Bushong grew up as a missionary child in Latin America, and remembers repeated farewells: “I felt as if a small part of my own heart was torn out each time I had to tell close friends goodbye, knowing that I would probably never see them again.”
She encourages discussion within families to understand how everyone’s coping with the move. “Observe your children and if you see them acting abnormal(ly) or withdrawing, talk to them about what is going on,” Bushong says in an email. “Listen and validate the feelings of grief. This will help them move forward.”
That may be more difficult in some situations. Children brought up in difficult environments, perhaps where there are incidences of violent crime, kidnapping or political unrest, may be at risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Ignoring potential problems can also store up trouble for later, when the TCK becomes an adult.
“If an individual has had a difficult experience in childhood and hasn’t been able to make sense of that, that can be carried into adult life,” cautions Kate Berger, a New Yorker who moved to The Netherlands to study and now runs the Expat Kids Club, working with schools and families handling international transitions. Still, she’s keen to emphasise that most TCKs benefit enormously from their childhood experiences.
Luckily for 21st century TCKs there is more support than ever before. Over the past two decades, schools have beefed up counselling services and increasingly provide assistance to children from the time they arrive to the time they leave.