Talking to Children About Immigration

What is immigration? Who are immigrants? Are they the same as refugees? Why do they leave their countries and come to Canada? There are questions about the process or reasons for immigration that children may ask. While these conversations can sometimes be difficult, they are also opportunities to recognize and celebrate the diversity of people.

     Your child may ask about the students who wear hijabs or turbans in class. They may ask why their friend or their friend’s parent has an accent. They may even ask about their own family’s history of immigrating to Canada. Where do you even begin in addressing all of this?

       A good place to start is through your child’s existing knowledge of immigration. Ask them to share pieces of information they have learned or what they think immigration is. Build on their knowledge, and give them a place to participate in their understanding actively.

       Remind your child that differences are valuable. Emphasize that those who speak a different language, eat different foods, or attend a different place of worship have the right to do so. Our responsibility as a community is to ensure immigrants and other marginalized peoples have safe, anti-racist, and equitable spaces to engage in their cultures.

       Conversations about immigration can also have complex language. Try to use clear and familiar terms when talking with your child. If you introduce new vocabulary, use helpful tools such as analogies to clarify it for them. If you are an immigrant or a child of immigrants yourself, it can even be helpful to share your own personal stories. Through storytelling, complicated concepts can become easier to understand. Children’s books about immigration and belonging can be a great way to use storytelling for our education. Here is a list of popular books that can provide interesting stories during your conversations:

  • The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
  • Mama the Alien by Renae Colato Lainez
  • Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan
  • Everybody’s Welcome by Patricia Hegarty
  • I’m an Immigrant Too! by Mem Fox
  • Islandborn by Junot Diaz
  • Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
  • Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez

       Use reliable sources to inform yourself. Remember that as a parent or guardian, you can educate yourself on the history of immigration, current events, and the value of racial or cultural equity, which you can then pass onto your children. Here are some educational resources to assist parents in getting informed:

     As an advocator for immigrant rights, keep yourself updated and educated. Rather than putting the burden on those most affected to educate us, we must be active in our learning. Immigrants and their communities often face racism, structural disadvantages, and rejection from Canadian society. To support those who experience this, continue to discuss anti-racism and immigrant rights with your children, families, and communities. Through conversation, we can progress to action.

     For more support, visit infoPeel and use their Community Services directory to search for programs. To chat with a representative, click on the “Chat with Us” button on the bottom right. To speak to a representative for assistance, call at 905-890-9432. Interpretive services in your language are also available for free.