How to Help Kids See the Humanness in ALL Foreigners
Refugee? Immigrant? Emigrant? Most young kids (and adults too!) don't really know the difference. For kids, understanding the difference isn't nearly as important as seeing the humanness in all foreigners.
Strive to be as reassuring as possible. This can be a really scary subject for kids. Make sure you use age-appropriate language.
Let's walk through how to teach them.
What is a foreigner?
First, if 'foreigner' feels like the wrong word to use, feel free to adjust. Use displaced person instead? Or newcomer? Visitor? Settler? Whatever works best.
Start with the basics. Explain that a foreigner (or whatever term you use) is a person living in a country other than that of his or her birth. A foreigner can be an adult or a child. Even some plants and animals are considered foreigners.
This is a good time to ask your child if they know any foreigners. If they're not 100% sure, offer your own ideas.
If you know someone, talk about their situation. Have they been in the U.S. a long time? Do they work here? Do they have kids who attend school? How well do you know them? Are they good people? How can you tell?
Why do foreigners leave their home country?
Sometimes they're fleeing because they fear for their safety. Sometimes they can't find work in their home country. Sometimes it's because a family member is already living in another country. Or maybe they need better healthcare. Or it could be because their homeland was destroyed.
This is a good time to check in and ask your child if they're okay with what you're saying. If they're okay, ask him/her to imagine what it would feel like if they were told they were going on a long one-way trip and could only take a few of their favorite toys (and clothes) with them. This will hopefully connect the plight of foreigners with your child's world. Talk about it together. Make sure s/he feels safe.
TIP: Offer as many words of encouragement as you can. It's best to begin your child's understanding of foreigners' humanity (or any subject for that matter) with a sense of confidence. The odds of them wanting to learn more will be much greater if they feel confident about the subject from the beginning.
Talk about your own family's heritage
Time to switch gears to a happier subject. Kids love to learn about their family's past and the benefits are enormous. Look online together to discover where your family's ancestors originated. Here’s a resource that lists the best family-tree builders:
Talk about it. Make it fun. Does your family have any rituals related to your heritage? Traditional ones? New ones?
Help your child develop a sense of pride in their heritage and your family's country of origin.
After you’ve helped your child feel a sense of honor about your own family's heritage, be sure to mention that other families most likely also have their own traditions that give them a warm feeling when they do it together.
Learning about your ancestors, celebrating family traditions, embracing your culture, and understanding where you came from can really help your child make a mental connection between their own sense of belonging and the humanness of foreigners..
As you're discovering and discussing your family tree together, keep in mind that the goal is to help your child feel empathy and respect for foreigners. Say something that (hopefully) validates what they're already thinking:
Everybody (including foreigners) deserves to be treated with kindness and respect!