At our school, families are often coming and going. To help with the transition, our school provided a talk about saying “goodbye” to help families cope with the changes. I have never attended this workshop because we are usually the family that stays behind so I didn’t think it applied to me.
I was wrong.
There are two parts of a “goodbye” – the person who is leaving and the person who is staying behind.
Even though we stay behind, we also need to say “goodbye” to our friends who are leaving. This is especially true for young children because they struggle to understand why they don’t see friend “X” any more. They need the closure of saying “goodbye” so they can move on.
We learned this the hard way because we assumed that young children forget quickly and get over things easily. From our experience with G2, this was not so.
Say Goodbye Even in Preschool
When G2 was in preschool, he had a friend he was very close to. The presence or absence of that boy made all the difference to his day at school. As all children in preschool eventually do, his friend moved on to a new school to enter his primary years. I didn’t know it at the time and I assumed the boy was absent because he was ill.
As G2 fretted over his friend’s absence, I continued to reassure him that his friend would return to school when he was better. After a week’s absence, I began to grow suspicious and I asked the teacher about his friend. She explained to me that the boy had left for his new school and I shared the news with G2. I thought that G2 would quickly forget the boy and move on.
Again, I thought wrong.
It took a month before G2 stopped asking about his friend. I thought that was the end of it. Months later, he asked me about his friend again, wondering if the boy was still sick. I was surprised that he was still struggling with the idea of not seeing his friend even though I had explained to him that his friend had moved to a new school. The significance of it all didn’t click until another mother told me about the importance of saying “goodbye”. It was then that I finally understood what happened to G2 when his friend left for a new school.
Preparing to Say Goodbye
It is harder to be prepare when you’re not aware that your child’s friend is leaving. If you are aware, there are a few things you can do.
- Talk to your child – listen not only to the words, but the feelings behind the words.
- Try to plan a time for “goodbye”, like a last play date. Make sure you child knows that this is “goodbye”.
- Your child may still feel sad. Although you cannot take away the sadness, you can be there for comfort.
- Talk about the “why” – helps children understand why “goodbyes” are necessary.
- If your child is the one leaving:
- Involve them in the planning and discussions where appropriate.
- Find out who they want to say “goodbye” to.
“I can endure any ‘how’ if I have a ‘why’.” – Nietzsche
The Transition Stage
Although this is more pertinent to the family that is leaving, there are some elements that can apply to the family that stays behind.
- Involvement to Leaving stages:
- Face approaching losses squarely, while still looking forward with hope ensuring proper closure is reached, to allow the following settling in period to go ahead smoothly.
- Build a RAFT:
- Reconciliation – forgive, be forgiven, forget
- Affirmation – tell people you enjoyed working with them/that you value their friendship/send a note to neighbours/let people know you respect them and don’t leave them lightly.
- Farewells – to people, places, pets, possessions. Schedule these over some time before leaving. Some third culture kids might be losing their whole world in next week’s plane ride.
- Think destination – plan and prepare. Work out sources of support ahead of need.
- Maintaining stability through the transition stage:
- Sacred objects or clothing that retains part of their life experience.
- Connecting with other global nomads to share experiences and affirm the third culture kid way of life.
- Make a personal pact not to pack away feelings.
- Mourning the losses:
- Loss always produces grief and it will come out one way or another, whether intentionally or not. Mourning is the conscious acknowledgement of loss. So in finding little rituals and processes to mourn our loss, we enable ourselves to move on faster.
- Entering right:
- The chaotic transition stage can last days or weeks.
- The following entry stage will be smoother and more positive the more planning ahead has taken place.
- Choosing and using mentors:
- A mentor can become the bridge between worlds. Finding a positive one is important.
- Mentors help with social entry, acclimatization, feeling accepted, motivation to settle in this new place, amongst other aspects.
- Some level of screening of mentors needs to happen carefully and privately
- In all transitions we gain as well as lose.
- A few words about going ‘home’:
- More difficult because they are expected to act/be like others there.
- New classmates are not yet their peers.
- Trying to fit in and not being different (rejection of other identities)
- Being made the center of attention.
- Help them to maintain a fallback identity of being a third culture kid.
- Where is home? Home is always a sentence.
Third culture kid (TCK) is a term used to refer to children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their development years. – Wikipedia
The Benefits of Being a Third Culture Kid
- TCKs have unique opportunities to see the world firsthand and learn about it in a direct interactive way that could never be replicated in classrooms.
- TCKs develop a unique brand of confidence based in their first hand experience and knowledge of the world.
- TCKs learn to think from a global perspective and develop understanding and empathy with others from all over the world.
- TCKs learn to cope with a range of experiences and develop confident coping and problem solving skills for all sorts of issues.
- TCKs develop higher order social skills based on their cross cultural experience.
- TCKs develop a high level of tolerance and understanding for individual differences.
- TCKs who grow up playing and going to school with children of other races and cultures naturally learn that friendship and respect have nothing to do with skin colour or cultural differences.
- TCKs have opportunity to develop a strong network of friends and contacts from all over the world.
- TCKs generally feel quite comfortable with adults because they have had lots of experience with them. Generations usually mix much more in third culture communities.
- TCKs get ‘hands on’ education in geography, history, basic anthropology, social studies and language acquisition.
“ the experience should enable them to maintain a stable and positive self-image while learning new things; acquire survival skills appropriate to their own culture; identify and develop their personal creative gifts; gain access to the major fields of human thought and experience; become aware of the dominant worldviews and value orientations influencing their social world; develop the capacity to think critically and choose responsibly, and develop empathy, respect, and a capacity for dialogue with other persons including those whose primary beliefs differ from their own.”