You see it on the news all the time – a conflict, a war, a natural disaster. People fleeing their homes. It gets you thinking about refugees and immigrant resettlement. You may wonder how you can help make their transition to your community easier.

What are some struggles immigrant families face?

Families that resettle here from other countries may experience trauma and neglect before they leave their countries of origin. They may live in temporary camps or tents until they’re able to come to the U.S. 

Once they arrive, parents may have trouble finding work or affordable housing. Children may have had disruptions to their schooling, and they may need to act as translators for their parents, if they learn English more quickly at school. Refugees of all ages may face language barriers, racism, discrimination and fears that they won’t be accepted by their new community.

We often forget that families coming to this country experience cultural loss: They leave their homes behind and move to a country where people look different, speak an unfamiliar language and may not celebrate their significant holidays. Refugees may feel like they need to let go of a big part of their identity to fit in.

Refugees who look different than their new community members may have a tougher transition. Feelings of hostility directed at refugees may lead to an increase in mental health struggles among these newest community members, who are already dealing with loss and grief. 

How can we embrace the differences between cultures to learn from one another?

It’s important to teach children to find beauty in the differences between groups. Learning about other cultures and accepting everyone for themselves can make your lives richer. It can also make the transition process less stressful for resettled families. You can do this by exposing your children to other cultures by attending community events, reading books or watching shows with diverse characters, and building empathy in the experiences others have.

How can my child and I make resettled families feel welcome?

  • Volunteer as a family at local organizations helping refugees.
  • Contact your child’s teacher or principal to say, “I just heard from my child that they have a new student in their class from (foreign country). What can we do to help this child feel adjusted?” You can talk to your child about how they can be inclusive of their new peer.
  • Introduce your family to refugee families.
  • Make a small welcome gift for them (such as a card, poster or cookies).
  • Learn one word in their language, such as “hello” or “I’m here.”
  • Once you’ve established initial contact, check-in every now and then to see if they need anything.
  • Invite refugees to neighborhood gatherings, so that they feel included.

Welcoming refugees helps build trust. It just takes one person to make this transition a bit easier for them. Sometimes, what feels like the smallest thing to you may be the biggest thing for a refugee family or child.