Rock Paper Scissors -or- Helping Kids Thrive in Transition (Part One: Rock)


I could easily be convinced that making all decisions, major and minor, foreign and domestic by means of Rock Paper Scissors is the purest and most diplomatic form of government . . . but that’s a different blog.


This one is about kids

.  Kids like mine.  Kids who have been through or are right in the middle of major life transitions.  My kids have done it before (when we moved to China) and are doing it again (now in America).  In fact if transition were


a person he would be one of the most familiar faces in our family and my kids would know him well.

The question is, “would they like him?”

Would transition be the cool uncle who brings them great gifts, opens their eyes to new things and takes them to awesome places or would he be the creepy uncle who puts them in a headlock, gives them noogies* and says, “pull my finger”?

Transition is one relationship that my kids cannot ignore.  So instead of complaining about it, ignoring it or making excuses for it when we know it

is coming over for the Holidays I would prefer that they develop a healthy outlook towards it.

I think Rock Paper Scissors is the answer.



Let’s start with ROCK

Rocks don’t move when everything else does.  Wait.  Flip that around.  When everything else moves . . . rocks don’t.

If your kids are like mine (and you are like me) you worry sometimes.  You worry that transition is going to break them.  You worry that the constant moving pieces in their every day lives are going to be too much for their fragile minds to handle.  You worry that all of the third culture kid stereotypes and statistics are going to do permanent damage.

•   “I don’t know how to answer the question, ‘where am I from?'”

•   “I’m not sure where home is”

    • •   “I feel rootless”

This is where the rock part comes in.  I am genuinely convinced of what I’m about to say however it is attached to a HUGE BUT  (don’t go there).


(BUT . . . If there are no rocks it does)



Rocks are the pieces that don’t move when everything else does.  They are the things that will always be present and real and unchanging even when everything else in your child’s life feels like a tornado.  Rocks are the objects that always travel with you, the traditions that you never miss and the quirky little mannerisms that make your family distinct.  The single requirement is that they can and do remain constant no matter where you live or how much your surroundings shift.  When everything else changes . . . they don’t.  There’s a good chance that they’re what you roll your eyes at as a kid and remember with great fondness as an adult.

What are your rocks?

You’re not alone if your first response is the big stuff.  Love, Family, God.  No argument from me.  Those are rocks for sure but they’re not what I’m talking about here.  I’m going one level more specific.  If love is an unchanging rock in your family, how do you express it to your kids? And could you still do it that way if you lived in Mexico City, or Nairobi or the International Space Station?  If God is an immovable rock in your faith how do your kids know it?


There can be tremendous stability in a home that is in consistent transition when kids know  . . . really know . . . that some things never change.


Here are Five Ideas of the Practical Sort . . . 


1.  Rock Your Family Night

Lots of families have family night but it takes on life when you give it a personality of it’s own.  Pizza and popcorn are the rocks in our family night.  From there we watch a movie or play a game but pizza and popcorn are the non-negotiables.  No matter where in the world we have been so far we have successfully found some variation of these two things.  We have scoured unfamiliar cities to scrounge up some dreadful, nasty pizza and stale, practically petrified popcorn but we have always arisen victorious and family night has lived on.

What can you add to your family night that is 100% transferrable to any location and will become something that your kids recognize as a symbol of the strength of your family?


2.  Rock Your Own Family Day

Think of it.  What if June 14th was (insert your family name here) Extravaganza Celebration Day?  Think back to your childhood.  Which days stand out more than any others?  Remember blowing out candles on your birthday cake? Waking up your parents on Christmas morning?  Passing out love notes or ears of hardened feed corn with your 2nd grade dream girls name on it which you spelled out by meticulously removing one kernel at a time in hopes that she might choose you as her Valentine over Chris Tomkins?*  Anyone?  Me Neither.

What if there were one extra special day of the year that belonged entirely to your family?  A holiday just for you.

You decide what the traditions are.  You choose the special foods, write the special songs and buy the special gifts.  Take the day off work.  Pull your kids out of school.  Play it up and make it something worth looking forward to every year.  Your kids will grow to love it and you can celebrate no matter where you live.

Declare it to be so.  Pick a day and name it “The Annual Festival of the Joneses Day” (only change it to your name – that’s our day).



flat josiah3.  Rock a Family Mascot

If you’ve lived overseas, you’ve more than likely been asked to accompany “Flat Stanley” on a tour of your neighborhood.  Flat Stanley is a brilliant idea where 1st graders color Stanley, cut him out and send him to visit friends all over the world.  Then they compile the pictures of his travels to the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall and Grandma’s back yard.  Stanley’s got it good.

What if your family had it’s own Stanley?  Only instead of traveling without you he only went where you go.  Important side note: it’s not essential that you call him Stanley.  You can call him anything you like.  Call him Goober if you want to.

Including a family mascot, whether it is a colored piece of paper, a stuffed animal or a rubber chicken, in your family pictures is a fun way to run a simple unifying thread through your memories.  Think of the wall of pictures that you will someday have with your kids at various ages in different places all accompanied by a rubber chicken named Goober.

Let your kids choose a family mascot who will accompany you from this point forward on all of your adventures.


4.  Rock the Old Traditions

Holiday traditions are an extremely important part of building stability in chaos and giving your kids a connection to your passport culture even if they have never lived there.  The most memorable traditions though are the customized family ones that you and your kids can own and will stick with them forever.  This is your chance to upgrade the run of the mill celebrations to distinctly yours.  It can also be a good chance to incorporate your host culture and your home culture if you are living cross culturally.

For example:

  • We always sing happy birthday in English, Chinese and Korean.  It’s a tradition we picked up in China because all three languages were often represented in any given birthday party but now it’s a part of who we are.
  • On Christmas Eve we give each of our kids a small amount of money, draw names between the four of us, split up at the mall and buy small gifts for each other in one hour.  Then we get ice cream.
  • We take a picture of our kids every year in the same Santa hat.

Be creative.  Make a plan to customize the old traditions. 


5.  Rock the Generosity

Simply put, I want to do things that build character in my kids.  I don’t want them to simply see me doing something generous now and again.  I want generosity to be a rock that they see in me no matter what else changes.  This can be a tough one because generosity wears different robes depending on the culture it is being expressed in.  Giving gifts for example, always comes attached to a cultural obligation.  Where I come from it is humble appreciation.  Not expressing appropriate gratitude can be extremely rude and may impact a relationship.  In China, however, the obligation is repayment.  Not repaying a gift or a good deed, with something of equal or greater value may lead to a loss of face and/or strained relationships.

Consider the cultural implications and commit to living generously.  Ask your kids for ideas.  They’re smarter than you.


Kids who thrive through transition ARE an option.  Rocks are a decent place to start.  Paper and Scissors are good to . . . but that’s another blog.


I’m anxious to hear about the rocks that have worked for you.


*For those with no older brothers or creepy uncles
noog • ie  – ˈno͝ogē
noun – a hard poke or grind with the knuckles, esp. on a person’s head.


*Chris Tomkin’s name has been changed to avoid any legal recourse surrounding the defamation of his conniving, two bit, no good, box of chocolate giving, no creativity having character (or lack thereof).  But you know who you are Chris Tomkins.  You know.


  1. I am a transient teacher, I’ve worked in the pacific islands, and most recently in Indonesia for 3 years. In 5 weeks time I will relocate once again to China!
    I enthusiastically agree with rocks. Even as a single adult expat, my rocks are essential to sur-thrive-al.
    Here are my rocks:
    # cook books. Having access to a wide variety of recipes, being able to recreate food from home, and to share a bit of my own family culture with a new community makes me feel at home in any place.

    # Photos. Printed out and stuck on the wall of every house I live in. The same photos, the same people, and every year a few more added to the collection.

    # The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Because as much as I love exploring, my own culture and in particular, literature, are the core of me.

    # The Complete Works of Banjo Patterson. Because I still call Australia home.

    # Singing. You can do it on trains and beaches, in kitchens and jungles, at home alone or with mates at a party. If you can breathe then you can sing and you don’t need money and it doesn’t weigh a thing. More often than not, if you start it, others will join you, irrespective of the language they speak.

    • We’ve lived in nine different locations since my almost 7 yr old was born. A few things that have followed us everywhere are:

      Snowflakes. The first week of December, regardless of where we are and the climate, we break out white paper and make snowflakes. After we’ve made about a bazillion we cover all the windows and my son makes it his job to point them out to everyone who comes in the door. “LOOK! It’s snowing.” This year he made a snowman too and it ws such a hit I think he’ll make it perminant.

      Music Time: As often as possible we gatheer together in the evening, DH breaks out his guitar and the kids play along with maracas and tambourines while we sing our favorites; a little bit gospel, a little bit bluegrass, a little bit CCM, a little bit Hindi.

      Olympics: we always watch these, even if it means sitting up in bed waaay past bedtime watching them online in a language we don’t understand (cause who in the tropics are going to televise the Winter Olympics).

      Holi: We lived in India when DS was a baby and played Holi with our neighbors. For those not in the know it is a crazy fun holiday which involves dumping colored water and colored powder on each other. We liked it so much we still do it. Even with living in a frigid part of the world we find an Indian grocery store, buy some powder, rustle up some Indian university students or a few awesome homescholers and throw colors on each other and declare HOLI HAI!

  2. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days. We go back and forth between Japan and Australia, but more Japan than Australia. Here are a few of our rocks:
    * Birthdays. We (almost always) give gifts at breakfast and have a family party with a special cake (often themed for the kids) for dinner.
    * Camping. We’ve been camping in Japan and Australia 20 times in the last five years. It turns out that no matter which place you camp in, there is a feeling of familiarity about the routine.
    * Recipes. I have a bunch of relatively basic meals and sweets that I like and my family likes. I make them regularly no matter which country we’re in.
    * Music definitely comes with us. Easy now that everything can be digital.
    * Each other, of course. (We’re a family of five, three boys.)
    * Nightly routine. Including dinner together, then teeth, individual Bible and prayer times, reading.
    *SQUIRT. Special Quiet Uninterrupted Individual Reading Time. Well, theoretically all these. Basically reading or doing some quiet activity on your own, preferably on your bed or a couch. We do this routinely on weekends and holidays after lunch, when feasible. The boys don’t even fight it now.
    * This year in Australia we’ve gone to great lengths to allow one of our boys to continue his love of wrestling. The continuity has helped our teenager more than he realises.


Go ahead and comment. You know you want to.



Sign up here to get an email when new posts come out on The Culture Blend.  No spam and I promise not to share your address with bad guys.

Success! Check your email to prove that you are not a robot (unless you are a robot) and you're all set.

%d bloggers like this: