Children Hear What the President of the USA Says: What you as a parent can say to your child.

 

In a post published by the Psychology Benefits Society, (1) an associate professor of counseling from the Rhode Island College, Kalina Brabeck, Ph.D. was co-facilitating a community meeting when a Guatemalan Immigrant mother shared that, in response to the election of Donald Trump, her 8 year old posed the following question: “I was born here in the US. But I am Latina, because you are from Guatemala:  Does that mean even though I was born here (in the U.S.), I don’t belong here?  Behind that question there were myriad feelings: Fear: can I be forced to leave? Insecurity: Do I deserve a punishment for being your daughter or, for being a Latina?  Shame:  I am not the same as other children born here. I do not deserve being here.

 

Those are probably the painful and damaging feelings of thousands of children of immigrants in the same situation. That parent was fortunate that her child could articulate them, so they could discuss them. Many are probably walking around without knowing quite how to put them in words, or afraid to hurt the parent if they ask those questions. But as a parent, (or as a teacher, or counselor) you can use this story to start the conversation, scary and hard as it may be.

 

One of the most difficult things to do in a situation like that, but actually important, is not to jump into answers, but open the door wider to the child talking, so she can express herself more, either then, or later.  Because you, as an immigrant parent are burdened with the same feelings inside your heart, plus enormous guilt for being the adult that had to make the decision to come to this country, this may seem like a formidable task.  Remind yourself how such decision felt so difficult and very much the only way out of an intolerable situation in your life at the time. Listening to your child may require great courage and ability to remain calm.  Perhaps you will need some help with this from someone you trust.

 

Can you find the courage in yourself to ask in a calm voice:  tell me honey, how does that make you feel? It makes me feel so sad to hear it from you. Tell me more. But do not push him/her if she won’t say more. Remember also: it is OK to let the tears fall together with hers. Nothing wrong with that! It will draw you and her closer.

 

Then, you can go into facts: for example, that the law protects her because she is a citizen born in this country. Furthermore, neither you, nor her, deserve a punishment for doing something that you, as a parent, could not avoid because the situation was so difficult in your country. All people going through similar experiences understand that nobody who chooses to leave their country does it easily. It is a very hard thing to do, to leave your family and friends behind and go through so many dangers to get here.  It requires tremendous courage. You can add:  “I am proud of my courage in going through with this”. The fact is: “You are a good person and so am I!   I work hard and honestly every day and obey the laws of this state in my day to day life. And I am proud of that.  All of us in this family are doing our very best.” “And,  I am also so very proud of you!” “There are people out there who just don’t know and don’t understand some of these things. However, there are also people who do understand and support us. And these people are in positions of power too and they are trying to protect us.”

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  1. Psychology Benefits Society “Beyond the “Melting Pot”: Why We Need to Support the Multicultural Identities of All America’s Children.”

 

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DC Public Schools: lessons on dealing with trauma. Post 76

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As recently reported in the Washington Post,a new program dealing with trauma has started to successfully help its younger students, in one of their elementary schools, with the effects of the stress and trauma of living day to day with gun violence and poverty in inner city communities in Washington DC.

Washington DC schools have decided to deal with these issues after trying many other interventions with limited success to overhaul their low academic performance. In following the example of San Francisco, Boston, New York and Newark, who have been using a trauma sensitive approach to train students, parents, caregivers and school staff on the effects of trauma on brain functioning and learning, as well as tools to help the children calm down, become less prone to lashing out and more focused in the classroom. In their communities, these children are constantly exposed to incidents of drug and gang related shootings in their neighborhoods, causing them to live in fear and hyper-arousal, and/or having to deal with the many emotional effects of the stress of living in poverty.  DC schools contracted with Turnaround for Children, (www.turnaroundusa.org) a group that provides training to schools to become more responsive to children affected by adversity and trauma. This group was founded by Dr. Pamela Cantor, M.D., a child psychiatrist studying the effects of the 9/ 11 attack in New York City and finding that these stress symptoms were clearly magnified on the children in the poorest sectors of the city.

It is easy to connect the dots between the inner city children of the USA adverse experiences, with the exposure to violence present often in the immigrant children coming to this country, in most cases escaping the violence in their own communities back home to find refuge here, or suffering the effects of the violence and dangers they encountered crossing the border. Thus, this population would benefit enormously from a program such as this one. Moreover, the teachers and parents/caregivers of these minors would profit as well from the training on how to best help them and create for them a safe and calm educational and home environment, sensitive to their needs.  And, of course the school system would see a student better able to regulate their behavior and ready for learning.

 

 

Deportation, the painful experience of parents taken away through the eyes of a child. Post 75.

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 This is not the first time this topic is discussed in this blog. It was the focus of a post in October of last year. Post 69. However, the news brought it with great emotional force to public attention when a celebrity Latino young woman shared her personal experience of living the kind of pain and shock a child lives when confronted with the fact that his/her parents are not coming back home, taken away to be deported. An empty house and suddenly alone. No news, no calls, until the neighbors come to tell her most feared event: her parents have been taken to a detention center to be deported. At 14, just thinking of where she could hide, as they would surely be coming for her too. No official from the government ever called to see if she had somebody to take care of her or food to eat, she recalls. Only the call allowed to his father to communicate the sad news that night.

Diane Guerrero, the young actress in Orange is the New Black, playing the role of Maritza Ramos and the role of Lina in Jane the Virgin, was interviewed for CNN after publishing her story in the Los Angeles Times. She was taken in by a family, friends of the parents. Her older brother had been detained together with them. She survived working small jobs and through the generosity of friends.  Her parents came undocumented from Colombia, during a time of great instability and violence in that country and they tried for a long time to get their permanent residence papers with no success. They still live in Colombia and she sees them once a year, but the separation took an irreparable toll on their relationship.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2839266/Orange-New-Black-actress-breaks-interview-recounts-day-parents-deported-leaving-U-S-aged-14.html

Diane Guerrero

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Miss Guerrero, who is a US citizen, born in New Jersey,  is sharing her painful experience and publishing a memoir “In the Country We Love: My Family Divided”, in the hope to create a more compassionate approach to the problem of deporting undocumented parents and separating them from their children. She also volunteers at a center that works assisting immigrants with their legal needs.

¡¡GRACIAS, PAPA FRANCISCO!! Post 74.

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Because, as always you stand for the most vulnerable and defenseless. Those that need your compassion the most. Those that are sick, imprisoned,homeless, poor, suffering violence and running away from intolerable situations. This time, for the undocumented immigrants crossing the border between the USA and Mexico/ last gateway to Latin America. Thank you for visiting the border between Mexico and the United States,  on February 17, 2016, at the end of your tour of that beautiful country. In that very significant place, overlooking the separating fence, you prayed for the people that have died crossing, in front of a huge cross that could be seen from both sides and for the suffering of the migrants. In doing so you gave them a most wonderful gesture of compassionate support!

Papa in the border

In the USA side a group of 500 people including migrants and refugees received your blessing.  As Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville expressed it to journalists in El Paso “because something has political dimensions it doesn’t mean it does not also have moral dimensions.”

 

In the political debate: the undocumented immigrants. Post 73.

As the election year starts in all of its force and the political debate has, as one of its central issues, the fate of the many undocumented immigrants of all ages: some young children,others teens reuniting with parents and parents who are the sole support for young children born in this country,we are reminded every day that this is about the future of many of the reunited immigrant families we have been talking about in the posts of this blog.

Through a friend in Facebook I became acquainted with an incredible French artist: Frances Bruno Catalano, born in Morocco in 1960 and now living in Marseille,France. His sculptures of great beauty depict as a central theme the traveler and the empty space created in that person when leaving everything that is familiar. As the artist himself puts it: “I have traveled a lot and I left Morocco when I was 12 years old. I felt that a part of me was gone and will never come back…” thus reminding us that pain and loss is a part of leaving the familiar homeland of our childhood that counted few undergo lightly and, more so, when the struggle to arrive and then survive is also great, as it is for the undocumented immigrant.

Forced to leave by Catalano

In 2012, the American Psychological Association published a document in their website, in the section:Psychology Topics, on Immigration and under the name: Undocumented Americans.  In this publication APA is trying to educate the public on the daily struggles, fears and trauma of over a million of undocumented children and youth living in America. Some of these experiences as described in this document may include:

  • racial profiling
  • ongoing discrimination
  • exposure to gangs
  • immigration raids in their communities
  • arbitrary stopping of family members to check their documentation status
  • being forcibly taken or separated from their families
  • returning home to find their families have been taken away
  • placement in detention camps or the child welfare system
  • deportation

These experiences result in many negative emotional or behavioral symptoms. The authors call for a stop to assigning blame and instead, to embrace the realization that undocumented youth and children of undocumented parents deserve the same opportunities for health and well-being as any child growing up in America.

So relevant today!

 

 

 

 

 

Prevention.Supporting Teachers…and other professionals in the school too..Post 72.

As we just mentioned, teachers, as the professional in daily contact with the immigrant student, have a tremendous influence at many levels beyond academic, in helping the youngster succeed in adapting, not just to the new culture and language, but also to their new family. They do that by providing positive corrective emotional experiences for the youngster  to add to their history of interactions with the adult world.  They model and teach new and more effective forms of communication and interaction, while at the same time they try to support and encourage these students sometimes gigantic efforts in learning and adapting.They can instill and maintain, when failing, the student’s hope for success in the long term, amid all the huge learning expected of them at this point in their lives  However, as mentioned, this is a toll order task and a challenging role for the teachers because, of course, these adolescents being adolescents can make it very difficult for the teacher to reach out to them. Therefore, teachers are in great need of support themselves in learning self care and emotional tools for themselves and the deeper knowledge of the adolescent mind that will save them from great frustration and  will make these efforts worthwhile. Nevertheless, the time is always limited and the academic demands high. However, any time invested in these emotional “gold nuggets” will pay off in time saved in disciplinary interventions and for the teachers saving themselves from burn-out. Furthermore not just with teens.  but with the younger child as well who can  also become a great challenge in the classroom when struggling  with the stresses of adapting to the new everything in their lives.

A great new book in the market that comes to the rescue of all professionals working with adolescents and  that is written by mental health professionals with a long and successful experience in working with this age population is:  What Works with Teens by Britt H. Rathbone, MSSW, LCSW-C and Julie Baron, MSSW, LCSW-C. When starting to read this book I found that I completely shared their fundamental bias stated in the first pages:  they believe that others should be treated the way we want and expect to be treated, including kids. They also have the right to be treated in a respectful manner.  I also found that premise to be so true in my work with the immigrant adolescent. They would frequently say to me: ” I respect if they respect me, señora Silvia”, when discussing a conflict with a teacher or other adult.  So the main ingredient is the quality of the relationship, and to foster that kind of relationship is not easy, as the authors also recognize. It requires the adult to be the one that puts out the effort first and keeps bearing the weight of the responsibility in the exchange. To be that kind of adult you need support stemming from a “framework” of understanding the complexity of the sometimes difficult teen and that is what this book promises to provide to the reader and delivers. It also requires that the adult takes care of his or her own internal well-being to be able to maintain control of their own reactivity without engaging in power struggles.  This second  form of support is attended to by the authors also, as well as from  some wonderful sites created with exactly that goal in mind, such as http://www.mindfulschools.org . This is a place where teachers can learn some useful tools to develop a calmer inner state when stress and difficult interactions rob them of their peace of mind and even keep that state in the face of challenges. Moreover they can become teachers of those skills for both older and younger students.

 

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Prevention. Post 71. Supporting the School Teachers.

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As we look at the preventive interventions that can encourage conditions for healing the losses of the immigrant family separated for so long and to the traumatic experiences that caused originally, or are present, so often, in their journey towards a new land, it is important to direct our attention to a significant part of the equation in the lives of the youngsters: their teachers. They play a great role in creating some of the “corrective emotional experiences”, (much like the mental health professionals if you wish,) that the youngsters need, as also the much needed encouragement on the arduous and long road towards adaptation and integration into a new society and language. And this is no easy task by any means, as teachers struggle to understand and encounter not only the different values and behaviors, but also the emotional turmoil of youngsters that are not only faced with the normal battles of growing up, but also with so many new challenges in their present life.  Supporting teachers become paramount then and this translates into giving them the tools to find roads of communication and self-care, as well as much needed knowledge that could then make for easier understanding understanding of the immigrant child, or any child of a different culture, or developmental history, even though a native of this country for that matter. Hopefully, this will prevent judgmental interpretations of behaviors, overreaction, or negative personal involvement and power struggles with the child.  A compassionate understanding of the teacher is much needed in this endeavor, as this is such a challenging role. And, who better than a mental health professional to understand the difficulty of the road, when as such he/she has had to struggle all along with the same issues to become a better helper? Is it not similar to transference and countertransference in psychotherapy? So, we will turn to  mental health professionals for help in this matter and to teachers that are following a self -discovery and self -enrichment work that sustain them in finding success and satisfaction in a challenging professional role.  The good news is that there are good resources for help nowadays, that were not so readily available before. Back when the hidden corner of a school would often witness a teacher letting go of tears barely contained at the end of a difficult confrontation with one or more students during class and… perhaps an understanding professional did not have the right tools to help at that moment except for a hand on the shoulder and supporting words.  And..

Teacher

in the other part of the building an equally frustrated administrator was thinking “do not send me  that child again for me to solve the problems. You as a teacher better learn some class management skills.”  Or …is this scenario still playing in many schools, with very few answers and support available to the many professionals involved in educating the child who is a challenge? And perhaps the focus continues to be on the academic achievement part ignoring the emotional components of the equation for every child,teacher, guidance personnel and administrator?

 

Prevention. Inspiration from Programs with Different Populations. Post 70

In searching for innovative programs and ideas it is possible to learn much from those directed at other populations that are not necessarily first generation immigrant families and youth, but that perhaps share some aspects of the many emotional difficulties, like the struggles in parenting, or addressing the trauma experienced in their lives. Those programs can inspire us in their overall philosophy, as well as in some specific interventions utilized. A most wonderful example of an intervention/prevention model working with hard core gang members in the city of Los Angeles is represented by Father Greg Boyle and his Homeboy Industries. In this model, youngsters are offered work training and employment surrounded by an atmosphere of deep loving and compassionate acceptance by all adults working with them, under the inspiring example of Fr. Boyle and, in exchange for them stopping all active participation with gangs. Concurrently, participants are provided psychotherapy and meditation tools to relieve the extended trauma in their lives and to be able to resist the emotional pull of gang life and gang brotherhood. Participants are often invited to workshops and presentations given by Fr. Boyle, so they can share their life experiences with all kinds of audiences, a tremendous boost to their self-esteem and a great learning experience for the listeners. His very moving and at times hilarious book: Tattoos on the Heart – The Power of Boundless Compassion, reveals this incredible experience. (Boyle, 2010).

Tatoos on the heart

Political Activism as Prevention. Post 69

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As part of this idea of prevention, it becomes essential not to forget that the immigrant families are undergoing another forced separation, every day in our communities, as a consequence of enforcement of deportation of undocumented adults, who are the parents of children born in this country or reunited with them at a later time.  Thus, these people are taken prisoner from work, or in their everyday activities, perhaps after a minor traffic infraction, and then locked away in detention facilities until the time court determines that they are to leave the country. Children usually have no opportunity to say good-by to their mothers or fathers and sometimes, they may end up court ordered into foster care, with the parental legal custody taken away.  The emotional turmoil and pain this brings to the children and the parents is a tragedy, where the children become the innocent by-standers. Even though the government would like to enforce deportation only in cases of undocumented immigrants who have committed criminal offenses, in the real day to day, many people who have no records of such offenses end up deported and parents and children end up separated in a very painful way. (O’Neill, 2012) Thus prevention becomes the political activism of the Latino community, much as it has been with other immigrants before through history, and of its supporters. Hopefully these actions will prevent such unnecessary and inhuman deportations from happening, through persisting in their pressure to the government for an immigration reform that keeps families together in the absence of criminal offenses.

Mother's day for blog

Prevention. Parenting Classes to Immigrant Parents. Post 68. Part 2.

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As mentioned in the post just before this one, it does not feel right from a psychological perspective to impart parenting instructions to reunited families where parents and children have been separated from each other for a long time, without acknowledging and starting a healing process for the many feelings parents and children struggle with upon starting this new and fragile relationship. A workshop directed at educating and opening a dialogue about the separation is a paramount first step. And this may not be enough, but a therapeutic intervention maybe an ongoing necessary experience for the parents and the children to consolidate their chances at succeeding in starting to repair the lost bond between them. Without this process of education and repair about the normalcy of such feelings and help for everybody in the family in how to deal with them, parenting may continue to be difficult and conflict ridden while nobody talks about the “elephant in the room.”

Only then, the parents may be ready to incorporate the idea that parents’ love sometimes requires firmness and setting clear limits, even when this will be met with resistance, angry feelings and threats. And that this is a challenging and scary experience, for both a parent, with whom the child grew up, as well as for the parent who once left and is now trying to set rules; and there is no denying that it is even scarier for the latter.  Perhaps then encouraging the parents to communicate to these new members of the family that: because they love them, they will set firm limits to protect them, even though they (the children) may feel angry as a result. It is their duty as parents and they want to take care of them from now on in the best way they can. I often educate parents that one of the most difficult, but very important things about their role is learning to say and mean “no!”, when that is necessary to protect children and teens from harm. Furthermore, if they want their children to learn to say no to their peers, they can really help by showing them by example. However, when their relationship with their children is taxed by a prolonged separation this becomes even more difficult. But if, as a parent feels the growing anxiety of losing control of the child, instead of the anger and shouting that come so easily to all parents to assert their authority, if  they can take a deep breath instead and remain calm and put strong fearless love at the forefront, then the result will more likely be at the end, the favorable one they seek, as I have witnessed and experienced myself. The secret is learning to calm your fears and calm yourself down and that is the key element to teach to an anxious parent and really to any parent.  All of us as parents get tangled in the trap of reactiveness, perhaps without realizing this are our own fears getting the best of us, and then regretting it when we see the results.