When considering the growth and development of an immigrant child, the adage: “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind. The relationships that are most important in an immigrant child’s life can be broken down into the categories of family, school, and neighborhood – it is essential that these roles produce positive interactions and experiences in order for the child to be raised in a safe environment.
One of the biggest impacts on any child’s development is the influence of parental figures. However, in the immigration process, many immigrant families experience an extended duration of separation from family members.1 It is not uncommon for parents to leave their children in the care of extended family members during the migration process due to its taxing complications.1 Many of these children are infants and toddlers and have an especially difficult time dealing with the absence of their parents.1 While technology allows for video chat and texting, it is hard for everyone to remain connected. Parents slowly become strangers to the children and vice versa, making even the reunion of the family a tough transition, as the roles of parent and child need to be reestablished. 1 It is not uncommon for the family as a whole to experience bouts of low self-esteem and depression due to this separation. 1 While these psychological symptoms are not typically lasting, their presence alone is a cause for concern. 1 It would be more beneficial for all parties involved if this separation was not a part of the immigration process.
School is also a critical factor in the development of immigrant children because it acts as a major source for their acculturation process.2 Since the school reflects the culture of the receiving society, it introduces the culture to an immigrant student which then helps them adjust to the new environment.2 Schools that have significant and appropriate curricula increases school-wide engagement and intrinsic motivation in all of the students, but it is particularly important for immigrants because of their navigation between experiencing two cultures.2 Within the actual school day, it is beneficial for immigrant children in particular to establish working relationships with teachers as they become an additional resource for their adjustment process, helping them learn about the new country, language, and educational requirements.2 However, this is not always possible, and many immigrant families find themselves migrating to neighborhoods that are socioeconomically disadvantaged because of their financial status.3
Beyond the financial disadvantages of these poorer neighborhoods, in some cases, it is actually better for immigrant children because they often find themselves in a community of immigrants.3 This is due to social cohesion and the strong bonds that exist between the neighbors.3 Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that not all immigrant children have this experience. Additionally, not all bonds will have positive effects on immigrant children’s academic accomplishments.3 The child’s network often includes people who have limited levels of education, none- English speakers, or does not know how the U.S. education system works and can instead be detrimental to their academic success and development.3
Immigrant children often face acculturative difficulties as well as normal developmental issues.2 Challenges include learning a new language, values, beliefs, and behaviors of the receiving culture, and connecting their different worlds and relationship with their heritage.2 It is crucial for immigrant children to have a solid support system in the major aspects of their life, especially familial ties, education, and the general community, in order to ensure a healthy development process.
- Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558410376830
- Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000139
- Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036424