Helping Missionary Kids Make the Transition From Field to Home

How can missionary parents ease the transition for their children when moving back home from the mission field? Our oldest son, who is eleven-and-a-half, has been struggling for several years here in our host country. After trying to help him adjust in a number of ways, we've decided to follow the recommendation of our leadership team and go home early. Our two other children love it here, but I have a feeling they'll be fine with our decision. Still, I'm wondering how we can help all of our kids make a positive beginning when we get back to the States?

We appreciate the unique challenges and stresses missionaries and their families face as God’s front-line troops in fulfilling the Great Commission. We want to encourage you with the thought that the Lord is pleased with you and with the sacrifices you’ve made for the sake of His kingdom. We’d also like you to know that, in our opinion, you’re doing the right thing by following your leadership team’s advice and making an early transition back to the U.S. The Lord’s work is important, to be sure, but it’s vital to remember that a parent’s first responsibility is to his or her own children (see 1 Timothy 3:5).

Any major move can be hard on children, and this is especially true when it involves a transition from one cultural setting to another. And if your other children enjoy your present situation as much as you’ve indicated, it’s likely that they will be facing some adjustment issues. A move of any kind always entails a certain amount of mourning, and mom and dad have to be willing to give their kids the opportunity and the time necessary to grieve. Part of this means making sure your kids have the chance to say goodbye to the friends, places, and things that they’ve become attached to. If possible schedule time for these farewells during the last few days and weeks before your departure.

Even as they are saying goodbye, begin helping them think about where your family will be going. Without creating unrealistic expectations, encourage them with some of the positives things they can look forward to and expect to find once you get there.

Susan Miller also offers some additional ways of helping kids make a major transition as smoothly as possible in her book, After the Boxes Are Unpacked.

  • Don’t play down the importance of the changes they’re going through. Telling them that “everything will work out” isn’t necessarily the best approach.
  • Encourage them to express their fears and concerns. If they are too young to verbalize their thoughts, help them. If you have teenagers, ask them to express their feelings. Let them do the talking and make up your mind to be a good listener.
  • Whatever you do, don’t deny your children’s feelings. That will only increase their sense of isolation and frustration.
  • Don’t feel that you need to shoulder all the responsibility for the move. It’s not up to you to solve all of your children’s problems.
  • Remember that it’s normal for some children to experience a temporary regression in behavior after a move. If you have school-aged kids, you may even see a drop in their academic performance. If that’s the case, don’t panic. Give them the time and space they need in order to adjust to the new situation.

You can also smooth the adjustment process by being willing to talk with your children about your own emotional reaction to the change. Express your feelings openly and invite them to do the same. By sharing on this level, you can strengthen the ties that bind you together. In the meantime, there’s no reason why your entire family can’t find ways to maintain past friendships via Skype, phone calls, and e-mails. You can do all of this while also enabling your kids to re-establish their old connections and develop new ones in your church and community. If your family makes a move during the summer months, it’s important to help your children find social outlets in your new community prior to the beginning of the school year. Help them get plugged into a church group, a sports league, or a youth organization as soon as possible. Most of all, be patient. Life will likely return to normal, but it won’t happen overnight.

Once you’ve returned to the States, we’d like you to feel free to call and speak with one of our counselors if you think this might be helpful.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

After the Boxes Are Unpacked: Moving On After Moving In

Navigating Through the Challenges of Moving I-II

Missionary Family Counseling Services

John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership

Surviving the Stress of Moving

Kids and Moving

Moving . . . Again

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