September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document


Article Order:5

Title:When a child emigrates

Author:Elzbieta Tracewicz

Publication:Nowy Dziennik / Polish Daily News

Original Language:Polish

Translator:Ursula Sedek


Blurb:Immigration is like re-potting a human being. The period of adaptation is different in each case but, without exception, everyone is ill in some sense. The author, a PhD in psychology, explains how to ease the transition.


Body:Gabriela, 15, has been in the United States for several months. She complains of apathy, fatigue, a general weakness, headaches, an ache in her heart, a lump in her throat, and a lack of interest in socializing with peers. She misses Poland, her friends and school she left behind. Sometimes emigration is more difficult for the children than for the parents.

Robert, 14, says painfully that his parents took away his motherland, his friends, his apartment, and says that its their fault that strangers are walking around his room in Poland. Nine-year-old Karol is the only Polish child in his class. He does not understand his classmates. Karol does not want to live, talks about death, and insists that he is good for nothing. Greg, 5, spent two years speechless while at school.

i>Repotted Plants/i>
Gardeners know that even houseplants poorly tolerate being moved from one place to another. Their growth temporarily stalls, the leaves become somehow more delicate, less taut, and paler. A portion of repotted or recently repotted plants wither and die. Many plants become ill: they need time in order to adapt to the new conditions.

Immigration is like repotting a human being. The time it takes to adapt to a new place is different for everyone, but, without exception, everyone is ill in some sense. A change in climate, a change in nutrition, different foods, tastes, and living conditions are all a shock on the human body. People face physical challenges and psychological stress when burdened with unfamiliar emotional, social, and adaptive problems. The least is known about the affect on our spirits. We can only suppose that the spirit is unwell in a body and mind tormented by problems. It is a difficult life lesson.

At the beginning of immigration children have a harder time than adults. The decision to emigrate is made by the parents, and children have no say in the matter. The parents set goals for themselves and for the children. Often it is done for the good of the childrenthey choose a better future for them. They sacrifice for the kids, so in the beginning it is easier for them. Later, it is easier for the children than it is for the adults. But newly immigrated children do not know that yet.

i>Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder/i>
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder takes place when a persons physical and psychological functioning are detrimentally affected as a result of living through events beyond their typical experience. Such events would include: threats to the life or health of ones self, family members, or friends; the death of a loved one; or the sudden destruction of ones home or community. Immigration is a traumatic experience: ones home is destroyed in both a physical and psychological sense. The symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder include repeated remembrance of the past, and a desire to return to it (in small children, this takes the form of repeating the while playing), insomnia, nightmares, or startled awakenings, fears during the day (i.e., fear of school), avoidance of situations related to the trauma (i.e., avoidance of English-speaking classmates).

The problems in functioning take on both physical (body) and psychological (i.e., mind, emotions, and social life) forms. Possible symptoms are: temporary problems with memory; inability to concentrate and attention deficit disorder; slow learning; over-tendency to cry; irritability; lack of cooperation; rebellion; and defiance of authority. In a situation of acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a visit to a specialist (i.e., psychologist or a psychiatrist) could prove crucial in relieving the suffering and preventing more serious disorders.

i>The Psychological Adaptation Period/i>

Children adapt more quickly than adults, but their adaptation is equally or perhaps more painful. It is not only due to their psychological frailty. Time is different for children: one is a child for barely 14 years. Each year and each day during that time is more meaningful than as an adult. A lot goes on in a childs life over the space of just a few months.

The perspective of time is different of a child than that of an adults because it is defined in the frequency of physical and psychological changes. One year in the life of a 10-year-old is equal to four years in the life of a 40-year-old. Conversely, a period of four years, viewed from the psychological perspective of a 40-year-old, is shorter than one year from a 10- or 14-year-olds perspective. The help that a child needs cannot be delayed, because during that time development changes will take place, which cannot be reversed.

i>How To Help a Child/i>

As much time as possible should be spent with a child. Do not let a child suffer alone. As much as possible, keep the lifestyle as similar as possible to the Polish lifestyle until the child has adapted to the new conditions. Provide your child with the company of Polish children who are in the same situation. That is less frustrating than an endless parade of children who are well adapted, although the newly immigrated child needs both.

Without a doubt, the most effective form of professional help would be regular psychotherapy. However, that is usually impossible owing to financial considerations. The counseling available at school, with an English-speaking psychologist, is better than nothingalthough not ideal for obvious reasons. Therefore in a sense the parents are forced to be psychologists for their own child. They should treat the child (especially an adolescent) like a person mourning the loss of someone close. In fact the child has lost a lot. It is important to talk about that loss and to discuss the good aspects of the lost past. The child should be allowed to keep an image of the past of the childs own choosing. The child has a right to suffer, to be sad, and to miss the past. In talks it is important to point out that right. Being sad together about the loss demonstrates understanding of the childs problem here and about his longing. Conversations should end by the parent emphasizing the childs achievements in the new environment and by showing pride in those achievements. Delicate comments can be made about the positive aspects of immigration and about plans for the future (which should be realistic if parents want to be taken seriously by the children).

Use a metaphor can be used in these talksfor example, the past can be compared to a day that is coming to an end and will never come back, despite the fact that it was a beautiful day. Such are the properties of time: along with the sunset, one day passes so that a new day can be born. The day that passed had many good things, but it also had difficulties. Similarly the new day will bring not just difficulties but good things as well.

i>To Gabby and Her Peers/i>
In the beginning, it is easy to see only the difficult moments of coming in the future. But each day also brings something good. Each consecutive day brings a tiny bit more of the good and a tiny bit less of hard moments. Each passing day also leaves with us the good moments but takes with it the bad. Gradually there will be ever-more good things and ever-less difficulty. Each consecutive day will be diferent from the previous one. It is interesting to wait for a new day, to imagine what it will be like, and also to remember the day that passed. Waiting for a new day is always worthwhile, and one should enjoy the good things that happen in the day that just passed. There is hope in waiting, and hope is a beautiful feeling. It is worth remembering the good in each day, because the good remembered never dies but lives in our hearts forever.

Immigration is a very difficult event in a persons life. It can be a grand chance of advancement or it can be a personal disaster. It is up to the individual to plot his or her course. Advancement is about the ability to turn the difficulties we face into opportunities for success.

i>Elzbieta Tracewicz holds PhD in psychology. She was scientist in Poland, and emigrated to United States in 1985 as a political refugee. Tracewicz has worked for several outpatient clinics in New York, and as an educator. She founded a Polish immigrant school in Maspeth./i>

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