They’re Kids, They’ll Adjust: A Dangerous Myth We Must Dispel
When God calls a family to cross-cultural ministry, it can provide the children with a valuable cross-cultural experience that leaves a lasting positive impression OR it can leave them with emotional and spiritual scars. Much of the outcome depends on how parents guide their children through the crucial time of transition. PROACTION IS VITAL! We encourage you to devise a strategic plan for helping your children adapt and spend quality time with your children implementing this plan.
A good beginning is to look at you (and their) expectations. Here are some key points to consider:
- Have reasonable expectations for your children. Consider age, personality, and learning style.
- Help your children develop realistic expectations through research and role-play.
- Contemplate changes they will encounter: language, food, weather, transportation, dress, living conditions, customs, education, and interpersonal relationships.
- Focus on positive aspects of you cross-cultural ministry experience.
- Acknowledge potential problems and brainstorm about biblical solutions.
We encourage you to implement any of the following activities that fit your particular situation and adjust them as necessary for your children’s ages.
Write a family statement of purpose (children’s participation varies according to age). Do everything you can to help your child realize he is an important part of your global working team. Discuss the natural skills and spiritual gifts of each family member and some practical ways each person can contribute to the family’s success in living and ministering in a second culture. This will help children feel significant.
Know your child well. What causes anxiety to increase? How does he show stress? What helps him deal with stress? Can he identify feelings and express them appropriately? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can help him adapt more easily.
Provide special times for saying good-bye to special people, places and things. Help assemble a personal picture album (or scrapbook) for each child before they leave “home.” Help create a new album containing pictures of the new culture so he can show friends and family upon your return.
Allow your child to make decisions about what he wants to take. For example: show him two items and let him choose one to take. Encourage your child to give the second item to a needy child. Pack so special items are accessible when you arrive.
Keep any familiar routines you can. Read familiar books; sing familiar songs; practice familiar mealtime and bedtime customs. Communicate necessary routines to child-care providers.
Reassure your child often of God’s continual presence. Tell and read about how He has helped you and others through times of transition.
Search for appropriate people in your new culture who are willing to participate in your child’s life. Provide a surrogate extended family.
Affirm cooperative attitudes and actions. Reward efforts to adapt. Develop an accountability system (such as keeping a chart with stickers) for accomplishments.
Talk about, read about, and role-play new situations before they happen. Give your child adequate information to prepare for new situations. Teach initial language phrases, such as: Hello, Good-Bye, Please, Thank You, Where is the bathroom?
Realize that your child will probably adapt to the culture more quickly than you. However, he will also more than likely quickly adopt your (real or perceived) attitudes toward the global work, culture, and people. Young children absorb everything around them and use it to form their belief system. Children grasp your verbal and non-verbal responses. Your role model is paramount whatever the age of your child!