Helping TCKs Transition
TCKs often have additional challenges in their college transition, including reverse culture shock and significant distance separation from close family and friends, among others. As we consider the role of parents during a TCKs college transition, we can learn by reflecting on the process of transplanting a young tree.
4 Minute Read
By Harmony Niphakis
The process of helping a TCK transition from the field to their first year in college is unique and requires intentionality from parents. We know every tree, like every child, has unique needs. While some trees require much attention from the gardener, others will surprise us by how well they thrive with limited attention. Even with the unique differences of each individual, these five steps apply:
Step 1: Find a Good Location
Before you begin the uprooting process, be sure that your TCKs will be moving to a location where there is potential for them to thrive. As with any individual, TCKs need opportunities to grow spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Keep this in mind as you help them with the college search.
TCKs will thrive on land that offers nutrients-
Spiritually: be sure there are opportunities for attending church, Christian communities on secular campuses, and/or mentorship possibilities.
Emotionally: access to friends, maybe family nearby, access to and budget for counseling services. Even consider the climate and sun (If a TCK is prone to SAD, it is worth making the decision to attend a college in more southern states which have more sun and warmth.).
Physically: think food, sleep, exercise, safety, healthy food options, opportunities for exercise or outdoor fun, safe campus, etc.
Step 2: Uproot with Care
During the uprooting, a tree experiences trauma. Roots WILL be broken! The key is to keep their main roots intact.
For TCKs, the most important roots are their relationship with God and their relationship with their family. Affirm the dependability and presence of these two roots. This uprooting process can begin even up to a year before departure, give or take. R.A.F.T is a great tool to help your TCKs walk through their next transition in a healthy manner. Take into consideration the timing with this transition so the TCK is not unnecessarily uprooted at the wrong time.
Step 3: Plant with Extra Nutrients
When a tree has recently been uprooted it will be lacking the nutrients that the roots once provided. It is weak from the stressful transition. You may even notice this in the loss of leaves and perhaps some drooping branches.
This is normal for a TCK, too. Plant your TCK in their new college home with as many physical needs met as you can. Try recruiting your ministry partners or church to help purchase all those college necessities with an online registry. Don’t forget their emotional and spiritual needs: they will need affirmation, love, and prayer. They are extra fragile in this stage, so give them grace.
Step 4: Stake Your Tree
A young tree may struggle to stand straight after its transplanting, particularly during severe weather. To help it grow straight, a stake is planted firmly next to the tree to support and guide it. Soft material is torn into strips and tied to connect the tree to the support stake.
Similarly, parents have the privilege of acting as the stake that guides their children in the right direction. Notice that the stake is tied gently to the tree. Parents have the challenging role of providing guidance and pointing to truth while still allowing their children to make their own decisions.
Step 5: Allow Time for Rooting
Until the newly planted tree has rooted enough to stand firm on its own, it will need a little extra love and attention. Every tree is unique and requires different levels of attention. Some will root fast with little help. Others will take longer to root and require much more support from the gardener.
Give your freshly transitioned TCKs time to adapt to their new environment. It won’t be easygoing at the start. Once the honeymoon phase is over, your TCKs may begin to notice more of the symptoms of the stress from their recent transition. They may feel anxious, tired, homesick, or depressed. Have grace and continue to remind them their main roots (God and family) are still intact. Send them encouraging notes, care packages, or other acts of kindness to lift their spirits.
Step 6: Step Back and Enjoy
Finally, your tree has rooted and the stake has been removed, allowing it to sway during strong winds. While scary to watch, many trees need the sway of the wind to strengthen their trunks.
At some point, your TCKs are able to thrive on their own. This does not mean that you are now useless or that they no longer need you. You can still help them grow by continuing to love, encourage, share wisdom and so on. Don’t forget, be a good listener.
Commit your TKCs to God, trusting that He will provide for all their needs, just as He provides the sun and the rain. Watch them grow, thanking God for his provision. And pray. Pray without ceasing.
Harmony Niphakis spent her early years as an OMF Missionary Kid in Thailand. She committed her life to God at a young age and now serves as a TCK Advocate with OMF (U.S.) where she finds great joy in equipping and caring for missionary kids of all ages. In her spare time, Harmony enjoys being out in nature, gardening, going out for coffee, and spending time with her family.