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Immigrating With Young Children

Updated on January 23, 2016

Terrified is an Understatement

Imagine being torn away from everything and everyone that is familiar to you. Torn from your family, your friends and your home. What would you do? How would you feel? Picture for a moment, being surrounded by people and feeling the loneliest you have ever felt in your entire life. You are unable to tell anyone around how you feel, what you need and you’re helpless to change the situation. Parents, have you ever lost sight of your child in a crowded store for just a moment? Do you remember that feeling in the pit of your stomach that doesn’t go away until you lay eyes on them again? Suppose you had to endure that feeling for hours per day, every day for months at a time.

Everything that I described is the life of a newly immigrated child’s school experience. I know all of this because I lived it. Almost as horrible as leaving my family was having to sit a room full of strangers whose language I didn’t speak for hours and days and weeks. All I could think about was how much I missed my grandparents, my cousins, my home and my dog. I cried every day, which gave the other kids another reason to avoid me. My poor dad had to come pick me up early at school each and every day because I was inconsolable. “I WANT TO GO HOME PLEASE!”. I remember the hopelessness in my dad’s face. Like he just wanted to make everything better and he just couldn’t despite his many efforts.

I share all of this for two reasons. The first is to try to help any parent that is in this situation understand what their child is feeling. In spite of the fact that children are resilient and adapt quicker to new situations, they still need time. Patience is something you must have when dealing with a child experiencing this level of fear. Secondly, to educate parents who have children that may have immigrant children in their school. Teach your children tolerance, encourage them to be kind to others, teach them that it is ok to be different and embrace the opportunity to learn about someone form another culture. Most days all I needed was a friendly smile to show me that there could be some light at the end of the tunnel, but there was none in sight until my dad came to get me.

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How Can You Help Your Child Adjust?

As parents we struggle with how to raise them "correctly". As toddlers we teach them please and thank you, not to chew with their mouth open, when to use the potty and how to share. As they get older the struggles get more complex as we combat peer pressure and all of the behaviors that come along with peer pressure. As parents of immigrant children we deal with all of these and more. In addition to the "normal" challenges that we tackle immigrating parents must attend to the emotional and psychological troubles that their children face. Many children become withdrawn and depressed in the face of such changes. In many cases they don’t know how to express their feelings and in others they don’t want to disappoint or upset their parents so they suffer in silence.

PARENTS, do not ignore the silence and sadness. It is difficult to address and you may think it will just go away but it doesn’t. These children need to express themselves and allow their emotions to be heard. Here are some tips on how to get your child talking:

  1. Have 1 day per week designated for an outing. (The movies, park etc)

  2. Have conversation about something great that happened during your work day.

  3. Ask questions about their day. (What is your teacher’s name?, Did you learn anything new?)

  4. When your child is expressing anger or sadness about the situation do not try to convince them that he/she is wrong. These are their emotions not yours.

  5. HAVE PATIENCE. Don’t get angry if your child is getting frustrated.

The key is to get your child talking about it. Put yourself in their shoes. Do you need to vent when you have had a rough day? Yes? Well, your children do too.

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© 2014 Celia Ribeiro

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