Immigrating to the United States can be exciting, but the process comes with a whole slew of other emotions too. That’s especially true for kids.
Immigrating can be a sad experience for children with older siblings who can’t come with the family to the U.S. because they’re over the age of 21, and it can be scary if the family is entering the country to escape persecution.
Regardless of your family’s personal experience, the answer isn’t to avoid talking about immigration altogether. You need to talk to your children about their experiences, regardless of their age.
Be Straightforward and Honest
Kids understand a lot more than most adults give them credit for. Give them the benefit of the doubt and be straightforward and honest about your situation.
If you’re in the process of gaining citizenship for the family, talk about where you’re at in the process and what you have to do next. Talk about the laws you have to follow and why countries have immigration laws in the first place.
Immigrating to the United States is a lot less scary if you’re straightforward and honest about the process as it unfolds.
Limit Media Exposure on the Topic
The news can be scary, especially for immigrant children. Not all media outlets are impartial about immigrants and immigration law. Some are downright hostile to newcomers in the United States. That’s especially true of those who enter the country illegally.
Seeing and hearing so many negative opinions about immigrants can affect your child’s opinion of themselves, so it’s a good idea to limit their exposure to the media.
That doesn’t mean you can’t watch the news at all! When you do tune in, tune in together. Watch the news and explain to your child whether you agree or disagree with what is being said. It will open up a dialog and teach your child to analyze what’s being reported without accepting it at face value.
Answer Their Questions
Once you start the conversation, and especially if you watch the news together, you can expect your child to have questions.
Try to answer them as best as you can. Children are naturally curious, especially about topics that impact them and their families. When you answer their questions, you are helping them understand immigration a little bit better. You’re also encouraging them to continue coming to you with their questions instead of turning to their friends and classmates who may promote harmful beliefs and false narratives.
Talk About Racism in an Age-Appropriate Way
Immigration is a loaded subject, especially in the United States. You can’t really talk about immigrating to the U.S. without also talking at least a little bit about racism.
Racism isn’t the scary, horrible subject it is often made out to be. Even very young children can understand the basics of racism. It gives them a chance to see how they’re different from others, and by talking about it in a positive way, it encourages them to celebrate those differences.
Try to approach conversations about racism with your child with an open and curious mind. They may have some interesting thoughts and ideas you have never considered before.
By talking about it together, you can learn and grow together. And in the future, if your child is faced with racism, they will have a firm foundation for working through their feelings because they talked about it with you.
It can sometimes feel like the whole world is against immigrants. That’s especially true with so many politicians talking about it in such a negative way.
But it’s not true.
There are a lot of people who support immigrants, both locally and nationally. You just have to find people who are willing to help.
Look for government and nonprofit programs in your community that offer services to immigrants, and make sure your child has a chance to interact with the people who offer those services.
Take time to notice everyday helpers too. Point out people who hold open the door or smile and wave as you walk or drive by. When you take the time to notice and acknowledge the helpers in your community, your child will see that there are a lot more people in the world who support them than who don’t.
Lean on a Predictable Routine
Being an immigrant can sometimes be scary because things are so uncertain. Trying to get a green card to obtain citizenship can be nerve-racking, especially if deportation is a possibility. Friends and loved ones in the community may be affected by their own immigration situation, and stories in the news can be frightening.
Do your best to keep a predictable routine throughout it all. Routines can help children cope because they feel a sense of control over every day. They support positive behavior, and they make life easier for parents too.
A few routines to make and keep with your kids include:
- Create a morning routine that includes getting up, getting dressed, and eating breakfast
- Carve out time for doing chores and homework
- Set aside time to talk about their day before, during, or after dinner
- Create a bedtime routine that includes taking a bath, reading a book, and brushing their teeth
Talk About Your Immigration Story
Don’t shy away from telling your family’s immigration story to your child. Make it an empowering story for them to be proud of and they will face obstacles with a greater sense of who they are and where they came from.
Tell other immigration stories too. The more positive role models your child has of people just like them, the more success they will likely achieve in their life too!
It’s important to talk about the immigration process if you, your family, or members of your community are immigrants. With the tips on this list, you can talk about being an immigrant with honesty and pride so your child grows up knowing just how special and capable they are.
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