Going beyond emotional kindergarten

Feb 10, 2022 | 2 comments

My family is full-time traveling, and as I’ve been homeschooling my kids across the world, I’ve found a lot of holes in my own education! 

There are countries that I’ve literally never heard of. There are entire historical empires that only sound vaguely familiar. In some ways, being a lifelong learner is wonderful! But in other ways, it can be really frustrating. Some days it begs the question: why didn’t I know this? Why didn’t I learn this sooner? 

Like the day that I learned that red, blue, and yellow are not the primary colors. 

From kindergarten, I’ve been instructed that the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. Usually in education, the curriculum is designed cyclically. So a topic will be presented in an overly simplified version in kindergarten and that educational foundation will be built upon over time. But I was in art classes throughout grade school, and no one ever bothered to come back and correct this.

It’s true! The primary colors are magenta, cyan, and yellow! If you mix magenta and yellow together, you get red. If you mix magenta and cyan, you get blue. That makes red and blue secondary colors. And when you have that foundational misinformation, all the color theory that comes next is wonky. The problem is that we were left at a kindergarten level art education.

I wish this was the only subject matter that didn’t make it past kindergarten level education. Most people aren’t strongly impacted by their level of art education. But emotional education also gets left at the kindergarten level. This is another place that begs the question: Why didn’t I learn this sooner?

There are a myriad of excuses, like “everyone assumes someone else will do it” or “the adults don’t have an emotional education themselves.” But regardless of the excuses, we’re leaving our families ill-prepared to face both the joys and the sorrows of their globally mobile lifestyle. 

The myriad of dynamic experiences in a TCK’s life gives them the capacity and opportunity for incredible emotional intelligence and resiliency, but only when we prioritize their emotional education.

This is why in our TCK Training family debriefs, pre-field training, and nearly anything else we do with families–we start with emotional education. We’ve found that so often it’s lacking and that, really, it’s foundational. We can’t process the events in our lives without emotional language to express our felt experiences. 

But, as we’ve coached parents and caregivers, one bit of resounding feedback we’ve received is: I don’t know how to provide an emotional education. 

Emotional education starts with the adults, be it parents or caregivers. Here are some practical tips to advance you on your journey from wherever you’re starting:

1. Build Your Emotional Vocabulary

With over 3000 emotion words in the English language, most likely we can all be lifelong learners as we build our emotional vocabulary. Intentionally seek new emotion words, learn what they mean, and think of times when you may have felt that emotion before. Consider putting up a list of emotion words you’d like to add to your active vocabulary to review daily and think through if you’ve experienced any that day.

2. Recognize Emotions as You Experience Them

It starts with now. Develop a habit of intermittently asking yourself what you’re feeling right now. When we’re emotionally elevated it can be hard to pause in the moment and ask those introspection questions, but developing a habit of curiosity about our emotions makes that easier. 

3. Promote a Healthy Perspective on Emotions

When we brand more than half the 3000 emotion words with the label “negative,” it’s very easy to slip into this mentality that “happy” is good and everything else is bad. We avoid experiencing our feelings because we’ve been conditioned to believe that we should. We need to learn to value fear for keeping us safe, and value anger for standing up to injustice, and value sadness for giving compassion generously. 

Next, you need to know how to pass that information onto kids. There are many resources available for this, but many are not TCK-specific. At TCK Training,  we’ve synthesized this education, both the emotional education and the practical teaching tips, into the Laying an Emotional Foundation Workshop as well as our family curriculum that walks through several lessons on emotions in a way that is relevant to the TCK life. 

Emotional education for TCKs is critical to their lifelong resiliency, health, and well being, and thus, it is important that education not remain at an elementary level but instead grow and evolve as they do.

Christ died for your sins . . . but sometimes it’s tricky to sort out healthy guilt, unhealthy guilt, and shame, especially as a cross-cultural worker. Knowing the difference is good, but it’s only the first step. Now what? In this workshop Shonna will help you identify what you are experiencing (healthy? or unhealthy?) but even more, what to DO about it. Don’t jump over this crucial 102 piece of the equation. Get it today.

Photo by zoo_monkey on Unsplash

Elizabeth Smith

Full-time Traveler. Worldschool/TCK-Mom. Writer, Artist, Planner. TCK Training team member.




  1. Corrie Guckenberger

    I loved this article as my husband and I are in marriage counseling and we are working on ‘getting in touch with our true and real and authentic emotions’ and we have found it harder than we thought. I am looking forward to looking up more emotional words to start naming them more specifically.

    • Amy Young

      Corrie, I love that these kind of skills aren’t just for TCKs :)!


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