Tuesday Topic: Helping kids deal with being foreigners

A couple of weeks ago as my son was looking out the window of our car at a crowd of people, he asked, “Mom, are we the only people in the world who aren’t Russian?” He of course has American friends and family that he loves and knows well, but I found his statement telling about how he feels about being different from most of the people in his world. He is 4 and a half years old and already seems to struggle more with feeling different than his older sister ever has. At the same age, she thought that she was Russian and had a harder time grasping the fact that she was in fact from a different country. These two kids have been raised in the same place with much of the same circumstances, but they seem to perceive their different-ness based on their own personalities.

How do you help your kids deal with the fact that they are the from another culture? How do you speak to and help your kids who feel pain over this fact? How do you help your kids value and know their “home” culture if they don’t seem to really miss it or have a longing to know it? Do you have any other thoughts on this topic that you’d like to share?

(If you would like to pose a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to formissionarymoms@gmail.com . Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, and specify also if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

6 Responses to “Tuesday Topic: Helping kids deal with being foreigners”

  1. 1 Tammy May 8, 2012 at 11:39 am

    When we first arrived in the city where we were going to live (after language school), we were at the post office waiting for my husband. My then 4 yo son says, “Mom, where are all the normal people?” What he meant is where are the white people. Well, we were the only white people in that town! My other son never commented on feeling different even though he was 5. The funny thing is that now that they are 21 and 20 they still have the same outlook. My older son loves telling people he grew up in Africa. It’s part of his identity. We’ve struggled over the years trying to get him to understand American culture and adapt where necessary. Whereas my other son loves being back in America and never tells people where he grew up. He just never liked to stand out in a crowd, and still doesn’t. (Which isn’t easy even in America with his red hair!) Then there is our last born child who is 14. She is just as much at home in Africa as in America. She can go back and forth between both cultures so easily. She never misses either one because she is content in both. I suppose each child is different and we need to recognize that and help them along the way. Not that I have answers, I just have experience in seeing this played out in the lives of my own children. I look forward to reading what others have to say!

  2. 2 Melissa May 8, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I appreciate this topic because we are about to move to the Middle East, where my blonde-haired, blue-eyed children are going to look very different, and likely receive a lot of attention because of it. My 7-yr-old daughter is one who doesnt like to stand out in crowds (whereas my 3-yr-old son enjoys every minute of it!), so I look forward to hearing what people suggest. Thank you always for this blog – it has ministered to me so much!

  3. 3 Kara Coe May 9, 2012 at 11:50 am

    It’s so good to read others’ comments, and realize the importance of personality differences!

    We have really valued TCK books and conferences for our kids. I highly recommend conferences that are intentional to help kids understand their lives! That has been more valuable than anything we say or do.

    We value local (Russian friends) but also have responded to our kids’ expressed desires for making English-speaking friends. Just today we invited 5 families over to play baseball on our school field. A few Russian friends came along, but we still mostly spoke English and enjoyed the cultural break.

    I guess we try to model the fact that we love that we are Americans, (taking Thanksgiving off of national school, celebrating the 4th of July, playing baseball) but that we also love Russia and Russians. The more healthy, mature Russian believers they know, the better they can understand that the real difference is spiritual, not national.

    I will say that I think being ‘foreign’ is a bit useful to help our kids get their values from us rather than their peers. I think it’s easier to raise kids in a foreign public school where they know they are different, than it would be in the US, where they would melt right in to the secular (or nominal Christian) culture. I love that our kids’ closest friends are all other MKs.

  4. 4 richelle May 11, 2012 at 9:13 am

    as has already been mentioned – each child is so different and what might work with one doesn’t always necessarily work the with next…

    with our kids we talk about how we are different and how we are the same – in both (or more) places… trying to celebrate but also grieve with them each time it comes up.

    we’ve used this as a teaching tool… for scripturally, every Jesus follower is a stranger and an alien in this world – and every time that “foreign feeling” comes up, it can remind us of the home into which we’ve been adopted and where someday we will finally and forever belong. so in both the celebration and in the grieving, we are reminded of our Lord.

    we also work very hard to make sure our home is a place where each child feels totally comfortable and free to be him/herself.

  5. 5 Phyllis May 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I need help with the second part of the question (valuing “home” culture). Our children consider themselves Russian. Our four-year-old recently asked me if Russian is the normal language. 🙂 I do hope that if they feel comfortable in our family culture and where they live now, they should be able to adjust well to wherever they end up later. I hope.

    It is nice reading about other mixed up families and hearing how different it is for everyone.

    Oh, a funny story: recently we were in Poland to renew visas. After listening to people around her for a while, our daughter just started babbling, without any meaning to what she was saying at all. Then she whispered to me, “That’s so they’ll think I’m from China!”

  6. 6 Becka May 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I tell my children over and over again (and myself to) that we are not citizens of this world and as such, we do not have a “home” here on earth. We have missed several US national holidays. They slipped by without us realizing it. It isn’t a big deal to us. During Awanas (Oansas) recently, I realized my children knew the pledge to the Ecuadorian flag but did not know the one for the US. My oldest who knew the pledge from VBS’ in the US was very concerned about this. We went over our national pledge a few times, but I admit I wasn’t whole hearted about it. I feel guilty that I don’t care more, but at the same time, my children are very grounded in their eternal heritage.

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