What Missionaries Ought to Know about Children’s
Dr. Ronald Koteskey
this as a pdf
People living and
working in other cultures may think that they do not need to give much thought
to taking their preschool and primary children along. Parents may think that
although the children may not want to go, they will soon adjust and be happy in
the new culture.
scenario is often the case, it is not always so. Children who do not want to
go sometimes never adjust, refuse to learn the language, refuse to make
friends, and talk about going home for years.
increase the likelihood that their preadolescent children will make the
transitions to and from the host culture successfully. Following are
suggestions that may increase the chances of your child having a good
experience in another country.
On your mark! (Parenting)
Probably the most
important factor in the adjustment of children is the relationship between
their parents. Someone has said, “The best thing a father can do for his
children is to love their mother.” Although parents may not realize it,
children are aware when problems exist between their parents.
Living in another
culture is difficult for any marriage, so if you have not developed good
methods of communication and resolving conflict, please take time to do so
before going. Then you will be able to adequately do the following P’s of
- Presence. Parents are available
for children. Of course, there will be times of separation, but when not out
of town, parents should “schedule” time with their children.
- Provision. Parents provide for
their children’s needs, not only financial and physical needs but also
spiritual, relational, and emotional ones.
- Protection. Parents protect
children by setting boundaries and by administering consequences as well as by
their physical presence in times of danger.
- Permission. Parents give
permission to express emotions in age-appropriate ways as well as to try new
things and take risks.
Get set! (Preparation)
need not be involved when the idea of serving cross-culturally first comes up,
they want to have their voice heard as a part of the family when it is
seriously discussed. Talking with them about it is vitally important rather
than just telling them they are going. Even preschool children can process an
amazing amount of information and should be included when considering the
move. In addition to generally talking about the move, talk about specific
things in their new culture and experience parts of it if possible.
- Talk about the food they will be
eating when there.
- Cook some of the food while still
- If possible eat at a restaurant
that serves such food, and let the children hear the language and see the
actions and appearance of the cooks and servers.
- Talk about the place the family
will be living and look at pictures of it.
- If children are in school, talk
about their school and look at pictures of it.
In all of this,
stress positive things about the move and discuss options open to them months
in advance of the move.
When you are
packing and realize that you cannot possibly take everything you planned, be
very careful to let children have a voice in what you leave behind. The
following “worn out” or “insignificant” items may be very important to a child:
- An torn blanket
- A wrinkled picture
- A broken toy
- A ragged teddy bear
You may tell a child to leave
a cherished teddy bear behind and you will get him or her a new one when you
get there. Although that sounds good, it may be the emotional equivalent of
someone telling you to leave your baby at home because you can always have
another one when you get there.
If you are into
the popular pastime of scrapbooking, be sure to take some of those scrapbooks
along. They can be invaluable for keeping memories alive. Photo albums are
great as well. If you are really cramped for space, remember that in this
digital age you may still have the photos in your computer or burned on a CD
that can be taken along easily because it is so small and weighs only ounces.
Goodbyes are very
important. We tend to say goodbye to people, but we also need to bid farewell
to other things as well:
- Places. Take your child to school
to tell it goodbye, then to the church, then to the park, and so forth.
- Pets. A cat, a dog, or even a
fish may seem like a part of the family to a child. He or she needs to tell it
goodbye and see who will be caring for it.
- Possessions. You obviously cannot
take everything your children have, so let them give their things away (or sell
them at a yard sale) so that they know who will have them.
Life there (Possibilities)
Once you arrive
the choices may seem endless where children are involved. You may want your
children to play with the national children who live nearby. However, your
children have so many strange things to adjust to that the thought of playing
with boys and girls who do not speak their language may be daunting at first.
You may want your
children to learn the national language as children so that they can speak it
without an accent and think in it like you can never do. However, still
mastering the intricacies of their own language, they may find the new language
confusing and not want to learn it.
You may want your
children to take in the incredible scenery of the surrounding countryside or
the important historical monuments and buildings in your area. However, they
would rather play in the sandbox in the back yard.
The number of
potential choices may seem endless, and you will have to use your own
judgment. However, remember that there is a big difference between your
spending time with your children and their spending time with you.
- If you are all doing something
they want to do (play in the sandbox), you are spending time with them.
- If you are all doing something you
want to do (seeing the monuments), they are doing something with you.
Of course, you do
not have to do everything with them, but be sure that you do enough
“somethings” with them. Better to end up with good memories of the sandbox
than with bad memories of the monuments.
School (Preschool &
School is a very
important part of the children’s lives, and you have a broad range of options
open to you:
- Local Christian school
- Local international school
- Correspondence courses
(traditional or DVD)
- Distance learning (internet or
- National school (public or
- Home school (alone or cooperative)
- Assisted home school (home and
- Boarding school (mission or
- Satellite school (small or multigrade
As you and your
children face these choices, remember that no one type of schooling is
recommended for all children or even one child over his or her lifetime. Some
children flourish in one type of school while other children flourish in another. A child may do well in one school situation when five years old but need a
different one when ten years old.
This decision is
one that you are likely to revisit several times during a child’s life, so do
not be reluctant to make changes when such changes will help.
“Home” again (Passport
When you return
to your passport country, it is similar to going originally to your host
country. However, just reentering your “home” culture may be more difficult
than the original change in cultures—much to the surprise of the children. In
addition, your children are now several years older than they were then, and
the issues may be quite different. Here are some of the factors that may
- Age. One child who went as a
child may be coming back as an adolescent and have progressed to a different
way of thinking. Another child who could barely talk is now in school.
- Personality. Each child is an
individual, and the extrovert who is energized being with people may respond
quite differently from the introvert who wants to be alone.
- Experience. One child who had a
difficult time entering the host culture may dread going home while the other
who loved the transition eagerly anticipates it.
- Third culture kids. Your children
who were from one culture have now internalized another. However they do not
really feel a part of either, they are TCKs.
- Reason for leaving. If going home
at this time was on the schedule, it is quite different from one that is a
forced premature departure.
- Your attitude. If you, as
parents, are eagerly looking forward to going home, your children will have a
different attitude than if you want to stay.
- Education. If your children are
at “natural breaks” in their education (between elementary and middle school)
it may be easier than if they are leaving just a year before that break would
these issues in your decisions will likely enable your children to have a
better international experience.