When families include members with no immigration status, this can create psychological stress. This article can help parents understand children’s reactions to the fear of separation due to immigration and provide some suggestions for strategies to help manage behaviors and emotions.
Trauma And Stress On Children Related To Separation
Separation between parents and children can be traumatic with emotionally harmful lasting adverse effects. Children can live in constant fear of separation, even if they have not experienced separation in the past or do not know anyone that has been deported. The good news is that research shows that, even under stressful conditions, supportive, responsive relationships with caring adults can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress.
Children´s Common Responses to Fears Related To Immigration And Separation From Parents
Some symptoms of stress in children living in fear of family member’s
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deportation may resemble the following:
- Loss of recently acquired skills, behavior younger than expected for their age or return of behaviors seen when the child was younger.
- Clinginess and difficulty separating.
- Sleep disturbances including nightmares.
- Increased irritability and anger.
- Eating and physical complaints.
- Withdrawn and sad.
- Difficulty concentrating
Communicating With Your Children
We can address those fears and symptoms by communication with your children. They need information and questions answered in a way that they can understand.While addressing these fears in conversation:
- Ask questions. Listen to what your child is asking. Find out what they already know and where they are hearing about the issue. Answer in simple ways and with compassion.
- Help children identify their feelings. Create common language in talking about fears of separation and immigration. Simply explain words for them when they ask such as deportation, immigrants or illegal.
- Be patient. Choose a time to have conversations when you can give your children your full attention. Young children ask the same questions over and over again as their way of learning and making sense of their world.
- For teens. Dialog about what might happen and how they might respond. As an example, help them plan so that they know what to do if they are stopped or questioned.
- Be honest with your children. Assure them that they will be taken care of if, for some reason, you are unable to care for them. Do not lie or make promises that you are not sure you can keep.
- Use assertive discipline. Be consistent, state clear expectations, give calm instructions, and respond quickly. Avoid threats and fear tactics such as “ICE is going to come and take you away if you…”
Children need support and guidance in managing their emotions. They are reassured and can feel safe and secure when their caregivers are calm and healthy. For this you must:
- Maintain usual routines such as meal time, homework, and bed times.
- Send children to school regularly. If parents are feeling vulnerable around the school, is there another adult who can get children to school?
- Assure children that you are making plans for their safety.
- Create strong social networks. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Make sure that you are socializing and helping your children establish relationships with the adults who might care for them in the event that separation occurs.
- Limit adult discussions about immigration and media such as television news and radio to times when children are not around.
Information provided by Child Parent Institute