Third Culture Kids - Resources for Parenting TCKs

Resources for Parenting TCKs

Third Culture Kids are incredibly special, unique and amazing.

They have their own world built from the beautiful cultures they’ve lived in, the experiences they’ve had and the people they’ve met.

Their lives are a blend of home and abroad in ways that we can’t fully understand.

By definition from Wikipedia, Third culture kids (TCKs) or third culture individuals (TCIs) are terms used to refer to children raised in a culture other than their parents’ (or the culture of the country given on the child’s passport, where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years. They are exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences.

As parents of Third Culture Kids, we have the unbelievable opportunity of seeing their precious lives unfold before us.

But with that opportunity comes the great responsibility of guiding, helping, raising and nurturing them as they grow up.

Unfortunately, the very fact that we are raising third culture kids means there is no specific parenting guide book or tool for our specific children.

Third Culture Kids - Resources for Parenting TCKs

We can read about TCKs, learn about their unique challenges and go to conferences across the globe.

But our kids are creating their own culture which makes each and every third culture family very different from the next.

My girls will have a different set of experiences, circumstances, challenges and struggles than your TCKs.

Yet, as different as we all will be, there are principles that will universally help us all.

We need a combination of resources to parent our third culture kids.

You’ll notice these resources are strongly built around faith. Faith is the cornerstone of everything we do. And when we struggle or find ourselves floundering in our parenting, these are the principles we come back to again and again to help us through.

These are parenting resources that will specifically help a third culture family in very practical ways.

But things that will impact any family living anywhere in the world.

Third Culture Kids Resources

1} Devotions – DO DEVOTIONS with your kids! Every single night. This is the most important part of the day for parenting. They are processing the day, quieting their minds for the night and needing your help to guide them. Devotions so often speak directly to my girls in ways that I could never do on my own. God’s Word comes alive and the Holy Spirit has a chance to whisper comfort, support, help, guidance and love. Don’t miss it. Parenting at bedtime is vital for your family. We’ve listed our top devotionals for families here.

2} Christian Music – Fill your home with faith-based music. Some amazing conversations, lessons and teaching moments happen through music. A few Sundays ago, the worship team was leading everyone in the song Reckless Love. At one point in the song, it says, “Oh, it chases me down, fights till I’m found, leaves the 99.” Abby leaned over and said, “What does that mean? What is the 99?” I was able to explain the reference to Jesus as our Shepherd and how he loves every one of his sheep. Later that day, I heard Abby playing and singing that song on her iPad while she put her laundry away. Play Christian music in your home, put the Christian radio on in your car, talk about the lyrics and pay close attention to the words that stand out to your kids.

3} Encouraging Songs – We have so much fun with this. Whether it is “Get Back Up Again” from Trolls or “Try Everything” from Zootopia or “Overcomer” by Mandisa, we are always on the look out for good, clean, fun songs with powerful lyrics to encourage, strengthen and challenge our girls. These songs help them keep going, keep trying, and keep smiling. For Christmas this year, I gave each of the girls a song, something specific to their current challenges. I printed out the lyrics and wrote a special note to go with the song for them to keep in their journals. Songs are a powerful, fun way to encourage your kids!

4} Family Experiences – We can’t just parent with our words. Our kids need experiences to build a strong family foundation. These experiences bring conversations, develop trust and help your family grow closer together. Especially when you are in another country, your kids need to sense this family foundation beneath them and a way to practically walk that out is through fun, family experiences. Cook meals together, go hiking, explore a new city, or plan a family game night. I know you know this. But sometimes, we need a gentle reminder to put it on the calendar to make it happen. Family experiences are a valuable tool in your third culture kids parenting kit.

Healthy Ways to Say Goodbye

5} Create Conversations – This does take some planning and intentional creativity. Especially if you have teenagers.  A few ways I do this is by talking about blog posts I find specific to third culture kids. Something like “10 Questions Missionary Kids Dread” or “10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked” were great posts that sparked deep conversations with our girls. We love conversation games like these from Harvest Time Partners. With age specific questions, you can dig in to some great topics with your TCKs. For third culture kids, it is more than just “How was your day?” You have to be prepared to go deeper, talk longer and have meaningful, solid conversations with your kids. This book was also helpful for conversations with our girls.

6 Reminders for Our TCKs

6} Technology – I love texting with my girls. We have the most fun, quick conversations via texts. Sometimes we text in French, or Franglais usually. I send them a quote I find or a verse for the day or a funny meme or a cute picture. They send me emojis and make me guess what they are trying to say. Sometimes they will text a phrase or thought that they might not say out loud. This gives you greater insight into what is going on inside their heads. We are also very upfront with our girls about knowing their passwords, approving apps they use, checking their social media, seeing their texts with friends, or reading an email here and there. This is another way to be involved, parent their actions online and stay in touch with what is happening in their conversations with other people. Don’t miss out on being a part of your kids lives through technology!

{We love technology in marriage too}

third culture kids

7} Bible Verses – Since the girls were very small, I’ve posted lists of verses on their bathroom mirror. Now these lists include quotes and song lyrics depending on what they are facing or experiencing. Important Verses for their day or Favorite Verses… the lists can go on and on! Feel free to click those links and print them for your kids.

8} Creative Discipline – Find ways to step outside the box in your discipline. Raising third culture kids makes this even more important. I love the book Creative Correction by Lisa Whelchel. Also, don’t be afraid of saying no to your kids. Parenting through the word NO can be a powerful tool in our world today. Reminding them that life is not about them. A lesson TCKs learn every day.

Preparing Kids for Furlough

9} Foster Sibling Relationships – We have worked hard since the girls were young to help them build their relationships with each other. As we move and travel, this is key to them being able to spend time together, have friends and work together. It does help that they are close in age and like mostly the same things at the same time. But we are careful in their interactions with each other, making sure they do things to build relationship, not tear it down. That they realize the value of their sisterhood and respect the beautiful gift of growing up together. Other people come and go, but sisters last forever.

10} Built In Margins – For busy, traveling families, this is incredibly important. Make sure there is time built in for your family. Time for those family activities, time for devotions, time for days off, time for getting to bed early, time for homework, time for dinner at the table. Time. Build in those strong margins that will protect your family and give your third culture kids the safe space they need to process and grow. One way we do this is by having home church once in awhile. When we are overseas, going to church as a family is a very different experience than when we are in America. We will use Right Now Media or LifeChurch for these times. Sometimes, I create our own materials for holidays or other special times. Whether it is a weekend away or a day at home, building in margins and time for family has been one of the best things we’ve done.

11} Strong Family Messaging – For Jeremy, this has been giving our girls a few family mottos. Life’s not fair, don’t doubt your dad, and so on. I’ve added a few like “always fill a water bottle” and “there is always a Nellie in the group!” to the mix. These things are funny and we love rehearsing them but they are real life lessons our girls will ALWAYS remember. Life isn’t always fair. They need to trust their parents. They should see a need and fill it. There will always be a Nellie Olsen in the group and they need to know how to interact positively with them. We remind them they are Goodwins and Goodwins push through, stay positive and follow hard after God. We tell them each morning that they will be awesome and rock it! We go to bed knowing that God is with us. These strong messages are daily things that will help us as third culture families. As the world around us changes, these messages will remain steadfast in the foundation of our kids’ lives.

A few more resources:

Looming Transitions by Amy Young with the Family Activities Guide

Third Culture Kids: The Experiences of Growing Up Among Worlds by David Polluck

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn Gardner

Hiding in the Hallway: Anchoring Yourself as an MK by Jeanne Harrison

*You can read my review of Hiding in the Hallway here

Parenting third culture kids takes a lot of resources working together. It takes the Holy Spirit’s daily guidance.

We are not perfect in this and there are seasons we struggle in many of these areas. As we regroup and start again, these principles stand strong and help us get back on track.

We need creative, Biblical principles to raise our kids to love Jesus and passionately pursue Him through their lives.

What are some things you’ve learned as parents of third culture kids? What is something you could add to this list?


  1. Thank you for taking the time to share your learnings along your journey. This is so practical and relevant. Keep up the great work.

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