The holidays are finally approaching, a time that for many of us means an exciting reunion with our family and traditions. Normally, in Spain, people come together to sing Christmas carols, eat roscón on Three Kings’ Day and celebrate together the beginning of a new year. Through these traditions we get closer to our community and reinforce our sense of belonging to the culture that surrounds us, preserving our cultural identity.

For those who live in the country of their culture of origin, participation in traditional events, rites and festivities is often a natural, intuitive and simple approach to their own culture. But what happens to families who are immersed in a culture different from that of their country of origin? How do they adapt to the customs of their country of destination? How important is it for them to maintain the customs of their own culture?

Cultural identity in TCKs

Cultural identity is the unifying element within a social group. In other words, it allows people to develop a sense of belonging to a community with which they share a series of common elements. Culture, therefore, is made up of all social facts that are common to people within the same group: language, norms, values, religion, artistic manifestations, expressions, humor, symbols… Moreover, its acquisition is essential for the construction of the individual identity.

These cultural patterns are acquired through primary socialization, that is, at home, and continuously in other social contexts. That is why parents play an important role in transmitting their customs, values and traditions to their children.

As previously mentioned in this blog, one of the groups most likely to experience situations of ambiguity in framing themselves within a specific culture is that of third culture kids, TCKs (

For some of these children and adolescents, the abandonment of the activities of their culture of origin, as well as the difficulty of adapting to the cultural practices of their country of destination, constitute one of the most complex challenges they usually face: the definition of their own identity.

Cultural assimilation and distancing from roots

Through the process of cultural assimilation, these children and adolescents adapt to the characteristics of new cultures. This is a progressive, natural and essential process for their correct adaptation to a new culture and for their proper social and school functioning. However, it is usually accompanied by a loss of some of the characteristics of their original culture.

The immersion of TCKs in a new sociocultural context can generate certain barriers in the expression of typical behaviors of their culture of origin. For example, it will be much more difficult to celebrate the traditional celbrations of their culture due to the absence of context.

In addition, in the new environment, these families are involved in different dynamics and cultural expressions that may indirectly contribute to an omission or oppression of their own culture. In other words, factors related to the new culture, such as administrative issues, socioeconomic level, school, language, activities, calendar or festivities, may pose certain «obstacles» to the maintenance of the culture of origin.

This process of assimilation explains the ease with which TCKs can distance themselves from their culture of origin, developing a complex sense of «loss or abandonment of their roots», of disconnection from their traditions and of loneliness in the world.

The importance of cultural transmission: some tips for parents

The purpose of this article is to explain families that, just as adaptation to new cultures is important for TCKs, so is the maintenance of the culture of their country of origin. This is relevant to their well-being and the development of their own identity.

By transmitting the culture of origin, the parents of these children and adolescents can foster a sense of belonging to a community, facilitate the understanding of their own behavior, broaden and enrich their vision of the world, and give greater continuity to their own values and customs.

Here are some tips for transmitting your own culture to your children:
a) Maintain the language alive at home: try to make them learn the language as fluently as possible, including its expressions and gestures. Language helps us build our ideas about the world, so speaking it will help them understand and identify with your culture.
b) Don’t forget to celebrate important holidays: dress in traditional clothing, listen to the music that has always been played on this day, dance as you would have done in your country of origin, and invite your children to celebrate with you. Invite them to feel the union with their roots.
c) Cook and eat traditional dishes with them: a flavor can remind us of a country, a culture, a moment or even a person. Food can be an excellent vehicle to transport your children to their previous cultural context and, at the same time, take pleasure in it.
e) Educate them in the activities and customs of the culture: talk to them and teach them those activities that in their culture of origin imply a pleasant way to spend time or having fun. Some examples might be playing musical instruments, playing games, playing sports, craft activities, etc.
f) Share with them the art and folklore of your community: one of the most special ways in which people connect and communicate our culture is through music, dance, writing, painting and any other artistic expression. Promote your children’s curiosity in the art of your culture and educate them in the most representative creations of your community.
g) Travel to the country of origin: one of the most obvious ways to transmit your culture to your children is to put them in direct contact with it, promoting the link with the land in which this culture was born and developed.
h) Place your children in schools that keep your own culture as a reference: this will help your child to find in school a community of children and adolescents in the same situation, with whom they can share common experiences and concerns.
i) Make use of new technologies: through blogs, videos, games, movies and many other online contents, you will be able to educate and bring your child closer to his or her culture, in a broad, entertaining and very accessible way. Through video calls, they will be able to maintain contact with their previous environment in a more frequent and less expensive way.

Emma Chancellor Díez
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Emma Chancellor Díez
Adults and adolescents
Languages: English and Spanish
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