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Welcome, New Neighbor: Helping Children Empathize with Immigrants


Welcome, New Neighbor: Helping Children Empathize with Immigrants

Debra Jacobs

Children put people into categories. They do this naturally - even six month old infants can nonverbally categorize people by race and gender. This biological tendency to group people leads to bias. Time and again, research has shown that even without the influence of parents, three to five year olds favor representatives of white, middle-class culture.*

In-group/out-group categorization and bias impact views on immigration as well as race. Children see people who look different and speak, dress, and behave in unfamiliar ways as “other.”

Just as we must speak with children often and specifically about race and even racial bias (see Make Race Explicit), we need to do the same about newcomers to our country and people of different cultures and nationalities.

Talk with your child about people who come from other countries to live here. Ask, “What do you think it feels like to come to a new place where you don’t understand how things work or how people talk?” 

Play a game called Welcome, New Neighbor. You be the new neighbor and your child’s job is to show you around the neighborhood and help you learn about it.

Point out things you don’t understand:

- A stop sign

- A grocery store

- A bus or subway train

- Snow

- Target or another department store

- Different kinds of food

Ask your child to explain. Say that you feel afraid or sad because you miss your old home, and ask your child to help you feel better.

Add Welcome, Neighbor to the repertoire of games you play on a regular basis.