When Home-Schooled TCKs Feel Lonely – and How You Can Help

Full disclosure: I’m not a homeschooling mum. I’m not even a mum. So why on earth am I writing a post about homeschooling?? I’m glad you asked.

I lived in Asia for 11 years, and for most of that time I was a youth worker mentoring and supporting teenagers through international churches. I had the privilege of spending time with a lot of homeschool families – families from different passport countries, living in different host countries.

I spent the past three and a half years working on a book about TCKs, including hundreds of interviews and a survey of 750 TCKs. Nearly a third of the TCKs I surveyed had been homeschooled at some point; 80% of those who were homeschooled came from ministry families.* I talked with TCKs who loved their homeschool experience, TCKs who were distressed by their homeschool experience, and TCKs who experienced a bit of both.

I am going to share with you some of what I’ve learned. My hope is that this will encourage you as you do the difficult but rewarding work of homeschooling your kids.

I heard a lot of positive stories from homeschooled TCKs who adapted well to university and life in their passport country. Several spoke about the benefit of a flexible study schedule, which allowed pursuit of particular interests (including travel or service alongside their parents). Others enjoyed learning to study/learn in their own way. One TCK said, “Homeschooling has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.”*

The main drawback many TCKs shared about homeschooling was a sense of isolation. 61% of homeschooled TCKs under 30 said they felt lonely as children living abroad, compared to 45% of all TCKs under 30. Those who spoke negatively about their homeschool experience invariably referenced at least one of two types of isolation – working alone, and playing alone. In each case TCKs felt discouraged – feeling relationally alone and academically unmotivated.

Working alone refers to homeschool students who did their work with little or no adult teaching support. They taught themselves from curriculum parents provided but did not supervise. One TCK said, “I don’t have a teacher. I watch DVDs with a class on them and try to figure things out. It’s really hard because I can’t ask questions so I often struggle.”

I also talked to TCKs who spent a large portion of their study time alone and yet were positive about the experience. The difference these TCKs expressed was that their parents were accessible to them. When these TCKs had a question, wanted to discuss an idea or approach, or needed extra motivation, there was someone nearby to go to.

My encouragement to you: your presence matters!

Even if you feel unqualified to teach the material your child is studying, simply being there makes a difference. Getting involved means you can help them find the answers, including any answers you don’t have. You become a team, attacking the work together, so your child does not fight alone.

Playing alone refers to social isolation. School is the place most children meet peers and make friends. A homeschooled child has fewer hours of peer interaction built into each day than a child attending school outside the home. This is particularly difficult for children who learn best through engaging with others (especially extroverts).

One TCK who struggled with homeschooling said, “I became overwhelmingly lonely and pushed myself less and less. I am the type of person that needs others around me to motivate and challenge me, otherwise I just do the bare minimum.”

When social engagement isn’t built in, it’s important for homeschool parents to think creatively about ways to help their children engage with others. Supporting a child socially will invariably cost both time and money. When your family already feels short on one (or both) of these resources, it is tempting to think social activities as nice but unnecessary. For a homeschooled child, however, external outlets really are essential.

My encouragement to you: your creative support matters!

In well populated places, there are often clubs a child can join, made up of locals or expatriates – art/music/dance classes, scout troops, sports teams, or youth groups. For families in more remote areas (or where language is a barrier) using both travel and technology to maintain friendships with TCKs in other places can make a big difference.

Some families I interviewed lived in remote locations but were committed to providing opportunities for their kids to socialize. This often meant travel – to a youth group in another place (an hour each way weekly, or several hours once a month), to an annual organizational conference, to a regional TCK event, or even adding a stop to the family’s travel plans so a child could spend time with an online friend in real life.

One TCK praised her parents’ support, saying, “My parents have been very gracious with making opportunities for me to visit friends – this includes driving long(ish) distances, being willing to host friends, and encouraging me to keep in contact. They make a point to ask about the lives of my friends who live far away.”

As I have mentored and interviewed TCKs, I have seen over and over that parents have the power to dramatically impact their child’s experience.

Homeschooling may be academically daunting at times, but a parent’s engaged and supportive presence makes a huge difference.

Homeschooling may be socially isolating at times, but parents can lead the way in providing access to and encouraging engagement with peers.

Caring for your child’s education and socialization is a big responsibility, and I’m sure it can feel overwhelming at times. But you aren’t alone! Reach out and find fellow parents who can sympathize and encourage you in your journey, including through communities like Velvet Ashes. Then, when you’ve been built up, you will be able to turn around and provide your kids with the support they need.


What about you?
Do you ever feel daunted by the responsibility of homeschooling?
What encourages you in your family’s homeschooling adventure?
If like me you are not a homeschooling parent, how might you encourage and support homeschooling families you know?

*All statistics and quotes are from Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century by Tanya Crossman


  1. Bethany J. September 5, 2016

    Speaking as an adult TCK here who was homeschooled for more than half of my pre-college education, I agree wholeheartedly with your advice here! I could go into details, but what made my experience a positive one lines up with the advice you gave so no need to rehash your findings. However, I do hope that other homeschooling parents out there will be encouraged to stay involved in their kids’ educations. It’s tough but worth it!

    1. Tanya Crossman September 5, 2016

      Thanks for sharing, Bethany! I’m glad you had a positive experience and, I take it, supportive parents. And I agree – I hope homeschooling parents will be encouraged that their engagement makes a big difference 🙂

      1. Bethany J. September 6, 2016

        My mom did her best to create as normal a schedule for us as she could. My older sister and I were able to integrate normally into regular school settings as a result when that option presented itself.

  2. Elizabeth September 5, 2016

    The loneliness — it’s real! Our first year overseas, we had not really met any other homeschooling families, and by the end of it, my husband told me, “Something has to change, for our children’s sake.” I immediately went to work, contacting the only two homeschooling moms I knew and organizing a loose co-op with them and the few other moms they knew in our area, for the next six months. At the end of those 6 months our little co-op stopped meeting all our various needs, so we stopped it. About that time I discovered that one of the local international schools allows homeschool families to join their after school activities, and we started that.

    A couple years later a lady who was new in town started organizing monthly gatherings, which have been such a blessing. I still, however, found that I was lacking in the community and support I needed, so I recently decided to join the weekly co-op which starts tomorrow — a big step for me! And of course there’s the local youth group that our oldest attends 🙂 Our kids have made even more special friends over the last year or so, through both church and homeschool gatherings. That’s been so wonderful for them — when we moved overseas they were so little I never thought about their friendship needs, only mine. But kids need friends too! But it really is hard to balance the time needs for school work, family time, and friend/social time. . . .

    1. Tanya Crossman September 5, 2016

      That’s such a good perspective – parents and kids both have needs, and they may be quite different. It’s great to hear you’re continuing to adapt your approach to your family’s changing needs.

      1. Tanya Crossman September 5, 2016

        …when we moved overseas they were so little I never thought about their friendship needs, only mine. But kids need friends too!

        That’s such a good perspective – parents and kids both have needs, and they may be quite different. It’s great to hear you’re continuing to adapt your approach to your family’s changing needs.

  3. Phyllis September 5, 2016

    This “your presence matters” is what I’ve been hearing all around. I’m a very hands-on, stay-close homeschooling mom, but I was wanting to get my older two to be a little more independent. I was even feeling some frustration because it wasn’t really working. And then I started hearing that. It’s been encouraging: they need me… and that’s okay. Thank you for repeating that message. 🙂

    As far as loneliness, we were very isolated from any and all homeschooling families for years, just because we didn’t know any expats. I remember our children’s shock the first time they met another family whose kids spoke both Russian and English! But we were never isolated from people, and there wasn’t any loneliness. Praise God! Now that our kids are getting old enough that they might feel weird as the only homeschoolers in their whole world if we were still in that situation, we do have friends from North America who homeschool. We don’t get to spend much time together, but at least we’re not the only ones they know of. And our kids are incredibly busy with all kinds of friends and activities every day.

    What encourages me/us? That’s good question. I think even the fact that you asked is an encouragement.

    1. Tanya Crossman September 5, 2016

      I’m glad you’re encouraged! And that you’re connected. It’s great to have diverse connections – non-homeschoolers nearby, homeschoolers far away, anyone!

  4. Anna September 6, 2016

    Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂 I’m homeschooling three, and it’s constantly daunting. I want to prepare them well for whatever path they choose in life. Sometimes I see how many things we are NOT doing, and it can be stressful. On the other hand, I know that there is no perfect academic solution. I’m trying to give them a good basis and help them to be as well rounded as possible (including the non-academic areas.) When I see all the non-traditional things they get to do as we travel, then I feel encouraged by all they learn.

    We haven’t always had other homeschoolers around, or sometimes not many kids (expats or nationals) living close by. We are now in a bigger town with a huge expat community and lots of homeschoolers. That has been fun for the kids, and also good for me to have some other homeschooling moms.

    1. Tanya Crossman September 7, 2016

      I know that there is no perfect academic solution

      Such a good point. And it’s great to hear you find encouragement in the good things about the experience you’re providing to your kids!

  5. Rachael Neal September 8, 2016

    I have a degree in education and a solid number of certifications when it comes to learning but I was not ready for homeschool. The other overseas workers tried to warn me but I thought “I usually teach 50, how hard can one be?” What I forgot in my equation is that the one I’m teaching is a smaller replica of myself. My daughter and I are very much alike, both A personalities and what you would call “strong willed.” In all other areas of life this has been a plus but when she just won’t believe that months and days must be capitalized because that’s the rule… it’s a big negative. I’ve even had to say in utter frustration “I have a degree child! I know what I’m taking about!”

    What I found works best is BRIBERY. I know it sounds awful but let’s be real I used it in public school as well. Small victories throughout the day. Who cares if we just fought for twenty minutes over math, when she did her cursive in 30 seconds correctly we took a victory lap. We also have class in different environments whenever possible. Sometimes the dinner table just doesn’t cut it. Cafe’s, outside, someone else’s house… It helps her not feel so in-prisoned. Thank you for both articles on homeschooling that VA has done lately. It was exactly the encouragement and clarification that “I’m not alone” we needed.

    1. Tanya Crossman September 8, 2016

      So glad to hear you’re feeling encouraged, Rachael! And it’s always good to celebrate small victories – for both of you, I’m sure 🙂

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