How to Talk to Your Kids about Refugees

3 minute read

Even if your kids haven’t seen any of the heartbreaking photos of refugees that are dominating the news, they may have heard about the crisis. Across the globe, in Europe, Africa and the U.S., people who have left their homes by force or out of desperation are trying to find a new place to settle. The journey is perilous and thousands have died attempting it.

There is handy roundup of the reasons for the current crisis here, but how do you help your kids really process those facts? And how do you help them connect with the plight of the refugees? Here are some tips from Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch’s refugee program.

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With elementary age kids, it’s especially important to reinforce a sense of safety, says Frelick. That’s particularly true for very young ones, who may find the idea that other children lose their homes disturbing. But Frelick says parents can help some kids understand the refugee experience by connecting it to familiar activities, like camping, by asking questions like, “What if we didn’t have a choice about this? What would it be like if we had to do it all the time?”

Middle school kids are able to begin to reflect a bit more on the loss refugee kids deal with, Frelick says. They know what it’s like to lose things. And they can relate that to the lives of refugees. Many religious traditions and personal family histories also contain stories of people who had to leave their homes. Frelick says thinking about those stories can keep refugees from seeming foreign and distant, and help kids see themselves “walking in those shoes.” Parents can encourage empathy with questions like, “How would it feel if you didn’t have your own things? What would it be like to leave all the people you know?”

High school students may want to take action. And according to Frelick, American kids have great opportunities to get involved, thanks to a “robust refugee resettlement program” in the U.S, either through secular programs like the International Rescue Committee, or faith-based groups like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, or Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Families can get involved with simple activities like meeting refugees at the airport or taking them grocery shopping, or more substantial commitments, like supporting them as they learn English, seek jobs, or get their kids into schools. Parents can help kids get started with questions like, “If you had to leave your home for a new country, what would you want someone to do for you?”

And at all ages, perhaps the most important thing a family or child can do is to make friends with refugees—the best way to both learn, and give something of ourselves.

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