Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Handle Kids Who'd Rather Eat Cacık than Captain Crunch

Can I tell you a secret? My American kids hate Captain Crunch.  In fact they don’t want to eat any breakfast cereal. Period.  Not even Lucky Charms.  And they won't touch sandwiches with a ten foot pole. But they love stuffed grape leaves and eggplant, and they'll down a bowl of cacık any day. (Cacık is yogurt, raw garlic, cucumber and mint.)

For me the hardest part about living overseas is worrying about Andres and Camille. I wonder if we've messed up their childhoods by bringing them to Turkey. As my kids grow up, the challenges they face change from year to year. Here is more about our experience and approach to helping our kids adjust.

Our Experience:

After living in Turkey seven years, our family decided to go back “home” to America in 2009 for a whole year to get my husband’s US citizenship. I was shocked to realize that neither of our kids wanted to go.  Back in America my daughter cried every night the first month, but slowly the kids adjusted to a new life and made friends. Thanks to a supportive family and church, we had a positive experience.

About the time we got re-acclimated to life in America, it was time to turn around and come back to Turkey. Going through re-entry culture shock twice in two years was tough, but it drew our family closer together.

The last three years our kids have faced new challenges. My husband and I decided to leave our Turkish church of nine years to start a new fellowship, so for the kids that meant leaving their secure community of Turkish and international church friends. Their TCK youth group has dwindled because most families leave our city by the time their kids reach high school age due to the lack of educational opportunity here. Many friends went to Black Forest Academy in Germany or started college in America, so  Andres and Camille have said goodbye more times than I can count.

What We’ve Learned About Helping Our Kids Adapt:

1. Be proactive in communicating with your kids about their experience. 
Listen to them if they express sadness about leaving family and home behind. Validate their feelings.  Ask them what is difficult for them and what they like about living overseas.

2. Help them maintain relationships with family back home.
It takes effort, but out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind.  Our kids call my mother about once a week. E-mail and Facebook help them connect with other family members.

3. Nurture a solid family environment.
Family dinners and devotional times help us to reconnect nightly. Sometimes we do weekly games nights, anything to make spending time together a priority. Each month, my husband takes our son out for breakfast, and I take our daughter.

4. Preserve family traditions for a sense of continuity.
What are your traditions?  We celebrate Thanksgiving with the same international group of friends every year. We eat pancakes every Sunday.

5. Hang in there if your child is struggling.
I used to agonize if one of my kids had a problem or difficulty adjusting.  With time, I’ve learned to hang in there and keep praying.  Easier times are usually around the corner.

6. Avoid the expatriate bubble.
In our early days I made lots of effort to get together with local moms and their kids, and we sent our children to Turkish pre-school. Now my kids are in their eleventh year of home school, but my son has participated in sports and tutors two Turkish boys. He also helps with the sound system and plays bass for another local church. My daughter sticks closer to home, but she skated with a local team for two years and now does tutoring.

7. Promote appreciation for the national culture in your home.
When we find ourselves or our kids criticizing Turks, we try to stop and remind ourselves that different is not necessarily better. 

8. Emphasize the positive.
Don’t worry that you’re messing up your kids. (I'm talking to myself here.) Undoubtedly God will use their TCK experience to shape them into the unique individuals He created them to be. My kids face challenges, but they're learning resilience. They have an invaluable opportunity to rub shoulders with Turkish believers, real live people who face persecution for their faith. My 16 year old has three years of experience with sound equipment and leading worship, something he probably could have never done in America. 

I'm sure your kids have many unique opportunities as well.  Let's celebrate these opportunities God gives our kids as they grow up overseas!

Question: Do any of you out there have kids who are struggling? What works for your family in helping them adjust?


  1. Great advice! Our son isn't quite old enough to have too many struggles adjusting yet, but some of the things we did on our recent trip to the US (he was 14 months at the time) was bring a few familiar things from home for him and keep him on his routine as much as possible. Those two things really helped!

    1. Familiar things and routines are great ideas, Chrysti. When we came to Turkey, our kids were 2 and 4 and we brought LOTS of their toys and books. I expected the transition to be a breeze for my 4 year old, but there were a few challenges...Blessings on your son as he grows!

  2. Thank you so much for this! We have 13 and (soon-to-be) 15 year old daughters, and started our journey here in the DR a little over a year ago. At times, my husband and I felt like we were riding a crazy roller coaster with all of the changing moods over the past year. We have finally settled in and acclimated. However, within the past couple of weeks, my oldest daughter who had an easier time adjusting here has suddenly began having anxiety attacks. These two sentences that you wrote soothed my worry a bit:

    "With time, I’ve learned to hang in there and keep praying. Easier times are usually around the corner."

    Has anyone else dealt with this?

    1. No, I haven't dealt with this. I'm not sure what an anxiety attack is, nor how severe your daughter's are. Changing moods are par for the course for teenage girls no matter where they live, I think. Have you talked to her about it?

      Perhaps you could give it a few weeks, keep praying and hanging in there! Most likely the panic attacks will disappear on their own. If they continue, I would try to see if your daughter could talk to a counsellor. Does your organization have member care from the States? Maybe via skype? Or do you have access to a Christian counsellor where you are? Sending up a prayer for you now...

  3. Thank you for this. We are months away from departure, and our eldest son, age 9 doesn't want to go. This is very challenging, and all we can do is hang in there and keep praying.

    Not wanting to hijack this post, but wondering if anyone has any reading or activities that would help children leave their home country and transition into another?

    1. That's a great question. I'll steal it for a Tuesday Topic in a few weeks, if you don't mind.