avoid it.
What is interesting for us in this article is the paragraph 4: Do not forget the family
Intercultural training is provided and help to improve the adaptation process of the entire family.
One of their tools is actually coaching.
5) So let me share with you how I believe that integrating daily effective coaching can
support parents in parenting and let me explain to you how.
To understand better what is parent coaching, I suggest listening to Erickson international, a coaching institution, who offers a program to all parents: Parent as a coach
I will now demonstrate how raising TCK kids with a coaching perspective can support parents in parenting?
We can see that to raise our kids, parents can apply some coaching practices. If we look at parents responsibilities (parental role), we can clearly link them to some mandatory ICF core competencies as well as coaching definitions or coaching skills:
Coaching is partnering: education is partnering between parents and kids. Parents will be a model to their kids in term of behaviour and will encourage, motivate, guide and help their kids to grow being included in any society. Kids commitment is also essential, the parent would work to gain their kid’s respect, trust and motivation to make things happen.
Creating Trust and Intimacy: in every new environment, from one country to another, expat parents will offer a similar home to their children. This home will actually be an important landmark for the kids during their life cycles. Their home will be a safe and stable place for them in any new environment. The home will be the place where kids can express any of their feelings in a safe and supportive environment which produces ongoing respect and trust.
Coaching presence: by being present, flexible, by respecting and listening, parents will create the dialogue. This dialogue will emphasize challenges, frustrations and even successes kids are experiencing.
Let’s take a few examples:
As a fact, from a very young age, kids have regular “fights” with their classmates… As a parent, listening to each situation, being curious in what the kid is feeling and how he reacted, understanding what happened and what learning what the kid got from the experience can have a significant impact on his behaviour for the rest of his life.
By asking questions and reflecting on what the kid develops during this dialogue can give new perspectives to the kid that will make him react differently next time a problem with a classmate will arise.
Frustration: a kid that arrives in a foreign country might not speak the language. Listening to his/her frustration, giving him/her support to find a new way for the kid to communicate, arranging play groups with kids speaking his/her language and organizing language classes will give him/her trust in their parents. The kid will see that the parent react and answer to the need as soon as he/she expresses it.
Kids also have successes and it’s important to acknowledge those successes and celebrate them. Being fully present during those moments is also essential.
Active listening: Active listening in the sense of hearing what the kid is real meaning. Very often what the kid is expressing might only be the top of the iceberg. Having the ability as a parent to focus completely on what the kid is saying and not saying. To understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the kid desire and to support the kid’s self-expression.
Kids are not born with emotions like fear, envy, etc… those emotions are developed by moments they experienced like situations, movies, social media etc…. Observation is really a gift for parents: observing language, tone of voice, emotions and behaviours are real indicators to inquire and perceive the kid’s world.
As a parent, it does not mean you have to agree to all what the kid claims but it’s important to be present, understand and explore his mindset to support him. One method is to encourage, accept, explore and reinforce the kid’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc..
An important reminder here for a parent is that it’s totally acceptable and highly recommended to ask for external help whenever a parent is in need of some. These days specialist for most of the kids need are available. A specialist is very helpful and can make a real difference in kid development.
Saying that external help is not a replacement for parenting but only an additional resource to complement the support a parent is giving to a kid. Your role as parenting never stops. The parent will continue to support the process in parallel even during the external help.
Powerful questioning: by asking direct but adequate questions, using the kid language will lead to another level of dialogue. The discussion leads to a deeper level and really define what needs to be addressed and relevant for the kid. The parent will also support the kid to have a different perspective on the subject. By listening to the kid’s reflection, the parent can really explore and answer the real concern behind the problems first mentioned by the kid.
Powerful questioning will naturally lead to awareness for the kid and for the parent. This awareness will help to create some action plans. According to the kid’s age and the issues, either the parent will help the child to put the action plan in place or the kid will do it himself.
Parents will regularly discuss the evolution of the situation and will continue to support their kid to address the evolution if needed.
Direct communication: establishing a dialogue in a trusty environment allows parents to share observations, feelings, thoughts they have for their kid. Parents like to stimulate their kid’s creativity and know how resourceful their kids are. Together, parents and kid can discuss in an objective way, without judgment or clear recommendation new perspectives and new possibilities. By acknowledging new possibilities, the kid itself has new ideas, take new actions or simply feel better in the face of a new situation.
There is no magical formula to raise TCK kids, but I believe that by trusting ourselves in what we are doing, we will do a great job!
Coaching is the art of listening and supporting successfully your client from A to B. If you replace the word “client” by “kid” you realize that coaching meets the objective of the parental role.
Based on paragraph 3 above, the fact parents are facing, we can see that coaching application helps us to:
- Unleash our kids full potential
- Understand the environment in which the kid is growing up with
- Adapt our parenting to each kid’s personal need
- Being present at the moment with the right attitude for our kid
- Understand that we are humans and asking for help is totally legitimate
- Be curious, informed and aware of the development of our kid, keeps us in phase with our kid cycle stage.
Based on the fourth point above, challenges and benefits TCK are facing, we can see that coaching application helps them to be supported by parents:
- By transmitting our values, parents can reduce the risk of a kid identity crisis
- By sharing difficulties to be part of the groups in their new environment, teachers and parents can have close attention to it and help the kids to get closer to their peers.
- Parents and/or external intervenant can help to overcome this challenge
- Parents can be more supportive if they understand the feeling of not knowing where is home.
- Being aware of the fact that the parents home country is still a foreign country for TCK will help parents to prepare the return.
- Leaving home, leaving a nest can be harder as it is their only landmark.
Coaching is also very valuable towards the benefits an expat life can offer to TCK. Stimulating curiosity and interest of our kids, developing their capabilities of adaptation and use of language.
They are very little testimonies on the internet about raising TCK kids with a coaching approach. Most of the articles are about challenges encountered by expat parents. A new niche to explore 🙂
The Flourishing Child
(1) What is a TCKidNow
(3) Pollock, D.C., & Van Reken, R.E. (2009). Third culture kids: The experience of growing up among worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey. Moore, A.M.; Barker, G.G. (2012). “Confused or multicultural: Third culture individuals’ cultural identity”. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 36 (4): 553–562. doi : 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2011.11.002 .
Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey (2003-01-01). The Multilingual Mind: Issues Discussed By, For, and about People Living with Many Languages. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780897899185.