This time of year tends to involve a lot of discussion about moving and transition. As families at international schools are often living outside their passport country, or creating friendships with those that are only temporarily in the country, it can be a time of excitement and anticipation, as well as nerves and sadness.

American sociologist David C. Pollock has produced an abundance of research about this lifestyle in relation to children, who he refers to as Third Culture Kids. When you learn that it’s time for a move, Pollock’s research provides insight on how to help children transition. His work, along with others who have gone through the experiences involved, help us to understand and navigate a time of transition.

Here is a simplified explanation of Pollock’s stages of transition for a child, infused with information from other experienced authors who weigh in on this topic.

The Leaving Stage
Upon discovering you are leaving the country, you enter into what Pollock calls the Leaving Stage.

To deny feelings of sadness, children may devalue the things they once loved in the country, trying to avoid the grief that accompanies leaving behind friends, a home and activities they will surely miss. This can include some detachment from friends, school, and activities. There is often a level of denial too as our minds try to soften

the blow. Feelings of rejection are common, as your child will increasingly be left out of plans organised for after their post-departure.

The Translation Stage
This stage might as well be called The Chaos Stage. In transitioning out of the country, regular routines, activities and norms begin to shift as bags are packed, schedules are adjusted and travel ensues. Unfortunately, the establishment of new routines and norms can take a while to establish, leaving children feeling unsettled.

As students try to adjust to new people, cultures and environments, self-esteem can suffer as their confidence in what they once knew is shattered by new ways of doing things, breaking into new social groups, and adjusting to different routines.

The Entering Stage
Eventually, children begin establishing new patterns and start to make sense of the culture in their new home.  Thus, they “enter” into this new life.

The Reinvolvment Stage
The process ends with the acceptance of the new place, new roles and the new community; the stage induces feelings of belonging, intimacy and security. 

Further reading: Pollock, D. C., & Van Reken, R. E. (2009). Third culture kids: growing up among worlds. Rev. Ed. London: Nicholas Brealey.

Kirsten Pontius is an imperfect, passionate parent, and a mindfulness and yoga instructor.  In her free time, she is an organizer and proponent of worthy causes, such as her work establishing community connections at The Giving Tree School.  She lives in Phnom Penh with her son and husband.