Caring for Third Culture Kids

Maybe you’re wondering what a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is and why you should care for one? Are they a rare plant? An endangered species? A remote people group? If you or your church are responsible for supporting a family overseas, then you have the opportunity to care for and pray for a TCK. 

The term Third Culture Kid was first used in the 1950s to describe children who spend a significant period of their formative years outside of their parents’ culture. According to sociologist David Pollock, “The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

Why do TCKs require special care?

TCKs are unique, special and potentially fragile. They grow up between worlds – looking different to those in their host culture, and feeling different to those in their passport culture. Because of this they can struggle with what it means to belong, what is ‘home’ and what is their identity. This can lead to a sense of isolation or feeling alone.

Some typical characteristics of a TCK

Mobile – used to having to move around

Flexible/adaptable – adjust to change quickly

Culture/language – bi/multi-lingual and sensitive to other cultures

Quick to relate – connect well with people of all ages, and especially with other TCKs

Broad world view – ‘global citizens’, tend to be quite observant

Rootlessness – where am I from?

Supporting your TCKs

Try to understand from their perspective

We recently had a family visit us in our home in the Middle East with their two small children. My children were interested to observe how alien and strange everything was for their children as they experienced a different world, culture and lifestyle. I pointed out that this is how my children feel when they return to their passport culture. It was like a penny dropped. When families return for home assignment just understanding that their children may feel lost and disoriented is a big step to supporting them.

Don’t draw attention to them

Sometimes we’re so keen to celebrate returning workers that we forget to empathise with the children. They may already be feeling like they don’t belong, so making them stand up in front of the congregation to sing their host country’s national anthem won’t help them to blend!

Ask the right kind of questions

Sometimes we ask questions of our TCKs that are very challenging for them to answer. What is life like in your country? Is it good to be back ‘home’? Try and break down enquiries into smaller, specific questions. What is your favourite food in your country? What’s the hardest/best thing about being in Australia? What are you missing most about your host country?

Pray for them

Our TCKs are in such a unique position. They are growing up on the field. They know what it is to be a bridge between two cultures. They have had amazing experiences that will equip them well for adult life. But they can also be damaged by those things. There are pressures on families working overseas that can scar, hurt and damage the next generation. Prayers from supporters have a special role in building them up, protecting them and helping them grow.

  • Pray for this precious generation to grow up with a strong faith, for them to be rooted in God
  • In the midst of struggles over identity, pray for them to have a strong sense of identity in God
  • Pray for the parents to have the time, energy and patience to be able to listen to, understand and support their children
  • Recognise the vulnerabilities of TCKs and pray about how you can love and support them during home assignments.


Emma and her family are serving long-term in the Middle East. This article was kindly shared by Interserve Great Britain & Ireland.