Immigrating: How Immigration Might Impact Your Child
By Aruna Papp
Moving from one’s home country to Canada can be an exciting experience for the family but it can also be traumatic for children. There are times when the father or the mother may have to leave the children behind with relatives hoping that they will be able to join them in a few months, hopefully sooner. Sometimes, though, it takes much longer than they had anticipated. This can create an emotional distance between the parent and the children. The children may grow up feeling that they were doing fine by themselves and now their parent wants to take over and start creating new rules for them.
This was the case with one of my clients who had been left behind by her mother when she was 8. The mother had a difficult time with her employer and immigration related problems and by the time her daughter arrived she was 17 years old. The mother tried to teach her that life in Canada is lived by different rules and that she would have to quickly learn these rules but the daughter felt that she did not know her mother. She also felt that she had been abandoned by her mother. In her mind she would understand the problems relating to immigration and employment but the heart of the child felt that she had lost her mother. The situation was difficult for both. The daughter was angry and the mother could not understand why she was being punished when she had worked hard to help her child and had been in touch with her on a weekly basis.
When children are younger, they too might feel the trauma but may not have the words to explain how they are feeling. They might seem moody, weepy or have difficulty sleeping at night. Some children start to wet their bed and refuse to eat food which was once their favourite. Children who have been placed in detention with their parents may become fearful and cling to the parents. They may be afraid to go to school and they may panic if a parent is late in picking them up or is not in the house when they should be. They may develop a fear of people in authority and may have sweaty hands and palpitations in their heart when they see a police car drive by. It is important for parents and other adults to be careful about the discussion they may be having in the house in relation to their immigration concerns. Children are very good at picking up the tension.
Many new immigrant children also have trouble settling down in school.
They have to learn about a lot of new things very quickly. They may also become victims of bullying and this puts a lot of pressure on the parents as well. It is really important for parents to go to the school and check out how other children dress and what they pack for lunch and if possible do the same for their children. This will help them feel like they are part of the group and not get picked on.
While dealing with this sort of challenge may help our children become stronger and more tolerant of others, as parents, we want to make life as easy as possible for our children. To achieve that, the best advice possible is to simply pay attention to what’s going on in your child’s life, get involved and show them that you care.
Aruna Papp, MA, ADR, MEd.
Counsellor/Therapist in Private Practice
As an immigrant Aruna took advantage of all the opportunities Canada offers. She attended ESL classes, earned two Masters Degrees and founded 3 immigrant-helping agencies dealing with domestic violence. Now in private practice; she consults for governmental and non-profit agencies, conducts workshops and is a frequent keynote speaker.