Supporting students with travelling parents by Rhoda Bangerter

Supporting Students with Travelling Parents in International Schools

GUEST WRITER: Hi, I’m Rhoda Bangerter. I’m a Split Location Specialist. I want to highlight something that is a reality for many students in international schools: having one or both parents who travel. In this article, international school teachers will learn how extensive parental travel is, what it might mean for the students, and what they can do to support these students living in these specific family environments. Better supporting students with travelling parent starts with awareness and understanding why this matters. 


Many international schools are developing support for their globally mobile students (Third Culture Kids) experiencing moves from one school to another as they accompany their parent’s (or both their parents’) international assignments. These students’ biggest challenges can be in creating identity when their environment changes so frequently, and sometimes even drastically. They experience grief and may have difficulties attaching. Awareness is even rising around those students who stay and say endless goodbyes. You can find out more about Third Culture Kids, the efforts to ease their transitions from school to school and the major challenges they face by visiting the Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) website and Ruth van Reken’s website. 

But there is another layer. 

Many international assignments involve national, regional, or international travel. A student’s parent may be responsible for a region in their field of expertise. Business people, humanitarian workers, Foreign Service staff and many other professions often travel for work. Students with parents in the limelight and in public service (diplomats, government officials and other public figures) may also live through frequent parental absences from home. 

The Way We Work in 2025 and Beyond” is a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of over 200 HR professionals from national and international companies based in Switzerland. It identifies key trends in six HR areas and predicts what the workplace might look like in the future. Regarding mobility, the authors write: “Our survey shows that global mobility projects are likely to get shorter, with employees working abroad on assignment for up to three months or a year. Our survey also predicts an increase in the number of ‘commuters’, employees living and working in different countries.” This may well be the case for workforces worldwide. 

Furthermore, “Expat Insider 2018“, one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive surveys of life abroad, reports that “12% of expats in a relationship are not living in the same country as their partner.” 

As a member of staff in an international school, as you interact with children under your care, it is vital to be mindful that one or both of their parents may not be home. 

  • Their mother or father may be travelling.
  • Their mother or father may be posted for months at a time in a war zone.
  • Both their parents may be out of the country. Students may be staying with relatives or guardians. 


A parent away – what it may mean for this group of students.

There is an intense pattern of emotions this group of students may be experiencing that is specific to the split location family/frequent business travel lifestyle. Excitement before arrival. Sadness after departure or if return dates have changed. Their emotions are going to be intense and somewhat erratic as they anticipate seeing their parent again or having to say goodbye. Some may be seeking to numb their overwhelming feelings.

Short reconnection times is another challenge many of these students face. Their parent may only come home for a few days, not enough time to really reconnect and rebuild connection from being physically away. Some parents may be intentional about doing an activity together, others may not.

Meanwhile, students can experience ambiguous loss. Dr Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, coined the term ‘ambiguous loss’ to describe those who had lost a loved one but had no closure or some combination of presence and absence. In other words, some of your students may be grieving a physically absent parent.

It’s also important to be aware of the following factors that may also affect these students’ well-being:

  • Parentification: The parent remaining at home may lean on one of their children for emotional or practical support more than they should. This goes beyond asking a child to do chores and participating in the functioning of a family. It’s when the child takes on more of a parenting role in a parent-child relationship due to role reversal.
  • Travel-related anxiety: The student might be worried about plane crashes or their parent’s safety at their new location. They may not even know where their parent is. Parents don’t always tell their kids where they’re going, or the kids can’t remember if they’ve been told.  
  • Parachute kids: These are kids who have been dropped off by their parents to live with their relatives or guardians in another country, usually for the purposes of education. These children lose their whole world overnight.  They face unique challenges when they move to new countries alone for education or left alone in their households without their primary caregivers. These include cultural and language barriers, emotional isolation, and the pressure of managing daily life independently, such as handling finances, schoolwork, and personal health without direct parental support.



  • Be aware that when you are speaking of countries at war or what is on the news, a student’s parent might be involved and/or on location. Their parent may be on assignment in a dangerous, high-risk environment. If their parent is working in a war zone, they may have questions.
  • Be accommodating if the student is particularly distracted that day because their parent is coming home after a long absence.
  • It may not be easy for you to obtain the information about whether the student’s parents are away, but if a student in your class or homeroom groupis showing signs of distress, you can generally ask them if their parent is at home or away.
  • You can check if it’s possible to increase the amount of homework help that the student receives.Their parent at home might be overwhelmed or struggling to cope with parenting and doing their own work and having a husband or wife who is away.
  • Get the School Counsellor involved if this is causing a big disruption for the child and for their learning.
  • Educators can support parachute kids by fostering environments that promote resilience. This involves encouraging these children to face and overcome challenges in steps, helping them build the ‘muscle’ to deal with adversity. Schools can also facilitate better integration by encouraging these students to participate in community and school activities, thus helping them build a social network and feel less isolated. Further resources: Families in Global Transition blog and USC US-China Institute.

International School Counsellors

  • Help the child deal with their emotions. Validate what they are feeling. This is always important, even more so in this life which will bring intense emotions into the student’s life.
  • Be prepared to speak with students in the event of a major accident occurring while their parent is away. Have a protocol in place. 

School Management

  • Offer workshops for parents who are in the country on how to manage the challenges of raising children in a cross-cultural environment, especially when one parent is frequently absent.
  • Encourage parents to inform school administration if they are planning to be away from home so that the school staff can be more prepared to support students during their time at school.
  • Pair students with mentors who can provide additional emotional and academic support. Mentors can be teachers, older students, or community members who have experience with the expatriate lifestyle.
  • Train teachers and staff on cultural sensitivity, focusing on the unique challenges faced by children of expatriates, including the impact of global events on these students. This training should also include strategies for supporting Parachute Kids, who may face unique challenges due to their parents’ absence.

About the author

Rhoda Bangerter, Holding the Fort Abroad

Rhoda Bangerter is Split Location Specialist, podcast host of ‘Holding the Fort Abroad’, and author of Holding the Fort Abroad. She offers a range of support services for organizations as well as for travelling and home-based parents from private coaching through to workshops and group support sessions. Learn more at: